I had to leave a hot vinyasa yoga class yesterday because it was neither hot, nor vinyasa. As far as the yoga goes, I suppose that was my responsibility, and although I could have yoga-ed it up by letting feelings of equanimity flood over me in place of the annoyance and rage I was feeling, I did not. I chose, instead, to leave after 60 minutes, 30 to go. I just rolled up my mat and said, “I gotta go. Thanks.”
I would have hated it if someone left my class in the middle, when I was teaching. I thought about that and debated what to do, pretty much from the first time the teacher came over to me and lifted my thigh away from parallel to the ground in one of the Warrior poses (“Too deep! Think of your knees!” she admonished me…as if she knows my knees.) And that was within the first 10 minutes of class. After 50 minutes of arguing with myself and not knowing whose side to take, I decided that it would be better and kinder to myself to simply put myself out of my misery and leave.
And so I did.
Here is what bugged be about the class though, what made it intolerable for me. And I point this out only because it makes me realize how totally awesome Ashtanga really is, even if only as a jumping off point for a well-thought-out self-practice to last a lifetime:
1. All that talking.
All that incessant talking. “Blah blah blah, I am so spiritually aware, let me tell you how much I know about spirituality. Sure, I am just a housewife living in Northern Westchester, just like you. But I am OH SO enlightened. And you are my captive audience. So listen up.”
Well…maybe I am not there to get spiritually incentivized by you. Maybe I am there to practice asana and go into my own head. Or out of my own head. Whichever it needs to be for me to go to that peaceful place that asana (or gardening, or running, for that matter) can get me to. But either way, listening to you blathering on is certainly not helping.
Ashtanga gets it right. It is either totally silent, except for the murmers of the teacher talking one-on-one to students in the room, or it is simply the sound of the vinyasas being counted out in Sanksrit.
Oh, how I cherish the silence of Asthanga practice.
2. The talking, part deux: the contents of the talk is inevitably inane.
OK, so, first you blather on about how the yoga poses don’t matter. Then you proceed to tell us exactly how to get into them and how doing the poses properly is going to massage our thyroid glands or get our digestion going. Then you act like a cheerleader when you see someone trying to do an arm balance. But I thought it doesn’t matter? Then you try to stop the more advanced students from going deeper into the poses because that is not what YOU are teaching today…but if the poses don’t matter, then why do you care?
Silence is golden in yoga. The Ashtanga practice teaches you to teach yourself. It is the most awesome gift a yogi can give to him or herself.
3. The inconsistency of the sequencing…or, you win some you lose some.
Sometimes, and particularly when a teacher has been taught by Baron Baptiste or Jivamukti, or is an Ashtangi in her own practice, the sequencing of poses makes beautiful sense. It starts with warming up, it moves through various permutations of standing poses, gradually adding twists and hip openers and moving through to backbends, then forward bends then a finishing sequence.
But sometimes, the teacher’s “creativity” gets in the way. And that’s when it all goes to shit.
Take yesterday’s class, for example. It started off fine, if a bit slow, but then the sequence seemed to focus almost exclusively on standing balances. And standing balances are nice, but they should not be the meat and potatoes of a practice because they focus too much on strength and not enough on flexibility. Too many balancing poses lead to an unbalanced practice, as I see it. Besides, ALL standing poses require balance anyway. So, why keep repeating Warrior III ad nauseum? At some point, I think it was a Warrior III that was the final straw for me. I just didn’t want to spend my precious yoga time standing on one leg anymore.
It wasn’t fun. It didn’t feel good. It left me cold. Literally. Which brings me to…
4. If you call it a Hot Yoga class, then keep the heat on.
There shouldn’t be cool breezes in the classroom. I shouldn’t sweat my way through the first 10 minutes of Sun Salutations only to start shivering as the sequence gets slower and the heat starts to go down. It is uncomfortable and disconcerting. At least with Asthanga, there is no outside source of heat, generally speaking. You’re expected to bring the tapas with you, and you’re expected to really bring it. And when I say tapas, I don’t mean small dishes of Spanish food.
5. The Control-Freaking Buzz-Killing Assists
There is one thing that NEVER happens in an Ashtanga class, never ever ever, and that is a teacher communicating to a student that she should pull back and not go as deep. It is absolutely unheard of in Ashtanga, where alignment takes a back seat to “completion” of the “energy circle” that is the pose. LET your knee come out in front of your ankle in Warrior II. Let your thigh sink beyond parallel in Extended Side Angle. Twist your spine until you’re all Linda-Blair-Excorsist-esque. Bind at the forearm, if the wrist isn’t enough for you!
But outside of the Ashtanga world, it’s all about the buzz kill. Where did this notion come from that we shouldn’t go as deep as we can into a pose? And even if it’s somehow “wrong” to do so, if you don’t KNOW me and my body and its strengths and weaknesses, then how can you know if it is wrong for me? For example, when I go deeply into a lunging pose like Warrior II, my knee is not an issue at all. What IS an issue is my hips, which feel fairly tight, and deepening the lunge relieves the tightness. My knee? Not even part of the equation.
6. All the pauses, the resting, the breathing while doing NOTHING.
In Ashtanga, the breaths are counted out. Inhale and bring your arms up, exhale and fold over. In this class I took yesterday, you know what the teacher counted out? The breaths. Just standing there and breathing. After we finished standing and balancing on one leg, this is what we were told to do: “Stand and inhale. Exhale. Okay, inhale. Okay, exhale. Third one, inhale, exhale.”
REALLY? I need instructions on standing and breathing???
In Ashtanga, every inhale and every exhale are tied to a movement except when you are holding a pose. Standing is not a pose. OK, it technically IS a pose, but in this class, it wasn’t. She just had us standing and breathing.
I’m not saying that I will never go to a non-Ashtanga class again. But this experience made me realize that the best yoga that I do is the yoga that is the best yoga for me. A tautology? Perhaps. But it works for me.