Last weekend, I went down to Minneapolis-St. Paul to attend a Buddhist activity. On Sunday afternoon, just before I hit the road to head back up here to my little corner of the upper midwest, I stopped in at this very nice clothing store in Minneapolis to get a little gift for my fiancee, who wasn't able to make the trip with me (to those of you socially conscious yogis out there: Don't worry, it's not Lululemon! I haven't gone that far over to the Dark Side :-) But in order to protect a few innocent people, I won't tell you what the store in question is, either.).
Anyway, while walking around the store, I ran into my friend and fellow Ashtanga blogger Ellie. Which was a real treat (of all the possible places in the universe to meet a fellow Ashtangeek...). It is one thing to geek out about Ashtanga on this blog; getting to meet and geek out about Ashtanga with a fellow Ashtangeek in real time is quite another. After the usual exchange of pleasantries ("Oh, what a surprise! What brings you here?..."), we lost no time in getting down to the business of Ashtangeeking. In the space of, like, five minutes, we covered an amazing range of topics: We talked about the exploits of prominent Ashtanga bloggers, and about that annoying yet amusing phenomenon known as Ashtanga-bashing. We also chatted a little about going--or, in my case, not having made it this year--to Mysore. We also talked about a friend who recently got authorized, and about how we are not supposed to expect to get authorized, but start expecting it anyway sometime around the third Mysore trip (for more details, see Patrick's recent post about authorization).
And then the topic of conversation turned to something not so pleasant: It seems that there is a general decline recently in the state of Ashtanga in the Twin Cities area, and possibly in Minnesota-North Dakota as well. Not that Ashtanga was ever really really big here, but recent events in the Ashtanga world in this area seem to point to a further shrinkage. For one, as I have mentioned on this blog before, a local studio in my area that used to offer Mysore classes once a week on Saturdays has suspended these classes since the summer began, and has shown no signs of restarting them. In addition, an illustrious Ashtanga studio in Minneapolis has also recently seen a reduction in classes and a move to a smaller location (I'm not naming any names here, so don't start leaving snarky anonymous comments here now...). Anyway, all in all, if we're reading these events purely at face value, it would seem that there is an overall decline/shrinkage in the state of Ashtanga in the great midwestern states of Minnesota and North Dakota. Not that you have to take my word for it; this is just my very personal observation. And what am I doing about it? Nothing, really; I just do my own practice, and then sit on my ass and write inane blog posts like this one... Sad.
But let me try to put a positive spin on this whole thing. Ellie and I agreed that ultimately, there is only one way to get an Ashtanga program off the ground: Offer Mysore classes six days a week, and in this way, attract students who want to practice every day (or, at least, make their way towards eventually practicing every day). Anything less than that (offering Mysore classes only once, twice or even thrice a week) simply won't do. To be sure, nobody can control whether or not people choose to show up for Mysore six days a week: Even in a traditional shala, there will always be "dabblers" who only come to class once or twice a week, and then go do their own thing the rest of the week. But I think that ultimately, a studio/shala that offers Mysore classes six days a week is sending a very clear message to students or potential students: This practice is very powerful, but you need to really, really commit to it to see the effects in your own life. No half-assing.
Which also means no half-assing on the part of the teacher. The teacher has to show up six days a week at the same early hour, re-arranging his or her personal practice around this, whether or not anybody shows up. This is a very big commitment. And let's face it: Teachers are people. And people have families and a whole bunch of obligations that come with being householders in this wonderful capitalistic land of America. If you teach yoga full time, and nobody comes to your classes, how do you pay the bills and fulfill your householder obligations?...
Ha! I said I was going to try to put a positive spin on this whole thing. I haven't succeeded so far, have I? But here's something: Because of everything I said above, I have great, great respect for Mysore teachers everywhere. It's a great, great calling that requires great, great sacrifices.
But all this also means that not everybody can teach Ashtanga full-time. I don't mean "can" in the sense of "being a good enough teacher", but "can" in the sense of "being able to make a living teaching pure Ashtanga". After all, if there can only be so many Mysore programs within a city, and if even those aren't necessarily doing all that well, this must mean that there must be quite a number of capable Ashtanga teachers who have to teach something else more marketable (Vinyasa, gentle yoga, hatha yoga, you name it) in order to pay their bills. I know that all this is sounding very crass and possibly unyogic (true yogis are not supposed to talk about making money and paying the bills, right? It's all supposed to, like, flow into your life if your heart is in the right place, right?), but I get the sense that what I am saying is reflective of the reality out there. Over the last couple of years, I have met Ashtangis (both in the blogosphere and in "real" life) who have a strong and committed daily Ashtanga practice, but teach some other kind of yoga. And I don't mean this in a bad or pejorative way: I mean, you got to do what you got to do, and I respect that. Besides, I don't even teach any yoga. So who am I to judge?
But all this brings to mind a recent post by Bindi, in which she quotes Dena Kingsberg saying this about committing to one yoga style:
“like a marriage, the commitment to an ongoing practice of one style or
method allows us the possibility to move beyond the surface. in
repetition and devotion we provoke a gradual awakening.”
To extend the marriage metaphor further: If committing to one yoga style is like being faithful to a spouse, and practicing another style at the same time is like cheating on one's spouse, then what about practicing one style while teaching another? Is this akin to... I don't know, having sex with one person while saying that somebody else is better in bed? Well, I don't know. I'm just thinking aloud here. But seriously, I guess you see the tension here, right? Hmm... well, maybe I'll just pose this as a question to all of you Ashtangis out there who teach another style: Do you ever feel that there is tension between your personal practice and what you teach others? Do you ever feel that you are somehow "cheating" on Ashtanga by practicing it in private, and then going out there and teaching something else?