i begin with a question. it's the one perhaps most silly of all the questions on an "ashtanga yoga" website, and that is: what is ashtanga yoga? what is everyone talking about?
for years i've ducked, dodged, run away from and hid from spending too much time reading blogs, online essays, or gossip about this "ashtanga yoga". i found to do so was an irritant and usually left me feeling like something had crawled into my insides and nested. it felt dirty. it's simple, i'm sensitive and have learned to be mindful of what i take in. "it's not you, it's me". i suggest there is often a careless and compulsive nature in the way people express themselves from a distance (virtual space). there are times also when i'm completely moved and inspired by a piece of writing about ashtanga. on occasion a fellow practitioner or loved one sends something my way to read. anyone that brave knows me well enough to practice discrimination before making the decision to click send. the truth is i love my ideas to be challenged, and i also love to have my ideas reinforced, just like anyone else.
there are countless essays, blogs, articles, and lengthy discussions about ashtanga yoga. when i move beyond my conditioned reaction, i ask myself, why is so much written about ashtanga yoga?
my first job in new york city was at the strand bookstore, a famous book shop that claims to have 18 miles of books. well, i don't know how many miles of art books they had but they had a shitload, i can tell you that. the art section was in the basement. it smelled like mold and the books rose in disorganized piles from the floor blocking access to the books behind them. after some months working there, i was looking around in complete awe at how much had been written about art…thousands and thousands of books about art…one form of language used to frame another. it became clear to me that all of this writing, although intellectually stimulating, couldn't effectively frame the experience someone has when confronted with a work of art. no one can explain to me (rather take away from me) the experience of tears gathering in my eyes when i saw my first mark rothko painting. when asked about the artists and artworks i've been most moved by throughout the years i still cannot find the words to express. art, the sublime, love, god, and perhaps yoga are imbued with mysterious and magical qualities. it is these very qualities that keeps them living subjects, alive and beyond the scope of language. i suggest that perhaps not every question needs an answer. perhaps wading through the line of questions that life brings along is enough.
so i ask, what is ashtanga yoga? when we discuss it amongst one another, what are we really talking about, poses…the order of them? yoga practice is deeply personal. deeply personal! why is there such a need to connect with others about the surface details of it all? does ashtanga yoga have a beginning and an end? is ashtanga doing the "same poses" every day? is it how deeply you fold forward? or is it catching your ankles in back bending? is it showing up with consistency every day for yourself? or is it ekam inhale, lift your arms up? is it ten breaths sitting in lotus? is it something young people do, or can old people do it? what is young and old? is ashtanga some advanced series?…if so, then most of us are screwed and damned to yoga hell! :) ashtanga is simply a framework, a tool. the yoga itself is your relationships via this tool. i have no answers. if i did i would probably stop practicing yoga. the practice for me is allowing enough space to ask more questions. and no container, framework, or language is large enough to contain the possibilities that arise from an in depth study of oneself.
one of the more important things at this particular time in the history of this practice is to remember that ashtanga yoga is not a tool to exacerbate our tendencies to constantly judge ourselves and compare to others. it is instead a discipline and tool to exercise our freedom. how that looks for each of us as individuals will take plenty of time, work, and particularly love to unveil.