I just read Kino's latest article on her blog. She writes:
"One other crucial shift must happen in order to facilitate the transition into full immersion in the yoga tradition. You must make the transition from a fitness oriented approach to yoga into a devotional one. By getting this subtle shift you will gain consistency and regularity in the way that you do your practice. A daily spiritual ritual where you take time to connect internally to a deep sense of yourself requires dedication. The requirement to practice six days a week is meant to develop the kind of mental, spiritual and devotional determination needed in order make progress along the internal path of yoga. If yoga is meant to be a life long commitment to inner peace it behooves yoga practitioners to practice as much as they can. If you only practice when it is convenient or when you feel good then yoga is more of a hobby then a lifestyle. But sincere spiritual practice has never been a leisurely activity if it is to produce the results of awakening. True spiritual practice is an unbroken commitment to do everything it takes to see the deepest truth there is. It is not something you can choose to look at only on Monday and Wednesday for an hour and pretend it does not exist for the rest of the week."
There is a lot of stuff to chew on in this very insightfully written paragraph. To begin with, Kino talks about the subtle shift that occurs in the practitioner from a fitness-oriented approach to a devotional approach towards the practice, and how making this shift is necessary if the practitioner is to stick with the practice for the long haul and make genuine progress along the internal path of yoga.
My teacher in Milwaukee has also expressed the same point. He used to say that Ashtanga is not the kind of yoga that one can "dabble in": One either gets totally seriously immersed in it and allows the practice to transform one, or one eventually lets go of the practice and moves on to something else. From my own personal experience, I feel that this is very true. Even if one initially approaches the practice from a purely physical fitness point of view, as one does the practice over a period of time, one is bound to encounter obstacles. These can range from purely physical obstacles like injuries or limitations that cause one to get stuck at a certain posture for a prolonged period of time, to psychological obstacles caused by changes in one's personal life. I think that when one encounters such obstacles, one inevitably asks oneself: Why am I doing this practice, if it isn't as enjoyable as it used to be? Depending on how one answers this question, one will either stick with the practice or move on to something else.
But nevertheless, I sometimes find myself wondering: Is it possible for one to be a lifelong/long-term Ashtanga dabbler? Is it possible that there may be people out there who decide that they are only going to go for certain physical aspects of the practice, and maybe restrict their practice to only, say, two or three times a week? What do they do the rest of the time? Well, they don't exactly pretend that Ashtanga doesn't exist during that time. They just, well, do other things, i.e. engage in other activities (run, play tennis, eat lots of not-very-healthy food, drink like fishes, have lots of sex... the list goes on.). And then when it comes time for that twice- or thrice-weekly Ashtanga class, they go to Ashtanga class. And then they go back to running or playing tennis or eating lots of not-very-healthy food or drinking like fishes or having lots of sex. And so on.
Anyway, I guess my question is: Is it possible to compartmentalize Ashtanga in one's life in this way, in much the same way in which many people compartmentalize work, family, exercise, etc, and treat those things as particular "parts" of their lives? My own personal answer is no (as you probably figured); for me at least, the practice is such that it permeates many areas of (actually, probably all of) my life at the same time, whether I like it or not. But I often wonder if this is just me; for all I know, there might be people out there who have "successfully" kept this Ashtanga thing out of the rest of their lives. And there's probably nothing wrong with that: When all is said and done, it is your practice, and you alone must decide what kind of a relationship the practice should have to the rest of your life. But if Kino is right, then it seems that in the long run, one can only compartmentalize Ashtanga (assuming this is possible, of course) at the price of not making Ashtanga a genuine spiritual practice. After all, as I understand it, one common motivation for compartmentalizing anything is to locate it within a convenient, neat place within one's existing lifestyle, so that it fits nicely into a particular slot within this lifestyle, enabling one to do that thing at one's own leisure. But real spiritual practice, as many of us know, is like life: It is often very messy and complicated, and cannot be fitted into any nice categories. At least, this is my opinion: Many may disagree.
So where does all this leave me? Well, I'm not sure. This seems to be one of those posts where I just keep going on and on and on, and suddenly find myself running out of things to say :-) So maybe I'll leave you with this question: Do you think it is possible to compartmentalize the Ashtanga practice? I'll love to hear from you, as always.