Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why do Ashtangis switch to other styles of yoga?

First, a little "weather report." It appears that the blog-storm which tore through the blogosphere last week (you know what I'm talking about) has yet to die down. It has simply taken on a slightly different form, with different sound-bites. SSDD (Same Shit, Different Day). In one of my responses to one of my commenters in a post last week, I predicted that the storm hadn't lost its force (or, as Grimmly puts it, it "still seemed to have some legs in it"... hahaha!), and that we might very well be in the eye of the storm. Well, turns out I was right. Gosh, don't I love being right :-) [Ego rears its ugly head here...]

But I shall say no more about this matter. What I needed to say, I have already said. The rest must be passed over in silence... Silencio.

Instead, I'm going to stick my neck out here, and follow up on my earlier post about why we practice Ashtanga, and the nature of the practice. I got some very interesting responses to my little questionnaire at the end of that post (Thanks for sharing, everyone who responded :-)).

In what way am I sticking out my neck? Well, here's how. In her response to Christine's follow-up post on my post (how long-winded can I get?), Yyogini observed that there are a number of yoga practitioners who started out practicing Ashtanga, and then drifted away to practice other styles. She is quite curious about their reasons for switching styles, and has set out on a mission to find out why. I wish you all the best in your mission, Yyogini, and look forward to hearing about your findings :-)

In the meantime, I'm going to stick my neck out and venture a few preliminary observations of my own about why ex-Ashtangis switch styles or "jump ship". I understand that the word choice of "ex-Ashtangi" doesn't sound very nice (can't think of anything nicer-sounding right now), but I really don't mean anything derogatory by "ex". Please believe me: How many more people can I afford to offend, anyway?

In any case, I sense that this is a sensitive topic, one that needs to be handled with finesse and care. And I may not be the best person to do this, especially in my present state of mind (I just had two big slices of pizza and a big mug of beer :-)). But being the proverbial fool who often rushes in where angels fear to tread, I have decided to tackle this topic anyway, at my own peril. To begin with, here are some observations I have gathered from talking to some ex-Ashtangis over the years. From what I have learnt, two common reasons for ex-Ashtangis switching from Ashtanga to some other style are:

(1) Some injury forced them to either stop practicing or modify the practice in a way that they found to be unacceptable;

(2) Some particular postures (backbends are a common example) which are too unpleasant/challenging in an unpleasant way.

Sometimes, I think it is also a combination of (1) and (2): A particular injury or issue resulting from a particular challenging posture forces the practitioner to either have to stop practicing or modify in a way they deem unacceptable. So they switch styles. I have also observed that Anusara is a common style to switch to. Don't know why. It's just my observation.

I don't know how true all this is. As I said, they are just my observations from having being around in the yoga world, and picking up on stuff around me. Yes, I am the yogic fly-on-the wall :-)

Perhaps I should also end this post with a little questionnaire. For those of you out there reading this blog who are ex-Ashtangis (if there are any such), I would be really grateful if you can take the time to answer the following questions:

(1) What made you stop practicing Ashtanga?

(2) What style are you practicing now? How does this style serve your mind/body needs better than Ashtanga?

(3) Do you think your Ashtanga practice has influenced the way you practice your present style in any way, shape or form? Why or why not?

(4) Do you think there is any possibility that you might return to practicing Ashtanga in the future? Why or why not?


  1. Interesting topic.
    I started with Ashtanga 6 years ago... and I guess I just got tired of the repetitiveness of the postures and structure. For myself I found it a bit rigid. Also, I am definitely not flexible nor that strong (even with regular asana) so it was a constant feeling of competition that I would never 'win'. all very personal reasons really.

    At the same time- I feel that it's a little strange to ask why people have 'left' a style of yoga. I kinda feel like the different styles are very much tools for our practice that we can take out and use when appropriate. So I also still practice Ashtanga when it suits me (although I'm not exclusive and it's much more rare).

