Saturday, December 4, 2010

Are there sacred cows in the Ashtanga tradition?

In her latest post on the whole JoisYoga debate, Claudia very concisely summarized the two main points of view that people involved in the discussion have taken. To quote directly from Claudia's post, they are:

"Point of view 1 - The brand and shala is appalling, it is all about making money,  it is changing the tradition and threatening the business of very senior and respectable teachers in the area. Not only that but they are morphing the lineage into something that we do not know what will be.  Who knows what the future will bring.

Point of view 2 - Change is inevitable, this place is already open and happening, the heads of the lineage are actually supporting it, this might expose more people to ashtanga yoga, and the tradition has already changed, many times, as in: the yoga that Pattabhi Jois taught Saraswathi, Sharath, et all,  is not the same yoga that Brahmachari taught Krishnamacharya in his cave at the foot of Mount Kali.
Things changed, very much so.   Oh, and who knows what the future will bring."

It seems to me that, logically speaking, there is actually a third point of view that one can take on this issue. I say "logically", because it is, in a way, a logical extrapolation from both viewpoints 1 and 2: 

Point of view 3: The head of the lineage (in this case, Sharath) is actually supporting JoisYoga. He does this in full knowledge of the fact that a senior teacher (Tim Miller) has been running his studio just down the road for 30 years. Is the head of the lineage acting judiciously by knowingly taking an action that might create disharmony in the ashtanga yoga community? Is making money and/or getting the ashtanga word out to millions of people so important that it is worth sacrificing harmony and goodwill in the community of practitioners? 

I am not saying that I hold point of view 3 (although the more I think about it, the more I cannot deny that it might be at least a possibility). But I am a little surprised that nobody in the debate so far holds this view (at least, nobody has brought it up in writing). I wonder what that says about the state of mind of us ashtanga practitioners. Do we hold certain things to be sacred cows in our practice or tradition (or whatever you want to call it)? Are certain things or people so sacred that we cannot or would not even think of questioning or criticizing them? 

I'm not advocating criticism for criticism's sake. But we in the western world (actually, the eastern world too) pride ourselves on being independent-minded beings who are critical of whatever we choose to accept or not to accept. But if there are certain things in our life or practice that we consciously or unconsciously hold to be sacred cows, then isn't there a disconnect  between this practice of "sacred-cowing" and our supposed ability to be independent, critical beings with a healthy dose of skepticism? 

Hmm... this whole post is starting to sound more and more like a sermon ("Welcome to Reverend Nobel's Saturday morning service, where the coffee is fresh, and the sermons will rouse you out of your hangover, if the coffee doesn't!"), so I better sign off now. But I think you get what I am saying.     



  1. I specifically decided to not post about this topic because even though I have yet to hear a satisfactory reason for opening in Encinitas, nor have I heard anything from Tim Miller himself other than a possessing rather serene attitude coupled with a sense of humor. I realize that I simply do not know enough to comment intelligently, although I have plenty of "feelings" about the issue. But basically no one has offered any proof that Tim Miller has been harmed by this. People in the know in this community (my teacher for instance) are nonchalant. They also do not necessarily hold that Sharath has what his Grandpa had but instead they are all waiting to see how he evolves.

    So for the record, that is why this ashtangi has shut her mouth. Not because I am treating the Jois family as sacred cows.

  2. I bowed out of this discussion a long time ago, not because I don't think that the 'Jois Yoga' franchise is disturbing, but because I think it ultimately doesn't matter very much.

    Sharath et al can create all the brands they like with a closet full of designer yoga clothes and boutique studios up the wazoo. But that's not going to change my practice. I'll still be on my mat every day, as will hundreds of thousands of other Ashtangis, just 'doing my practice.'

    I have faith in the Astanga yoga system. I have faith in my teachers, and through them, a deep connection to Guruji and his teaching. That's where the lineage is. You can't bottle that up and sell it under a 'brand name.'

    I'm sure Tim's students feel the same. I don't think he's too worried.

    As for change, the tradition of Astanga yoga is changing all the time, with each new practitioner who takes it on. It's an organic, living tradition. That's how it's survived and grown.

    One of my teachers once asked Guruji about some poses added to the Primary Series. She wanted to know why it had changed, if it had been 'correct' before. Guruji replied: "NOW correct!"

  3. I am kind of both with Kai and Loo on this... a) we do not know enough and b) "Now correct"

    Four years ago, Tim and his wife Carol opened a sleek 1,200-foot space in Carlsband, things are not bad...

  4. Interesting, interesting.

    Loo, after thinking about it a little, I agree with you that it is probably too early to know how and in what direction things will evolve, so to make any kind of value judgment now would be quite premature.

    Kai, I also think you may very well be right that it may not matter very much at all in the end. After all, what can the practice mean to individual practitioners like you and me except the day to day, breath to breath experience of doing the practice and allowing it to transform us?

    So yes, Claudia, both (a) and (b) are true.

    As the saying goes, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." It appears that I may have rushed into a place and rather rashly broached questions which simply have no answers, at least not at this point in time. Maybe I should rename this blog "The Jolly Ashtangic Fool"! That would be quite a name, wouldn't it?