Friday, September 2, 2011

The Natural, Perfect Ashtanga Body of An Ashtanga Idiot Savant

The latest wave of criticism directed at the infamous Okin Carmegorg has stirred the usually-not-so-quiet-in-the-first-place Ashtanga blogosphere into an even less quiet state. I am starting to wonder if the blogosphere is indeed an extension of our practice, in a very curious sort of way: It seems to be becoming the place for us to dump all the unprocessed chitta vrtti that our practice on (and possibly also off) the mat has not managed to process.

But I am not in a position to give any big speech about how we should yogically deal with chitta vrtti, since I have lots of these myself; if I didn't, I wouldn't be blogging, but will probably just be doing my practice, and smiling in amusement at the antics of these funny beings called bloggers.

Since I can't seem to stem the endless tide of chitta vrtti, I may as well go with the flow, and see if I can perhaps fish something interesting out of this latest blogstorm. Most of the things that have been directed at Okin Carmegorg in this latest wave of criticism are not new; they have all been repeated elsewhere before. But one thing seems new, at least to me: One blogger has accused Okin of being a "natural" at the practice. Who knew that "being a natural" can actually be a negative attribute? I suppose by "natural", the blogger meant that Okin either has certain body skills or body parts that enable her to master difficult asanas with great ease, where others might struggle for years (or even lifetimes) with these same asanas.

This seems to be an interesting question: What, if anything, does somebody need in order to be a "natural" at this practice? Is it possible for somebody to possess certain body parts or body skills, so that the person is basically an Ashtanga Idiot Savant? I don't know for sure; whatever kind of idiot I may be in many other areas of my life, I am certainly no Ashtanga Idiot Savant.

But here's one way to start thinking about this question. Perhaps one necessary condition for being an Ashtanga Idiot Savant is possessing the right kind of body. In other words, an Ashtanga Idiot Savant needs to have a Perfect Ashtanga Body (PAB). In a recent post, I suggested that a PAB needs to possess the following characteristics:

(i) Long arms: Very useful for jumping through and jumping back.

(ii) Short legs: If you have short legs, forward bends will be easier, as you have less leg length to traverse before you touch your hands to the ground or wrap your hands around your feet in seated postures. Short legs also make putting your leg behind your head easier, since you have less leg to haul behind your head. 

(iii) A broad chest, and a torso that is longer than your legs: Having a broad chest allows more chest-opening to happen, making for impressive back-bending. Also, from a pranic point of view, having a broad chest and a long torso may also enable you to store more prana, which is a great thing.

In the same post, I also speculated that a PAB would look something like this:


Sure, Spongebob's arms could probably use a little more length, but other than that, I would say that he possesses all of characteristics (i) to (iii), wouldn't you?

However, the latest wave of criticism of Okin Carmegorg has led me to believe that one more characteristic needs to be added to the list of characteristics of a PAB: Big thighs! If you have taken even a cursory glance at the many pictures and videos that Okin has made to date, you will have noticed that she possesses thighs that are, well, not small. Those of us who do second series will also know how much of a role the muscles in the front of the thighs play in safe and effective backbending: The more you can engage those muscles in the front of the thighs, the stronger and deeper your backbend is likely to be, all other things being equal. Which leads me to think that having big thighs might also translate into having more powerful front thigh muscles (all other things being equal). Which leads me to believe that a fourth characteristic needs to be added to the three listed above:

(iv) Big Thighs: All other things being equal, having big thighs would give you more muscle power to get you into deeper and stronger backbends.

Unfortunately, this means that Spongebob has lost his place as the holder of the PAB, since having big thighs is the last thing that can be said about Spongebob. Unfortunately, I also can't seem to think of any pop culture figure that can take his place. If you have any suggestions, I'll love to hear them ;-)

In any case, this may be a good time to do something I haven't done in a while: Conduct a poll! As usual, the poll is located in the top-right hand corner of this blog. The question is: What, if anything, do you think is the most important component of a Perfect Ashtanga Body? Please take a moment to participate in the poll. I think this will be fun :-) 

5 comments:

  1. Most important thing is the knees: preferably bow legs, but straight is OK too. As I mentioned before, having knock knees puts one at a disadvantages for lotus positions.

    Also, I would challenge your assertion that a broad chest allows for more chest opening to happen. First, I don't follow that logically: why would a wider chest allow you to bend backwards more? Second, have you ever seen a broad-chested guy doing a deep back-bend? I thought not. Third, I have a relatively narrow chest and one of the deeper back-bends. Sorry, but empirically, I think you got that one back-wards.

    I have long legs, but that doesn't create as many issues as you think, and it probably helps my free-standing back-bend; I have a lot of strength in my legs and I think that's a big factor in my ability to hold final back-bending comfortable and for quite a long time. (My teacher, who sometimes puts on his mad-scientist hat, had me stay in the final back-bend unassisted for one minute. Another time, during a workshop, he had me do Urdhva Dhanurasana while he was explaining something to the rest of the class, and I think I was in the pose for close to 10 minutes.)

    So, to me, most important is the knees, with a narrow (not broad) chest perhaps coming in second. Long legs are a disadvantage in some things, but an advantage in others.

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  2. Short legs make LBH harder.

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  3. Hello Frank,
    interesting comments.

    "First, I don't follow that logically: why would a wider chest allow you to bend backwards more? Second, have you ever seen a broad-chested guy doing a deep back-bend? I thought not."

    A wider chest does not allow one to bend backwards more; it's just that logically, the more chest one has, the more chest there is to open. Hence, a backbend would probably look more impressive on a broad-chested body than on a not-broad-chested body. At any rate, this is my theory.

    "I have long legs, but that doesn't create as many issues as you think, and it probably helps my free-standing back-bend; I have a lot of strength in my legs and I think that's a big factor in my ability to hold final back-bending comfortable and for quite a long time."

    Yes, I think the issue is really whether or not one has strength in the legs, which may or may not have any correlation with leg length.

    Wow, holding UD for 10 minutes... I'm quite sure I've never done this before :-)

    V: Really? I was thinking that if short legs=less weight on the head/neck, then LBH would be easier because of that reason.

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  4. One can have very heavy short legs! The weight applied on the neck is not proportional to the length of the leg but to how open your hips are. More open hips = less pressure on your neck.

    When you have short legs, your knee has to be quite deeply behind your shoulder for the ankle to be behind your head. For this, you need much more open hips than someone with long legs where the knee can be even "outside" the shoulder, or if the knee is behind the shoulder, the ankles can be crossing above the head. Kino herself told me this many, many years ago and observation of my own practice and long legged people's have confirmed it.

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  5. Interesting observations, V :-) Thanks for sharing. I'll investigate this leg-length-and-LBH issue at some length (no pun intended) and maybe write a post discussing this topic in the future.

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