Wow, it's actually been a week since I last posted anything on this blog. What happened? Well, nothing. I just thought I'd take a couple of days off from blogging last weekend. Those couple of days became a little longer, and before you know it, it's been a week! Which is probably just as well: I probably couldn't find anything worth blogging about, anyway...
But now that I'm back, I think I'll flex my blogging muscles by sinking my teeth into this most persistent of Ashtanga myths: Ashtanga was designed for teenage boys. I really don't know what to say about this, except to simply deny it outright: No, it's not. Here's an immediate piece of evidence to the contrary: I'm 36, and am practicing.
But then again, I may not be the best piece of evidence. After all, I'm only, like, one-third to half-way through second series (how far along in second is Ardha Matsyendrasana, anyway?), and I've had to work through my fair share of injuries and other obstacles even to get this far. So fine, don't use me as evidence. Well, let's try another tact: As Steve mentions in his latest blog post, the great Eddie Stern recently proclaimed that this myth is simply not true: Both Krishnamacharya and Guruji taught people of both sexes at all stages of life. As Guruji famously proclaimed, ""Old man, stiff man, weak man, sick man, all can take practice. Only lazy man cannot practice." We should also understand that by "man", Guruji also includes "woman" here. Which means that the only people who cannot practice are lazy men and women :-)
Actually, here's another independent source which busts this myth. During my interview with Kino in Richmond, VA last April (see this post), she related the following story. Back in the day when they were still practicing at the old shala in Mysore, an old man showed up one morning at the shala with what appeared to be his wife (it later turned out that the man was in his nineties, and the woman was his daughter, who was in her seventies). Anyway, the old man had come to the shala to see Guruji because he had heard that Guruji was a great yoga teacher. The man had been diagnosed with a heart condition, and the doctors at the hospital wanted to perform surgery on him. The man decided that he did not want to undergo surgery, and he came to see Guruji in the hope that Guruji would be able to teach him yoga to help with his condition. Guruji agreed, and immediately set about teaching him.
Notice that Guruji did not say to the man, "Sorry, my friend, I can't teach you: This yoga is only for teenage boys." Why didn't he say this? Well, because Ashtanga is not only for teenage boys!
That said, it is probably true that if you did not start Ashtanga as a teenage boy, your chances of getting beyond, say, third series are probably not very high. But I'm okay with that: One only needs to do primary series to get the therapeutic benefits (yoga chikitsa) of the practice, and I'm happy and grateful to be where I am.
I'm also aware that some supposedly distinguished yoga scholars like Mark Singleton and Norman Sjoman support the view that Ashtanga was designed for teenage boys. Well, I don't know... (have these distinguished gentlemen tried doing the practice themselves, I wonder?) But really, would you rather believe Guruji and his words and actions, or the words of some supposed scholars who think they can tell you stuff just because they have read some books and spoken with some people? Besides, these days, it seems that almost anybody who cares to sit down and write something and cite a few sources here and there can call themselves a yoga (or whatever) scholar. And besides, if Sjoman and Singleton really think that Ashtanga is only for teenage boys... well, nobody's telling them they have to practice Ashtanga, right? They can always go practice Anusara, no? :-)