Thursday, January 24, 2013

'Tis the season...

For dissing/bashing Ashtanga and/or the Ashtanga Police, at least if this recent post on Elephant Journal by Jean Marie Hackett is any indication. I couldn't help chuckling to myself and also at the author of the post as I read it. You know, this Ashtanga-bashing/Ashtanga-police-bashing thing, it seems to be a seasonal thing in the blogosphere. Over the past couple of years, I've noticed that there are certain times every year when Ashtanga or Ashtanga-police bashing seems to be very prevalent in the yoga blogosphere. Then it kind of goes away, only to resurface in some form or other later in the year. And actually, it's not all bad; I actually find a lot of it to be very entertaining, especially when people use relationship language (falling in/out of love with Ashtanga, breaking up with Ashtanga, seeing other yogas, etc., etc.) to describe their tumultous relationship to this practice that we all love... oh wait, maybe I shouldn't speak for all who read this blog. Well, let me amend that, then: this practice that I love. How's that?

Anyway, quite a few people in the blogosphere (including Patrick and sereneflavor) have already said quite a bit about this latest round of Ashtanga muck-raking, so I won't say much more here. I'll just say two things here to Jean Marie Hackett, and to any other aspiring Ashtanga muck-rakers out there:

(1) If you want to eat dinner late (and eat a very heavy one, at that), please consider inviting me. I don't publicize this very much, as I am supposed to be an Ashtanga fundamentalist, but I am actually one of those "Ashtanga criminals" who often eat dinner pretty late (i.e. after 7 p.m.) Why? Because I just can't stand going to bed hungry. It hasn't really affected my practice too much, although I sometimes wonder whether I would have been able to get it up in Karandavasana by now if I quit eating dinner so late. Oh well. As they say, you gain some, you lose some, right? :-) But anyway, if you are also an Ashtanga criminal like me (and I am using this term in a tongue-in-cheek manner, just so you know), and you feel like having a partner in gastronomic crime will help you to feel less guilty about being so criminal, please, please invite me to dinner (gosh, how much more shameless can I get at trying to get myself invited to dinner?).

(2) I suspect that life will be easier if we take things just a little more lightheartedly. I mean, the practice is hard enough as it is. Why make it harder by beating yourself up for every little thing that you do that may not conform to the exacting standards of the so-called Ashtanga Police? You eat meat? Okay... so what? Maybe you will quit eating meat sometime in the future, when you are ready to do so. Or maybe you won't. One way or the other, life goes on. You get to live another day, and (maybe) practice another day. You are seeing other yoga? Who cares? I mean, is yoga-infidelity even a crime? Anyway, you get the picture. Nobody is a perfect Ashtangi. So what sense is there in trying so hard, and then beating yourself up when you "fail"? Unless, of course, you are one of those people who enjoy mentally flagellating yourself. In which case I don't know what to say to you (Uh... get some help, maybe?).

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'Tis also the season for a little self-reflection. You see, I turned 37 today. Yes, I was born on January 24th 37 years ago. So I am now officially in my late thirties. Scary...  Ah, what have I accomplished in 37 years on this planet?... I didn't even do anything today to celebrate. I just went to campus as usual. Taught my usual Thursday morning class, and then did jack shit for the rest of the day.

But something very nice did happen this morning. After class, a student came up to me, and told me I was doing a great job. She liked how I seemed to be pretty good at handling tough questions from what she saw as difficult students. I told her that I actually love being put on the spot by "difficult students"; at any rate, I actually think the best philosophy students are "difficult" students, people who simply won't stop firing questions at the teacher. In any case, I'd rather people ask me tough questions than have to lecture on and on to a class of unresponsive students.

You know, it's things like this that make me feel that teaching philosophy is worth the trouble, even if my present career outlook is very tenuous and uncertain. I've always believed that if you try to do what you do well today, tomorrow will take care of itself.

That said, maybe I will go have a big dinner to celebrate anyway. I might feel like shit during practice tomorrow. But I know I won't be alone... :-)      

21 comments:

  1. happy birthday nobel! go out and celebrate.
    sounds like you already got a good gift from that student.

    fyi, i too eat dinner late, for the same reason. i used to think there were "rules" especially around food, when i started..and they were all debunked early on, by my teacher.

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    1. Thanks Suzanne. Yes, the best gifts in life are free, as they say :-)

      Personally, I think it is alright to eat dinner late, so long as you are prepared to well, suffer a little during practice the next morning :-) Maybe I will change my dinner habits when I finally make it to Mysore...

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  2. Happy Birthday! Gift yourself with a late night dinner :)

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  3. Happy Birthday, Nobel!

