Monday, October 24, 2011

Pedicures, the Ashtanga practice; Is there a higher purpose to blogging?

In a recent post, Bindy commented on a recent Elephant Journal article titled "Top 10 reasons why Ashtanga is the Hardest Yoga Practice." From reading the article, I gather that the author is also an Ashtangi, one who is trying (not very successfully, I'm sorry to say) to think of some tongue-in-cheek reasons why Ashanga might have a reputation of being "hard" or "badass." The most striking reason she gave (which was also the one that Bindy took most issue with) was that jump-throughs and jump-backs (JTJB) ruin her pedicures.

I don't have much to say about the EJ article myself. About JTJB possibly ruining one's pedicure, well, as some very wise person used to say, "The only cure for yoga is... more yoga." This applies to the case at hand as well: The only cure for ruined pedicures (if it is true, that is, that JTJB indeed ruins pedicures) is more practice, so you can perfect the JTJB and not scrape your feet/toes against the mat, and possibly ruin your pedicure. Actually, just talking about this makes me very tempted to go make my very first instructional video on how to JTJB without touching your feet to the mat :-). May be coming soon. Stay tuned.

As for Ashtanga being hard or badass, I've blogged about this topic on a few occasions, so I won't say too much else here. I'll just say this: When it comes down to it, Ashtanga is no more "hard" or "badass" than any other life-changing practice which requires a lot of effort, time and dedication on the part of the practitioner. The same can be said of, say, practicing to become a concert pianist, martial artist, or anything else that is transformative, really. And we do frequently say that martial artists are "badass" (I'm not sure if we say that of concert pianists, but the same idea applies). Q.E.D.


In addition to the immediate issue that prompted Bindy's post, an interesting conversation also ensued in the comments section of her post, which brings up a few interesting issues. I thought about commenting in that comment thread, but I decided that it would be better for me to write my own post about it, rather than go manifesto on Bindy's blog. So here goes.

In response to a commenter who remarked that Bindy's post was the product of "someone who was not happy with herself and who in all likelihood held a lot of repressed anger too close to her heart for too long, but doesn’t want to let it go because she’s not sure who’ll she be without it", Bindy replied with the following:

"yes-i DO have a chip on my shoulder. but i’m still extremely compassionate believe it or not. who cares what i think? it’s just a rant. i’m hoping if my writing is too abrasive for anyone, they just stay away from this blog. just like astanga. if all you can do is complain about it, there are thousands of other yoga styles that you can go to."

In her latest post, Bindy further elaborates on her views about blogging:

'...every time i write an “offensive” post i go through some mental torment. should i be saying these things? why am i saying them? am i too harsh? am i supposed to pretend to be the perfect yogi just in case people judge me? thing is this. people are going to judge me no matter what i say. i’m trying to let go of such things & just be me. does this mean i’m making an ass out of myself? maybe. it sure wouldn’t be the first time.

i can’t write like the perfect yogi because i don’t even consider myself a yogi. yoga is part of my daily life, but i don’t embody what other’s say is “yogic.” and i refuse to pretend, like SO many others. that would make me a hypocrite.'

I think Bindy's point is well-taken in and of itself. If there is no other purpose to blogging other than simply to give expression to whatever happens to be on one's mind on any particular day at any particular time, and if one happens to be in a particular state of mind which makes an ass out of oneself (at least in the eyes of others), then the right and appropriate thing to do would be to simply vent and write whatever it is that makes an ass out of oneself. Indeed, if writing anything else other than what happens to be on one's mind at the moment would be merely pretending to be what one is not, then the only right thing to do would be to simply vent and write whatever it is that is on one's mind, even if doing so makes one an ass: The only other alternative would be to be a hypocritical ass in yogi's clothing.

But is there no other purpose to blogging other than simply to give vent to and express one's raw emotions at any given moment? Is it true that the only alternatives are to give vent to one's raw emotions, or be a hypocrite? Personally, I'm not so sure about this. At the risk of sounding very naively yogic, I would like to say that I see blogging as an extension of my yoga practice; I see it as a place where I try to translate whatever I do on the mat into an off-mat medium. What this means is not just that I try to apply the yamas and niyamas (non-harming, non-stealing, truthfulness, etc.) to my blogging. This also means that, just as I try to make my yoga practice something that adds to my life, I also try to make my blogging "practice" something that adds to my life, rather than take away from it. David Garrigues expresses this point very nicely in a post he wrote some time ago. At the risk of being very unoriginal, I'll like to quote him here at length:

"As we all age we see how challenging it is to continue to practice in such a way that our bodies and minds stay truly strong, fit and supple.  Other priorites come along to replace the fire, zeal, and devotion we have for practice.  It is tempting to let ourselves off the hook thinking that asana is for youth.  That somehow being intensely physical has a cut off point-perhaps it does for some of us.  But for many of us, the discoveries we make as we flow though our sequences continue to feed our body’s, minds, and souls.  And we continue to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to really go into our asana practices.  We also realize more and more the extent to which we have to give up other things.  This is the key if you want to have a fruitful serious asana practice, you must know it and fashion your life and choices to ensure it.  There really is limited time and thus limited things you have available to put your energy into.  The reality is that Ashtanga Yoga asks much of you; it gives you much but also asks much...

Do you see it?  What is holding you back, from going further, I’m talking about things that truly don’t belong there.  Not things in your life that do belong, like a great job, relationship, children, art and such, ultimately, those things feed you and your soul in just as necessary ways as your practice does.  I’m talking about the things only you’ll know what they are.  The expendable parts of your life that you are choosing to divert your energy into...

