“I don’t advise running or jogging for my yoga students” – Respected Teacher of Ashtanga Yoga

Me to a really good backbender, “Any advice on doing better backbends?”

His advice: “stop hiking and running; you’re tightening up your legs too much.

Said to me by a yoga-practicing friend who lives in a place where “nobody walks”: “How can you walk so much?  It must be hell on your yoga practice.”

These are the seeds of my discontent.  They have blossomed, yes.  But it started with statements like these.

Question: what happens when a healthy activity, a hobby, turns into an all-encompassing obsession that interferes with your ability to walk your dog, to get places on foot, to improve your cardiovascular health (don’t tell me Ashtanga is cardio.  In many ways it is LIKE cardio, and portions of it might include cardio, but it is NOT cardio; it is anaerobic exercise, period, start and stop, high and low, the definition of anaerobic)?  That interferes with your social life (no partying on Saturday nights), that confines your social life to people who “get it” (inevitably, your shala mates)?

What happens when you want your life back? (Do you become like me?  Aggressively anti-cult?  Do you close your eyes and pretend this never happened?  What makes one person turn away in anger, and another in peace?)

What happens if you DON’T?  (Do you give up all of your possessions that no longer make sense in your life?  Does vodka become a distant memory, organic wine (blech) taking its place?  Does every interaction with those who don’t “get it” become a strain?  Something to gradually filter out of your life?)

Discuss….

YC

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50 Responses to “I don’t advise running or jogging for my yoga students” – Respected Teacher of Ashtanga Yoga

  1. AC says:

    If teacher said these things to me I would have thought, ‘bloody idiot, get a life’.

    What’s important is to get the balance right for us and the yoga should not become an obsession. Some of us may want to practice x7 days/wk, others only x3 days/wk or whatever BUT we must choose what is right for our bodies and no-one elses.

    If we decide to give up meat, booze, social life in the hope of gaining a posture – err, I can only take my hat off to the person, I know I ain’t so committed.

    We have to take responsibility for our own practice/life. We can only work with the bodies we have, so we better be kind to it for the long haul.

    As long as the yoga can bring a smile on my face when I’m hopelessly trying to bind in Supta Kurmasana, that’s good enough for me. When the yoga ceases to bring us joy then we must move on.

  2. hyla says:

    here here ac

    well said…

    yc, i wish you a gemar chatimah tova, an easy fast,
    chag sameach and all the best for a sweet, happy, healthy and peaceful new year…

  3. anna says:

    “Question: what happens when a healthy activity, a hobby, turns into an all-encompassing obsession?”

    Key word = obsession! This can happen with yoga, it can happen with marathoners, exercise bulimics, gym rats. The key is some kind of balance.

    I’m far from a perfect person, but one thing I know I do right is that I balance my practice with my LIFE. My practice supports my life, not the other way around. I know ashtangis who don’t go out, who don’t really date, etc., because heaven forbid they miss their wake up call, or they don’t have more than one drink because it might affect Their Practice, who refuse to eat dinner because it might affect Their Practice, whose day is affected by what happened in Their Practice that day, with whom most conversations end up going back to Their Practice, who refuse to take a day off…. (zzzzz….)

    Is that a “life?” Not as far as I’m concerned. I usually make it 5 days a week. I take vinyasa often on the 6th day. Some days I make it 3 days. Those weeks I usually had a pretty good time doing things that were fun. And that said – I have a pretty nice practice. Perfect, no, would I be “farther along,” if I were one of those people that are obsessed with the end game, maybe, but I’d miss my time with my friends, boyfriends, mornings sleeping in for no reason. Yesterday I walked a few miles in Central Park and then took a kick ass vinyasa. My shoulders were tight this morning. WHO CARES?!?

    It seems like you’re doing a lot of searching to find the right path for you. Those who ask, receive; those who seek, find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened. 🙂

  4. Historically I have tended to get pretty obsessed with my chosen interests. The thing is that I turned to Yoga to help me live a more relaxed, less obsessive life than I had in the past.