    I enjoyed your response very much. I feel that that the author has mistaken general, recommended, "guidelines" as a Bible full of Commandments. We all have different circumstances, and from what I have learned from teachers is that doing our best within the confines of daily life is what the practice "off the mat" is about. Of course, if one chooses to delve deeper into the practice, perhaps from both a spiritual or asana perspective, the guidelines will bring added benefit. But, if one is hungry, and unable to go to sleep at 9pm because their dinner at 4pm wasn't sufficient, by all means have a small snack. For whatever reason, folks like to over analyze , and perhaps to rationalize a transition or situation they are experiencing. Keep it simple: "Practice, and all is Coming.." right?

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    1. Thanks Lu. Yes, when it comes down to it, we are all householders trying our best to make the practice work within the confines of our life, as you say.

      That said, certain teachers may sometimes "push" or give you a slightly bigger nudge in order to get you to consider more seriously an alternative way of life; my teacher in Milwaukee, for instance, was very upfront about the importance of being vegetarian, and I don't think I would have taken the plunge to stop eating meat if I hadn't met him. So sometimes we do need to meet people with such powerful energy in order to have the energy to make big changes in our lives. Maybe some people get rubbed the wrong way, and see these teachers as the "Ashtanga Police". At least, that's my theory. But either way, there's no point in over-analyzing or over-thinking things. I think Kino said somewhere that you should give something a good shot for at least a month. If it works, keep doing it. If not, try something else.

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    2. Agreed, Nobel, and I assume you are referring to PJ?

      I find fascinating that experienced teachers tend to have a powerful barometer that enables them to know when a student is ready for that "push" as you mention. A newbie, perhaps after 6 months, may naturally gravitate towards a more sattvic diet without even realizing what that is other then the physical sensations of being able to bend, twist, and bind slightly easier without a big ol' hunk of carcass sitting in one's gut. That may be the appropriate juncture for a conversation with one's teacher concerning one's diet, in this situation (as opposed to a teacher throwing vegetarianism in the student's face in the first week of practice).

      Kudos to the Kino reference. As a Zen Buddhist, I relate and appreciate it.

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    3. Yes, it is PJ I am referring to (do you know him). He is a powerful vortex of energy, and he is in many ways the opposite of me. I tend to find my way around the world by analyzing (often over-analyzing) things, whereas he seems to have this empathic ability to feel people and things. Which, I think, gives him this "energy barometer" to sense when he can say certain things to a certain person that might come across as abrasive or even offensive to another person.

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  4. Happy birthday Nobel, hope you had a great delicious dinner and *still* practiced this morning ;)

    A friend posted the article on FB a few days ago saying it was "pretty cool" and it was all I could do to just stay silent and not react to her post. Ashtanga-bashing is so 2010.

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    1. Yes, I *still* practiced this morning. Actually, this may be worth writing an entire post about. Coming soon...

      'A friend posted the article on FB a few days ago saying it was "pretty cool"...'

      I'm starting to think that these things go in cycles, simply because there will always either be people who are new to Ashtanga who are shocked and awed by the strictness of the "Ashtanga lifestyle", or people who for whatever reason are disgruntled or disenchanted with the practice.

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  5. Happy Belated Birthday! This was an excellent "Don't let yoga ruin your life" (David Swenson quote) post.

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    1. Thanks, sereneflavor.

      I am one of those people whose lives have been ruined so much by yoga... but then again, why ruin it more? :-)

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  6. Happy Belated Birthday! I hope you had a wonderful meal! :) I am also an "ashtanga criminal"! I eat late, I drink, and (the worst one) I don't practice in the AM. I practice at 5pm everyday...oh well. I just can't seem to make mornings work, but hey I'll just tell people I do illegal Ashtanga :P Maybe theres a group for people like this.

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    1. Thank you so much for your birthday wishes :-)

      "Maybe theres a group for people like this..."

      Yes, there is such a group. It's called Illegal Ashtangaholics Anonymous :-)

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  7. Oh happy birthday Nobel! So glad to hear your balanced approach to life! I am with you 100% and I love that "if you do what you do well tomorrow will take care of itself"

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  8. jean marie hackettOctober 17, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    I'm just seeing this...wish I had seen it in January. And you are right. The inspiration for that blog, at that time, was me being way too hard on myself. :) seriously. I'm not blowing smoke at you. And I have since realized that the perfect ashtangi is perhaps a mythical creation in my imagination only. Sometimes she judges me when I eat dessert way past 7pm, but usually she is pretty quiet these days. PS, this was very entertaining to read.

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