Saturday, June 23, 2012

What do we do with people who try to quit the Church of Ashtanga?

Disclaimer: Before you read the rest of this post, and possibly accuse me of being disrespectful, irreverent, and/or downright blasphemous, let me say a couple of things here: While this post features existing famous yoga teachers and makes certain religious references that you may be familiar with, any remarks made here about these teachers are meant to be taken in a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek manner. I certainly have no intention of making any statement about the real-world religious beliefs of these teachers (or of anybody else, for that matter). As such, anything I say in this post should be taken with a pretty large grain of salt. If you find yourself unable to do so, you can try (1) taking a few deep breaths, (2) doing your yoga practice, (3) taking a trip to the bathroom, and seeing if your possibly overly-tightened mula bandha will release of its own accord, (4) going to the kitchen, and making yourself swallow a large grain of salt, or (5) try forgetting you ever read this post in the first place. If none of this works, and you still feel upset... well, you can try sending me an angry email. But I may or may not respond, and you may or may not feel better after writing said email...

If you do not agree to this disclaimer, read no further! But hopefully, you will agree, and we will all have some fun in the name of good, clean entertainment.

So here goes:       

A couple of days ago, Steve over at the Confluence Countdown pondered whether Ashtanga might be a cult. I'm rather undecided on this matter; maybe it really is one. After all, don't I often refer to myself as an Ashtanga Fundamentalist?

But I've recently also begun to wonder: Even if Ashtanga is not a cult, might it not be a religion, a church of some sort? Why do I think this? Well, recent conversations in certain quarters of the Ashtanga blogosphere have left me with such a feeling. To put it more precisely, I get the sense that some ardent Ashtangis approach the practice with the fervor and conviction approaching religious faith. For instance, a commenter on one of Yoga Gypsy's very stimulating recent posts about "breaking up" with Ashtanga commented that when she made the decision to "leave" Ashtanga, she got a lot of flack from other Ashtangis for deciding to do so.

Which leads me to wonder exactly what kind of "flack" she got. Was it just garden-variety flack, i.e. getting teased by other Ashtangis, getting the "cold shoulder", not getting any more invitations to parties hosted by Ashtangis (like we party a lot, anyway...)? Or did this "flack" consist of something more... systematic? Did they send in some senior teacher to give her a big pep talk about why Ashtanga is the best yoga style since sliced bread, and that she would be really losing out on the fast track to Self-realization if she chose to leave? Maybe, unbeknownst to all of us, there is a secret group of senior teachers that run around the world talking to "quitters" or "deserters", trying to get these lost sheep back into the Church of Ashtanga of Latter Day Yogic Saints. And maybe they have been doing this for so long, they have even developed a modus operandi, which can be divided into two stages:

Stage (1): Talk Therapy: They get some senior Ashtanga teacher who really knows his Yoga Mala/Bhagavad Gita/Yoga Sutra, and who is really good at parlaying such knowledge into everyday language, to talk the quitter's ear off. Besides being able to talk somebody's ear off, this person should also be somebody who is personable and easy to relate to. Having a nice, winning smile is a big plus:

Elder Miller in action
[Image taken from here]

I don't have any figures here, but I wouldn't be surprised if Elder Miller has single-handedly prevented hundreds, perhaps even thousands of devotees from leaving the Church of Ashtanga with his absorbing lectures on yoga philosophy. But sometimes, even the best is not enough: There are times when even the most eloquent speakers can't do much to change somebody's mind. It is at these times that a picture says a thousand words... or rather, a demonstration says a thousand words. Which brings me to the next stage of the process:

Stage (2): Powerful/Impressive Demonstration of Yoga Prowess: They get some senior Ashtanga teacher who is renowned for his/her asana prowess, and who is really good at giving demonstrations, to give the would-be quitter a personal demonstration. The underlying message here is: Look, you have already come so far in your practice, and invested so much time and effort. Don't you want to at least get to third series before your earthly body turns to dust, and you go up to the Brahma heavens to meet Guruji? Here is a senior teacher who is frequently assigned this important task: 

 Elder MacGregor in action
[Image taken from here]
 
As with Elder Miller, I don't have any figures, but again, I wouldn't be surprised if many devotees have been saved from the path of quitting the Church by a glimpse of the promised land of Vrischikasana.

Indeed, the combined effects of stages (1) and (2) have probably prevented countless would-be quitters from straying off this wonderful fast track to Self-realization that is the Ashtanga practice. However, as we all know, for every powerful talker and impressive asana demonstrator out there, there is probably at least one quitter who is, well, totally dead-set on quitting, and whose mind, ears and eyes are totally impervious to any kind of visual and verbal persuasion. What can we do with such hard-headed lost sheep? Well, in all honesty, probably nothing. Maybe they will find their own, albeit slower, track to Self-realization. Maybe they will be enticed by the blissed-out countenances of Anusara practitioners, and find their bliss there--a bliss that may, admittedly, be tainted by the recent fall from grace of their supreme guru, but why judge the quality of somebody's blissed-out experience by the state of one's guru? Or maybe they will find some measure of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--along with weight loss, fitness, and a very well-sculpted ass-- in the newly emergent Latin nation of Zumba? Who knows?
A recruitment poster for the newly emergent Latin nation of Zumba
[Image taken from here]           

14 comments:

  1. Oh man, I love this. Unfortunately I don't think the Talk Therapy or awesome Asana Demos (is it my imagination, or has Kino been posting more videos on FB lately?) can bring me back from my Ashtanga sabbatical these days.

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    1. Ah... you must be one of those hardcore lost sheep :-) Maybe you will find some bliss in the land of Anusara?...

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    2. Haha! I can't make it though an Anusara class with a straight face. I've moved right on to T'ai Chi instead...until asana inspiration returns...if it ever does. :)

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    3. Interesting. Here's something that might ease your transition back to asana, if and when your asana inspiration returns. Have you heard of Sadhana Yoga Chi, created by Doug Swenson (David's brother)? Check this out:

      http://www.sadhanayogachi.com/doug.htm

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    4. I practice dougs sadhana yoga often; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6FZgxe8rck

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    5. I just saw your video. Interesting practice. Thanks for sharing :-)

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  2. This was HILARIOUS. Thank you, Nobel :)

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  3. Nation of Zumba warning: My brother in law's wife tore her Achilles tendon (surgery, six weeks in a cast, physical therapy) while trying Zumba. She first thought the woman behind her had kicked her really really hard....

    FYI: Any path, but specially the long ones, have some uninteresting stretches with boring scenery followed by some rugged,sweaty terrain. Then maybe some turns with awesome views, with perhaps a really well kept well marked easy trail for a bit, and after that....

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    1. Oh no, I'm so sorry to hear about this. I hope she is better now. I didn't know people kick each other in the Republic of Zumba...

      I like your description of the long path of Ashtanga practice :-)

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  4. Haha! I wonder if I should be watching over my shoulder in case Elder Miller is creeping up behind me? But I wonder, is the approach different if you are a sheep who strays from the flock, or if you were actually always a goat? ;)

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    1. Elder Miller is always around... :-)

      I think some Ashtangis are goats, but not all goats are Ashtangis.

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  5. Hilarious! Boy I am behind on my blog reading ; )

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