Funnel your energy towards the real heart of what you want to share, create, and become– unswerving, able to keep the target in your sights. You’ll see a major shift in your experience, new found energy for what you want will arrive to help you."

David is talking here about the asana practice in Ashtanga, but I really feel that his words apply to blogging and to everything else in life as well. The fact of the matter is that we have limited time and energy in this world. Given this fact, we can choose to do things that feed us and our souls. Or we can choose to do things that drain our energy and time, leaving us empty and, well, drained. The difference does not just lie in what  we do, but also in how we do the things we do. This applies to the asana practice. It also applies to all our activities off the mat, including blogging. It makes a difference whether I make an effort to blog about things that bring out a better part of myself and which are, hopefully, of service to others. I'm not doing this because I want to pretend to be what I'm not: I'm doing this with the awareness that service to others is ultimately service to myself. That which feeds others and their souls ultimately also ends up feeding me and my soul. By this logic, it also follows that if I write something which puts others down, I am ultimately also putting myself down, making me less of a person than what I am capable of being.    

Well, I think you get what I'm saying. Besides, if I say more, I'll probably end up sounding too preachy and moralistic and high-horsey. So I'll sign off here.


  1. cool. we all have our "reasons". it's funny how high my stats are when i'm being snarky though. they triple if i use a swear word or rant about something that i feel strong about. not that its why i write. i definitely don't write for the good of all people. i could never sustain that. like one of my teachers who i loved SO much-i told her i was going to make a shrine of her and she said "no thanks. i don't want that responsibility"

  2. Thanks, wandering mb :-) Btw, wandering mb, do you live in Gainesville, FL? Just curious: I went to the University of Florida for grad school.

    Bindy, it's indeed funny that your stats triple when you are being snarky. Mine have kind of stabilized: They stay more or less the same so long as I post something at least once every other day. I don't really write for the good of all people either. But I can't motivate myself to write unless I am able to believe, rightly or wrongly, that my writing benefits somebody somewhere. Maybe it's grad school. Maybe it's the fact that I am a teacher. Or both.

  3. Thanks for posting this, Nobel. I have to say that sometimes I use my blog to be self-indulgent, sarcastic and cheeky... Even if I say it's just for entertainment. Unfortunately, this entertainment can be at the expense of others. I am thinking of my recent post that summarized an excellent writer's book rather terribly just so I could make a dumb list of obnoxious ideas. Also, I guess Bindy and I had radically opposing opinions about Kino which I used to write the kinogate article. Certainly I did want to defend Kino, but the article's viral response was probably terrible for my ego... And it's obviously ironic that I pretty much bashed one person in order to defend another... I don't know. We may not all be noble enough to write purely for the good of everyone, but we can surely contemplate our intention as much as possible. That said, I'm not sure I'm ready to give up sarcasm quite yet. Great writing, as always Nobel. Enjoy your day and your practice!

  4. hey Nobel, as you probably noticed, i've stopped blogging. life on campus and at home got really busy and i just cannot find the energy. in the end, with all that's going on in my life, i decided to take a backseat from blogging for a while. primarily also because i became ill and stopped practicing for a while. i'm back on the mat, not strictly ashtanga per se, but incorporating vinyasa krama and a little here and there. i've also been gymming a lot - not sure my readers wanna read about that ;)

    thanks for another intense post. in the end, my solution for not ruining pedicures are.... *drum roll please* - cut the dang toe nails shorter la.

    have a gd day!

  5. Yep, I'm in Gainesville and also a grad student at UF. There are a handful of us grad student ashtangis here :-)

  6. great post Nobel.
    in my opinion blogs are just virtual personal journals/ diaries (well, read by anyone so not very private ;-) ) anyway... i guess in ones journal one shares everything - including your frustrations so i understand Bindy's need to write it down.
    i think it might be the teacher in you that makes your blog always such a great read and a platform for people to discuss all hot topics without judging. journal/ diaries type blogs feel very personal and intense which makes it such an interesting read.
    ;-) ivana

  7. Hello AYEA, I don't know if it is possible to write purely for the good of everyone (I don't); but I do think that writing, like everything else we do in this world, takes energy, so it kind of makes sense to write in a way that enriches and energizes myself (and others at the same time) rather than otherwise. I suppose the best we can do is to observe our intentions, and try to write in a way that is not purely reactive. Btw, I read and enjoyed your Kinogate article. You make many good points. I didn't comment on it, because the blogstorm was big enough, as it was.

  8. Hey yoginicory, good to hear from you again :-) I hope you are feeling better now. Gymming sounds cool; maybe you can blog about how your present practice compares with Ashtanga practice? I know Grimmly does that. But this is just a suggestion. I know you are very busy, and have many things to take care of.

    wandering mb: Ah, another fellow Gainesvillean (actually, I am technically an ex-Gainesvillean now...). Do you practice with Christine at her shala? I wasn't a pure Ashtangi when I lived in Gainesville (2001-2009), so I did not know that there is a grad student ashtanga community there :-)

    Hello Ivana, I think you are right that when all is said and done, blogs and bloggers comes in all shapes and forms. I like to think that in the end, everybody contributes to the ongoing community and dialogue.

  9. Yes, I practice with Christine. There are 4-5 of us going to the Confluence from GNV!

  10. It's so cool that you are going to the Confluence! I hope you learn and experience lots while you there.

  11. We'll consider you an honorary member of the Gainesville-Ashtangi-grad student community Nobel!'re always welcome to join us for practice if you're in town :)

  12. Thanks, Christine. I am most honored :-)