Dear Ashtanga: I'm seeing other Yoga

Dear Ashtanga,

Well, this has been a while coming, so I'm just going to be straight with you: I am seeing other yoga.

Yes, the mere fact that I am writing this is indicative of the problem - you see, Ashtanga, your system is just not flexible enough to meet my needs (no pun intended!). I guess this shouldn't come as a great surprise - just like any partnership, you can't rely wholly on one other person (errr, yoga system) to meet ALL of your needs. And yet, Ashtanga, that is kind of what you wanted me to think, which is, in hindsight, setting the bar a bit unrealistically high, right?

But don't worry, Ashtanga - it's not you, it's me. I've changed. I've grown in my practice, and you, of course, have been a part of that. But as I have become more in tune with my body - and my spirit - there are things that I have become less comfortable with, too.

You see, I'm not a dogmatic person. I don't have a religion, and I don't subscribe to the idea that any one system is better than another. Yet when I was introduced to you, Ashtanga, that sense of superiority was somehow present in the subtext. Now, I know that you're saying "it's not my fault I'm misinterpreted!" - and you know what, you're right. It's not your fault! But somehow that's the message that slipped through - "Ashtanga is like the ferrari of Yoga", one teacher said to me. The implication being that other 'vehicles' will get you there (wherever there is!) all the same, but that Ashtanga will do it faster. And with a bit more panache, perhaps. And I admit, when I first come to the practice, I certainly felt a bit of that turbo charge from the fast pace of the sequence and all those vinyasas! But I've come to a time where I'm suddenly thinking that a Ferrari is maybe not the only car that I need, because really, a Ferrari is only good if you have perfectly smooth, wide roads - say, a healthy, fit, injury-free body.  To be honest, I'm more of a 4x4 girl myself - because life is not a smooth ride, and I'd happily sacrifice a bit of speed to make sure that I have enough flexibility to deal with anything that comes along!

And that's the thing, Ashtanga. In real life, I think that in order to be effective, a system has to be able to evolve and change. But in Ashtanga, there is no evolution of the system. We are taught that the system is perfect as it is, that it is enough, that it cannot be changed or modified. I imagine the reaction of my Ashtanga teachers if I suggested we just "slip" shalabasana into the primary series, or "skip" Marichyasana D and do something else instead. According to the system, they would have good reason to be outraged! Everything is sequenced for a reason, everything in it's rightful place. You have to take things one step at a time! Which is wise advice, for sure. But it also assumes that one particular sequence (or 6, if you like) is right for every possible human body on earth. And the more I practice and the more I teach, the more I believe (as Krishnamacharya himself is reputed to have taught) that yoga should be adapted to the individual - and not the other way around.

Now that's not to say that your sequencing isn't beautiful, Ashtanga, because it truly is. But there are things that my body is missing, and I need to look elsewhere to find them. Lunges, for example - deep stretches into the psoas and hip flexors. So important for my back!  Piriformis stretches for keeping that pesky sciatica at bay - achieved when your leg crosses to the other side of the body, in easy twist for example - missing until ardha matsyendrasana in second series, and even that doesn't really isolate the muscle.

I could go on, but see, that is just me, and everybody's body is different. The point is, Ashtanga, that I spent a few years believing what I was taught - that Ashtanga is a complete system, that it is a system for anybody and everybody, that "practice [Ashtanga] and all is coming", and to practice other types of yoga would just be messing with the results. That, say, a Land Rover Defender might be robust, but a Ferrari is better. That with Ashtanga, there is really no need to practice anything else.

Well, for me, for my body, that just isn't working anymore. And so, Ashtanga, while I will probably still visit often, I am seeing other Yogas. And it feels good!



Readers - what are your experiences with yoga systems? ;)