    (Not that I regret my high goal orientation of the past. It was probably right for me then. But I was ready for a new kind of life.)

    So I insist on applying Yoga philosophy to the rest of my life, not the other way around.

    For example, I didn’t give up tennis in favor of asana. I incorporated Yoga into my tennis.

    See “Yoga Tennis” http://wp.me/PlUox-2

    Good topic.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  5. The correct link for “Yoga Tennis” is

    http://wp.me/PlUox-iN

  6. Zaf says:

    “What makes one person turn away in anger, and another in peace?”

    I think it depends on what they were like when they were fully ‘into’ it – or how ‘extreme’ they got. Our most bitter and long lived quarrels are with our past or alternate selves, jmho. This is why slack bums like myself are so chilled about the whole thing. Bet you wish that you’d been less diligent and eaten more pepperoni pizza, huh?

    Rgds

  7. yogachickie says:

    Ya! More sides of beef! More tequila!

  8. Clare says:

    I have been given what appears to be useless advise by many people who have been respected teachers in many different areas, this isn’t an exclusive problem related to yoga. Perhaps this teacher has found running to be a problem, whatever? It’s up to each individual to decide whether the advice given is appropriate for them. Maybe my back bending would be better if I didn’t walk lots, but at the end of the day, who gives a damn? I do my practice and I enjoy it, my backbends are mediocre, but so what?

    Obsessives exist in every walk of life, not just yoga. When I was a student I used to row for my local boat club, the obsessives here would get up at 5am to be on the river at 6am and train before lectures. We were told not to drink the night before a race. Some people stick to this kind of thing, others don’t. It’s certainly not exclusively a product of ashtanga yoga.

    As for wanting your ‘life’ back, in my experience people’s lives change over time and most of us are able to modify them to suit our current desires, hobbies and occupations without feeling anger that they have decided to ‘drop out’ of the system.

  9. LI Ashtangini says:

    I guess I have to ask, at risk of being blasted, why do you care so much about what ‘others’?

  10. LI Ashtangini says:

    ugh, where did that word go? About what others do…..

  11. My original post got lost somewhere in cyberspace. In summary, it said I used to be obsessive about most things in my life and turned to Yoga to help me overcome that.

    So for me, Yoga will always be something I apply to my life, as opposed to the other way around. Then I included the “Yoga Tennis” link above as an example.

    Bob Weisenberg

  12. yogachickie says:

    Are you asking me that? Or one of the commenters?

  13. LI Ashtangini says:

    You. I guess I just don’t see why it matters?

  14. yogachickie says:

    It matters to me because it does.

  15. Rob says:

    Great post, YC. Thanks for bringing this up and encouraging other opinions!!

    It seems I live with this dilemma daily now. When I first started ashtanga 3 years ago, I lost weight and got in great shape. Then my body “got used to it”, as it was the only form of “exercise” I did. I started gaining weight and felt less challenged.

    So lately I have been mixing in aerobic stuff…running, elliptical machine, etc. My legs, heart, and head crave it!

    I love ashtanga. It has been amazing for me, but I found, after a while, I needed to mix it up for pure athletic and physiologically benifical reasons.

    Last week I did try lifting weights a bit and for a week lost ability to bind in cetain twisty poses, so I decided no more weight lifting, but for me, aerobic intensity is a great adjunct for my yoga practice

    I think Anna is right..balance is the key and finding what works for your body type. Also, trying to figure out what your goals are and how best to achieve them

  16. yogachickie says:

    I hope it is not out of line for me to say that Rob is a doctor…so if he thinks there are physiological benefits to adding in aerobic exercise, I will defer to that!

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  17. yogaspy says:

    On one hand, I say, lighten up. Isn’t the advice (don’t run) akin to a tennis coach warning a player not to play too much racquetball or squash, else ruin his tennis game? (Bob, did I get that right?) Of course, I don’t know how adamantly the yogi prescribed his advice.

