A couple of days ago, Eddie Stern published what I thought was a very well-written response to the now-infamous NYT article by Deb Schoeneman about... gosh, what exactly was it about? Something about doing Ashtanga and getting tight asses? My memory is getting pretty short these days: Could there be a connection between right-brain-functioning and left-knee-health? No good, no good...
Anyway, as I was saying, Eddie Stern published a reply to that article. You can read the whole article here. There is one part of Eddie's piece that really speaks to me. If you have read that NYT article, you might remember that at one point, Schoeneman remarks that "It [Ashtanga Yoga] is widely believed to have been created for adolescent boys and tends to attract former drug addicts and Type A personalities…”
Responding to Schoeneman's remark, Eddie quotes his friend Margaret Loeb, who writes:
"In a world with ADD and sensory dis-integration as not only discreet pathologies but symptoms of an over stimulating culture, Ashtanga yoga offers brilliant tools to gain mastery, focus and mental stability. The fact that the achievement would suit young boys, former addicts and type A personalities is not testimony to its failure but rather to its success. There is in fact abundant evidence that yoga reduces anxiety, improves cardiac functioning, posture and mental focus. For many people who do yoga, without it they would be more likely to use drugs, more likely to need therapy, more likely to have difficulty managing their emotions. The physical benefits of yoga are a bonus."
I am quite impressed by Loeb's remarks here. I think she has succeeded in putting into words what I have felt quite strongly the whole time. I'm not sure if I'm a type A personality, but I certainly have an anxious streak, and I really wouldn't be surprised if somebody were to tell me that I probably have an addictive/OCD streak as well (although I have never been tested for any of these things). Ashtanga, as most of you know, gets quite a bit of bad press in the yoga world for being an allegedly asana-oriented practice that feeds the ego (and not much else). And it doesn't help that the people who tend to be drawn to Ashtanga (the Type A personalities, especially) are probably the last people on earth to need an ego boost. Or so the argument goes.
What is perhaps less obvious is that the practice, with its intensely physical and all-consuming nature, serves to innoculate type A or addictive or OCD personalities against other things; things which can do a whole lot more harm to bodies and psyches than being obsessed with, say, binding in Marichyasana D. The practice allows people who would otherwise have a tendency to direct their minds and bodies in destructive directions to channel these energies towards something tangibly constructive which they can relate to and grasp on their emotional level; something like asana.
And of course, in the process of so doing, one might just acquire a tight-ass as a bonus. Tight asses, by the way, are way over-rated: for one thing, having a tight ass really gets in the way of back-bending. If you don't believe me, just try scrunching and tightening up your ass the next time you try to get up into Urdhva Dhanuarasana. Then try the same pose with a softer ass. Feel the difference.