Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ashtanga, P90X, and pulling a Claudia

A few days ago, Claudia wrote a very informative post titled "The Definitive Guide to All Yoga Styles". Strictly speaking, she did not succeed in covering ALL yoga styles (she admitted as much towards the end of the post), but it was very informative nonetheless.

As with many of Claudia's posts, an interesting conversation unfolded in the comment thread between her and several commenters. One commenter mentioned that he had been practicing this thing called P90X; he found it so challenging that his legs would "would shake uncontrollably because [he] had to keep certain poses for a few seconds." Claudia responded by saying, 'Oh the P90x... that just by its name sounds like the "get fit quick" kind of thing... not yoga...  funny that you could not get through it...'

I really love how Claudia is able to be so diplomatic and respectful, and yet still maintain the ability to critique something so sharply at particular times. But there's a part of me that can't help wondering if some people out there may not take Claudia's short critique as well as I did. In other words, I wonder if there may be some P90X devotees out there who think that Claudia may be unjustly putting down their beloved system. For the sake of convenience, I'm going to call what Claudia did "Pulling a Claudia." (No offense to you, Claudia: I mean this in a good-natured, humorous way. I really do.) Why would I think that P90X devotees would be offended by Claudia's pulling a Claudia? For one thing, you might notice, for instance, that the P90X guy whom Claudia pulled a Claudia on never responded to Claudia's pulling a Claudia. Now this may or may not mean anything in and of itself: It could just be that the guy was busy and simply did not get around to responding. Maybe, unlike somebody like me, he has better things to do than follow comment threads on people's blogs, and then write meaningless blog posts on said threads... But I still can't help wondering, nonetheless.

But back to P90X. I actually have a personal story to share about this "Extreme Home Fitness" system. A couple of years ago, I was chatting with a friend of mine who is a self-styled fitness enthusiast... is there such a thing as a non-self-styled fitness enthusiast, anyway? I mean, is there an official organization that certifies "fitness enthusiasts"? Hmm... what would that be? The National Association of Fitness Enthusiasts? National Association of Fitness Freaks? What about Fitness Freaks United? Actually, that would make for a very interesting acronym: FFU! Think about that... But anyway, back to my story. As I was saying, I was chatting with my self-styled fitness enthusiast friend. She knew that I practiced this kind of yoga called Ashtanga yoga, and she decided to tell me about what she did to keep fit. The general idea is that P90X consists of 12 different "diverse and extreme" workouts (these includes things like Shoulders and Arms, Cardio X, Ab Ripper X, to name a few), and the yoga component is called Yoga X. Why "X"? I'm guessing that "X" means "Extreme", which means that Yoga X is, well, not your mama's yoga.

Anyway, we kept chatting. As the conversation progressed, I realized that she didn't really know what Ashtanga yoga was. We happened to be standing in front of my computer, so I went online and dug up a chart of the Ashtanga Primary Series. Then I showed her a picture of me in this second series pose:

[I've been waiting for the longest time for an excuse to post this picture! Talk about body identification...] 

When she saw this picture, her jaw dropped: "Uh... and you say you have been doing yoga for... how long?!" We proceeded to chat for a while more about yoga, and this and that. And then she told me she was going to go home to work out. Well, I hope I inspired her to go do some yoga. Then again, who knows? It is equally possible that I may unwittingly have pulled a Claudia on her by indirectly critiquing P90X ('Look, can P90X get you into this backbend? How can it be "real" yoga if it can't?...') One way or the other, I'll never know. We never talked about fitness after that. Maybe she picked up on my Ashtanga Fundamentalist vibe from that one conversation, and decided to avoid talking with me about anything yoga or fitness-related from that point on...

Anyway, I guess I should try to soften my Ashtanga Fundamentalist image. At any rate, I certainly did not write this post to put down P90X, or any other fitness system, for that matter. I mean, life is short: If getting a tight ass and ripped abs through an extreme home fitness system is what rocks your boat, then more power to you. One word of unsolicited advice here, though: It is very, very unlikely that when you are on your deathbed drawing your last breath, you will regard the achievement of a tight ass and ripped abs (if you still have a tight ass and ripped abs at that time, that is...) as your crowning achievement in life, the achievement that will enable you to go forth and face whatever lies in the hereafter with perfect equanimity and no regrets. But then again, I suppose the same can be said of Kapotasana as well: I highly doubt that at the moment of death, I will regard being able to grab my heels/ankles in Kapotasana as the crowning achievement of my life. But then again, who knows?...

But in any case, I think it would be very unjust of me not to make this post a bit more balanced, and make at least some attempt to say more about what P90X is about. Well, as they say, a (moving) picture says a thousand words. Here's a video of a P90X enthusiast doing his Yoga X workout at home:

I can't help noticing that his alignment could use a little work here. But then again, my own alignment is far from perfect (Have you ever noticed that I don't ever post videos of my own practice?). Which makes me feel that people like this guy and Grimmly and Claudia who post videos of their own practices online are very courageous individuals.

From watching this video, I also notice something else that makes Yoga X--and, for that matter, probably every other "extreme yoga system"--different from Ashtanga. If what we see on the video is any indication, it would seem that Yoga X is basically a souped-up version of power yoga (extreme power yoga?). There are longer holds in the standing postures, with more variations in each posture, the main objective being to target certain muscle groups, enabling the individual to quickly achieve a tight ass or tight leg muscles (or tight whatever). Whereas in Ashtanga, the Suryas and the standing postures are there to serve as the foundation of the practice, getting one's mind and body ready for the rigors of whatever series one goes on to practice after standing. The idea in Ashtanga, as I understand it, is to use the standing postures to open both the physical body and the mind (through establishing an even breath) for what is ultimately a spiritual practice, rather than to get a tight whatever (although getting a tight whatever is often a by-product :-)). Actually, come to think of it, this may ultimately be what makes Ashtanga different from power yoga and its variants. But don't quote me on this: This is just me thinking aloud here.     

At any rate, these are my thoughts. Have any of you out there practiced both P90X/Yoga X and Ashtanga? What are the similarities? What are the differences? Please feel free to share.      


  1. I've never practiced with P90X personally, but my father and some of my students have professed to me that they got their yoga start with the P90x system. I have read the companion manual which provides safety guidelines and practice tips, and I have to say I was impressed. The sequence is legit, and the practice is challenging with reminders to breathe. It may not be "traditional" yoga, but I can't say it's much different than most "flow" style studio classes out there.

    1. I have the same impression too. Although I never read the companion manual, from watching the video, the sequencing at least seems sound.

  2. You are right, I did pull a Claudia, and perhaps I should have looked at the PX90 system a bit before reaching conclusions... :-) I like the term "pulling a Claudia"... might use it in the future...

    1. Glad you took the "pulling a Claudia" thing well ;-) It wasn't meant as a critique of what you wrote; I was basically just looking for an excuse to be tongue-in-cheek.