    On the other hand, that advice (don’t run) is medically questionable. We need aerobic exercise for optimal health. Although I study Iyengar yoga, some of his “medical” anecdotes in The Tree of Yoga are obviously to be taken with a grain of salt. I’ve also heard SKPJ state that one should be strictly vegetarian otherwise the muscles grow stiff and tight. Uh, I know vegetarians who are not exactly lithe.

    On the third hand, there is ultimately no one yoga Rx that applies to everyone. Heck, for some, the right Rx might not even be asanas (let alone trying to loosen the quads to further the backbends). It might be pranayama or inversions, etc. So I ultimately agree that it’s misguided to assume that one practice (whether running or not, whether drinking alcohol or not, etc) right for everyone.

  18. Actually, Yogaspy, very serious competitive tennis players are told not to bike or do too much long distance running–different muscles. But this would never be applied to the average recreational player.

    And other kinds of related training are not only encouraged, but absolutely required, like serious weight training, quick motion drills, rope jumping, and stretching etc.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  19. Rob says:

    I am not sure that being a physician makes me an authority to any degree on exercise physiology, but I appreciate the positive inference.

    Relative to all your other blogger friends, my ahstanga practice is rather elementary…stuck somewhere near the end or primary with no hopes on ever doing second series.

    I agree with yogaspy that no one yoga practice fits everyone. I have found that ashtanga seems to included everything I need in one sequence. It is more than enough for me to handle…but intense aerobic activity and obtaining near 80% of maximum heart rate for 20 – 30 minutes several times a week will lower cholesterol, shed calories (and pounds), and maybe help you live a longer healthier life.

    Adding that to the anerobic and isometric aspect, the stretching and inversions of yoga. nothing could be better!

  20. c33 says:

    Yeah, none of your post has anything to do with yoga. So might I suggest a therapeutic activity for you? Print out this blog entry, burn it, and try practicing some yoga soon! Yay! More advice! Sorta like the advice you quoted at the top of your entry, only better. Advice is the keyword here! Advice tends to be something that you are free (and not forced) to take at will.

    And I’m pretty sure you’re free to leave this ‘cult’ you speak of too :)!

  21. Scorpionis says:

    Once yoga becomes dogma, it’s not yoga anymore.

  22. I think this is a fair post and you’re asking some good questions. Ashtanga tends to appeal to obsessive people and can easily become just another obsession that replaces the last one (drugs, alcohol, etc.) Some teachers like to ignore or even encourage this, and that’s just plain bad news.

    Yoga is supposed to be about union and balance – of many things, but probably most obviously of your life with your practice. Your life isn’t supposed to BECOME the practice. Unfortunately, lots of people do approach the ashtanga practice that way. But it doesn’t have to be like that or be a ‘cult’. Some teachers make it that way, and some students make it that way. That’s the truth, and plenty of ashtangis can’t or won’t acknowledge it.

    But it’s also true that you can manage to have your ashtanga and your life too. I see friends, I drink alcohol, I eat meat, I have a demanding full time job, I take other exercise classes, I hike and walk and scuba dive, I have a partner and a whole posse of friends who could give two shits about yoga, and yet I’ve done this ashtanga stuff for almost eleven years now and it’s really still working for me. I don’t require or care that anyone else in my life “get it” (except that my partner understand it’s good for my mood, of course – and he does).

    So, I guess I would just remind you to try not to make a blanket judgment about it. It was a bad thing for you, but it can work for other perfectly normal people. And even in the cultier iterations of it, I’m sure there are plenty of true obsessives who are better off cathecting on their ashtanga practice instead of their heroin habit or bulimia practice.

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  25. I think its more about balance. When we first get into something we can in our natural enthusiasm for the “shiny object” get all gung ho and sometimes a tad fanatical… But in time, hopefully we gain a more balanced perspective that allows us to have a yoga practice that supports daily living and doesn’t hinder it.

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  29. Rupi says:

    If you don’t want to follow a cult or become obsessive, don’t – let those who want to, get on with it – doing yoga or walking or whatever is a choice, no one is forcing you except your need to conform

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