Thursday, October 25, 2012

Talking to birds in Kapotasana, making the transition from led practice to Mysore style, and Wonder-Breading Yoga

During practice this morning, I tried speaking to the cockatiels again while holding my heels in Kapo. I didn't say anything profound, just some rather inane things like "Hello birds, where are you?" I did this, because I recently came up with this theory that if I can speak in complete sentences (albeit rather short and probably creepy-sounding ones, if anybody were around to hear them) in a more or less even tone while in the depths of Kapo, then my breath must be pretty even, and I must not be doing too badly in the pose. Maybe I should even give this thing I do a name: The bird-speaking test for proficiency in Kapotasana.  

For the record, I don't know what the Official Ashtanga Policy is on speaking to animals (or speaking to anything, really) during practice. I don't know if the Ashtanga police will arrest me (or maybe, let me get away with just a citation) for such incorrect method. But I really think there is some truth to this theory of mine: I mean, if you can't communicate with birds during a pose that is named after a bird, well, what good is your yoga practice? :-)

It also just occurred to me that this is one of the little advantages of practicing at home: If I try doing this in a shala, people will quite definitely think I'm nuts. In a shala, the problem will be compounded by the fact that there are no birds there. Which means I will probably have to try speaking to my neighbor while in Kapo ("Hello, so-and-so, what are you having for breakfast after practice?"...).  Which would quite definitely be creepy.

That said, however, there are good reasons for practicing in a shala. Especially if you are seriously thinking about making the transition from a led practice to Mysore style practice. Speaking of which, Kino just made a video about this topic:

I think Kino admirably answers the question in a way that is thoughtful and sensitive to where the student who posed the question is probably coming from: A place of uncertainty, of thinking about taking what seems to be a big step into unknown territory. If somebody were to pose the same question to me, I would probably say something along the lines of, "Sure! Of course you are ready! Mysore Style is traditionally supposed to be the way people learn Ashtanga anyway. So how can you not be ready? You are never more ready, nor will you ever be more ready, than you are right now!"

Which sounds like a nice, pat answer on the face of it, but is probably a bit disingenuous, since I myself did not learn Ashtanga the traditional Mysore way; for more details, see this post. Which is also why I think Kino's suggestion (give it your best shot and really commit to it for one month, and then see what it does to you) would probably do a much better job of reaching the student where he or she is (as opposed to where I would like he or she to be) and setting that student's mind at ease.


A recent post over at the Babarazzi discusses a rather bizarre but perhaps understandable phenomenon: Some yoga teachers in this country (I'm not naming any names here) have adopted this interesting practice of de-culturing or whitewashing yoga; as in, washing it of its Sanskrit nomenclature and other hocus-pocus elements, thus making it supposedly more friendly to white people... well, I mean to say, some white people.

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know where I stand on this issue, so I won't rehash my views here (Is a white-washed Ashtanga Fundamentalist still an Ashtanga Fundamentalist? That's a hard one...). I'm just going to say two things here:

(1) If Americans white-wash yoga in America, wouldn't people in other parts of the world follow suit? The Chinese will then start yellow-washing yoga, Africans, I'm guessing, will also start black-washing yoga, and maybe people in the middle east will then start brown-washing yoga... actually, I have this feeling that the Chinese will probably be quite happy to keep yoga as it is; in my personal experience, Chinese people and culture have always had this syncretistic, pragmatic attitude towards things foreign to them ("You want me to chant this Vande Gurunam thing before I can take practice? Sure, why not? If it enables me to tap deeper into the benefit of the practice and also look kinda exotic in front of my friends, what's the problem?"). But I can't speak for African or Middle-eastern people. But maybe all of this is not a problem, anyway: If there are white-washed and yellow-washed and black-washed and brown-washed (and whatever-other-color-washed) yogas, wouldn't this make yoga more colorful (literally)? So yeah, go ahead, white-wash away. Just don't make me white-wash along with you. I like my vande gurunam the way it is ;-)

(2) But here's another, possibly more significant problem with this white-washing business: Ever heard of Wonder Bread? If you haven't, it looks like this:

[Image taken from here]

When Wonder Bread first appeared on the market some 90 years ago, it was hailed as the best thing since... sliced bread. However, over the decades (despite claims by Wonder Bread advocates that Wonder Bread contains at least 8 essential nutrients, and recent attempts to come up with enriched versions that supposedly contain more calcium and vitamin D), more and more members of the discerning and health-conscious public have come to realize that, despite all its wonders, Wonder Bread lacks many of the minerals and nutrients found in old-school home-made bread.

The moral of the story, I guess, is that when you mass-produce white bread, you almost inevitably suffer a loss in nutritional value. Now could it also be that one can mass-market and white-wash yoga and strip it of its "hocus-pocus" elements only at the price of losing its original "nutritional value"? Could the white-washing of yoga be the yoga equivalent of Wonder Bread? In white-washing yoga, are we in effect Wonder-Breading it, reducing it to a much less "nutritious" shadow of its former self?

I don't know... but I do know that all this talking about Wonder Bread (and probably also all the leg-behind-head postures that I have been practicing) is making me very, very hungry. So I'm going to go get some food now. More later.


  1. Actions speak louder than words and the asana itself is a homage to whoever or whatever you chose. So vande gurnama to your hearts content, I consider it spiritual materialism but I'm happy if it floats your boat, whatever gets whoever on the mat.

  2. In that case, I am a happy spiritual materialist :-)

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