    Are there really that many yogis out there that ONLY practice Ashtanga, or NEVER practice Ashtanga?

    I don't really think of yoga that way... :)

  2. Thanks for sharing, Eco Yogini. I think I understand at least some of what you are saying. I did use to think that Ashtanga was a bit rigid. But for me, I guess I like the structure, and the fact that the structure gives me a fixed place within which to experiment and understand myself better. For me, not having to think about what postures to do frees up more space to go deeper and explore. I hope this makes sense; I know I'm speaking very abstractly.

    Yes, I am aware that it's a little strange to ask such questions. Maybe "left" isn't quite the right word (did I actually use this word?). My preferred term is "gravitate away". Because if one gravitates away from something, that implies that one is moving away from something at a certain point in time because another set of yogic tools/yoga style is more appropriate at that point in time. Which leaves everything open-ended. One might gravitate back to a particular style later on, or not.

    "Are there really that many yogis out there that ONLY practice Ashtanga, or NEVER practice Ashtanga?"

    I honestly don't know. But that's one of the reasons why I am asking these strange questions :-)

  3. When I describe Ashtanga yoga, I say it's like driving the same route from home to work each day. Because the route is the same, you don't have to worry about where you're driving. Instead, you can notice fresh snow on the trees, flowers newly blooming, a couple holding hands while walking, etc. The challenge is to stay mindful and not zone out in the routine.

    Some people get bored if they take the same route each day. To stimulate a keen awareness and sense of being present, they prefer to explore new streets and see things they've never seen before. The challenge there is to stay grounded and not get overstimulated among the novelty.

    So I'll submit one possible scenario. If someone was introduced to yoga in the form of Ashtanga, it would at first be very novel and stimulating! Now if this person truly resonated with a less predictable form, it would only be a matter of time before they sought something that suited them better.

  4. Hello Mike, I like your driving the same route from home to work image. I think it is very apt. So it seems that whether one takes the same route/sequence everyday or changes it up all the time, there are challenges to be faced. Interesting.

  5. Thanks for doing my research for me Nobel :) Loving all the personal yoga stories shared by everyone based on what you started in this post.

    So far it sounds like 1)Injuries 2)Rigor of practice 3)Rigidity 4)Time commitment 5) Condition of shala 6)Quality of teachers 7)Dislike for certain poses in the series are the main reasons that make people gravitate away from it. I've also heard it's hard to teach Ashtanga well, compared to other styles like Anusara. So some teachers would teach creative vinyasa flow / Anusara classes but still practice Asthanga now and then on their own.

    Can anyone think of any other reasons? We'd ideally like to collect a comprehensive list for Nobel's Blogaji publication :)

  6. Thanks Yyogini. This is just the beginning. In order to find out more, we need to hear from more people. So you have your work cut out for you :-)

    The seven reasons you have mentioned sounds right. I'll let you know if I think of more possible reasons. I certainly think it is harder to teach Ashtanga well, especially if you are teaching a mysore class. But then again, maybe I'm biased :-)

    I like the Blogaji publication idea :-)

  7. I have been practising yoga on and off for the last 10 years. I say on and off because as I moved from Yorkshire to London to Cornwall, and had 4 children in the process, it wasn't always possible to find a studio with a suitable timetable. I would often roll out my mat at home but after a few sun salutations I wasn't sure what I was doing really.

    Last year I found an amazing Ashtanga teacher here in Cornwall quite by accident. I knew what Ashtanga was but I had never tried it before, but I feel like I have finally found my 'style'. We practice Mysore Style and I now feel that I now have a committed and focused practice - when I step on my mat I know what I am doing, and as I improve in my postures and techniques I feel my body and mind strengthening.

    We recently visited the Yoga Show in London and got to try lot's of different styles of yoga in the workshops and classes held at the event. It was fun, but when we got into the Ashtanga Class I felt comfort in the familiarity and yet still challenged by the practice.

    Namaste xxx