Why I may never take another yoga class ever again

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series What's 'Real' Yoga?
See all articles in the What's 'Real' Yoga? series here.

Tara Stiles - not real yoga?

Tara Stiles – not real yoga?

by Kara-Leah Grant

There’s a lot of debate going on in American yoga circles right now about what is yoga and what is not yoga.

Elephant Journal is full of it, even the New York Times has got in on the act.

I’m no yoga scholar, and I know there’s various yogic texts which one can refer back to that expound on exactly what yoga is and isn’t.

Patanjali is oft-quoted, although he’s not the only guy that wrote about yoga back in the day. His take on it is simply that yoga is:

the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.

If our mind was a pond, most of us have got a storm raging, day in and day out – a storm that we feed into and nurture and become so absorbed in that we don’t even notice it’s stormy.

We’re wet and we’ve got no idea why.

You could say that a yogi is someone who first becomes aware that there is a storm, and it’s messing up the pond.

A yogi then figures out he’s the one creating that storm, which leads to an ability to stop the storm… until eventually the pond is still.

Which has what to do with postures?

What’s the point of being able to do a perfect downward dog, or float effortlessly up into scorpion. How’s that going make for a still pond?

Well, lots actually.

It’s difficult to practice withdrawing energy from a storm when the body is too sore or stiff to sit comfortably.

It’s hard to even notice the storm when we’re so busy being the wind and the thunder and the lightening. Focusing our attention on the movements of our body and our breath as we seek to master downward dog is a tool that takes us to a place where we can see the storm, still the storm, and perceive the pool.

Downward dog’s not the end of the journey though, not by a long shot. And here’s where most yoga practitioners (and lots of teachers) get stuck – in asana.

It feels so damn good to learn to move our bodies like this, to learn to breath properly, that we become identified and attached to the very thing which aims to liberate us. (And I don’t mean liberate us from this world or our bodies, I mean liberate us from the illusions of our minds and egos. This world, and this body, rock!)

Even worse, we sometimes get stuck on an asana practice which exacerbates the tendencies of our ego rather than balancing them. Achievement Type A personalities who get right into Ashtanga Yoga and just keep doing it, over and over and over again. That kind of thing.

But getting stuck on an asana practice, or a style of yoga totally misses the entire point of yoga.

Which, by my reckoning, is to be able to dive into that still pool and go for a swim! Practicing Ashtanga over and over and over again isn’t swimming in a pool of stillness. It’s doing laps up and down an indoor Olympic pool while a drill sergent stands over you with a stop watch.

Which why I may never take another yoga class ever again. Screw swimming up and down indoor pools learning a particular stroke. I just want to frolic naked in the pool under a waterfall watching the reflection of the stars in the water.

See, post-LA, when I had the luxury of being immersed in training with Shiva Rea, I decided to go and take an Ashtanga class at my local studio. I’d done a class pre-LA, and it was wonderful. Loved it. Mainly because all the practice I’d done since my last Ashtanga class about six months prior meant I was finally able to get into asana that I’d only dreamed of previously. My ego was getting a boost, my practice was getting somewhere, I was achieving yo!

This class wasn’t like that. Something in me had changed. And I blame Shiva and her damn Sahaja.

Ah sahaja…

The word means spontaneous, natural, born in that moment.

It’s the yoga that arises in the body when we allow Kundalini to dance with us. Shiva’s worked it into the public asana classes she leads, giving students permission to trust the innate wisdom within and follow the flow of their own movement. It’s absolute heaven.

And it’s the way yoga is meant to be practiced.

Yep, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I know how yoga’s meant to be practiced and it ain’t how most of us are doing it.

Oh, we’re on our way to it, but we’re stuck. Stuck in Ashtanga sequences doing a yoga designed for a young Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Which is not who we are. We are someone entirely different. So why are we practicing Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ sequence over and over again like it’s the path to the Holy Grail?

Because he told us to, that’s why. And we believed him.

Do your practice and all is coming.

Well yeah, sure PJ, but isn’t this your practice that we’re doing? (Which is all good and well, I’ve got nothing against Ashtanga. Great sequence. Great starting point. Just. Don’t. Get. Stuck. There!)

A yoga friend who’s studying in the lineage of Krishnamacharya, he that taught Iyengar, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and T.K.V. Desikachar, told me this jiucy little bit of yoga gossip. I’m repeating it in full violation of ahimsa because I reckon it’s the White Elephant in the room of modern yoga.

That Ashtanaga sequence was given to PJ by Krishnamacharya when PJ was a young man. It was tailored specifically for PJ, because that’s how Krishnamacharya believed yoga was meant to be done. Specific for the individual. Krishnamacharya, Shiva and I all have something in common there…

So then, how come, decades later, people all over the planet are doing that same sequence like it’s meant for them?

Maybe it is. Maybe whatever they’ve got going on in their gunas and doshas is similar enough to what PJ had going on in his that it’s working for them too.

Until it isn’t.

Which is what happened to me during that post-LA ashtanga class with a very lovely teacher I was incredibly mindful of not wanting to disrespect. However, as we moved through the sequence I could feel my body becoming more tense, particularly in the hips. The practice was aggrevating me, and it was not what I needed to be doing. Or it was not what I was ready to do in that moment.

Either way, I knew what I needed to be doing, I could feel the divine wisdom of my body whispering to me sweet sahaja, but I was stuck in a class doing a sequence some dude last century gave to another young Indian dude. All respect to said dudes.

Suffice to say, I modified and breathed my way through the rest of class as unobtrusively as possible so as not to disrupt the uniformity of the other students’ experience. Then I went home and did some yoga, albiet incorporating a nugget of wisdom I’d picked up in the ashtanga class which I wanted to explore indepth – something that has completely transformed my experience of downward dog.

A month of so later, I had an opportunity to finally take a class with another dear yoga friend who has such a lovely way about her I was salivating at the prospect of being lead in asana by her.

Different style, different teacher, same experience.

Barely out of our first downward dogs, I could feel my body mind spirit rebelling as it sought to lead me in one direction while the class went in another. I checked in with my experience – was it something within me resisting the class? Was this the ego mind at work, subtly masquerading as divine wisdom? Was I avoiding practice because of some fear?

Nope – the voice of the most-excellent teacher was drowning out my internal voice of divine wisdom, leaving me feeling disconnected and out of flow. All the while providing some beautiful points of wisdom and illuminating alignment cues. Again, I made it to the end of class yielding as much to the flow of instruction as I could without violating my own guidance.

Again, despite the conflict between outer teacher and inner guru, I still gleaned some useful information which has made all the difference to my practice.

And therein lies the paradox of my experience.

My practice has evolved to a place where I can still my mind and tune into divine wisdom and allow Kundalini to dance my body into asana that releases what needs to be released and strengthens what needs to be strengthened.

But I ain’t in Samadhi yet, no enlightenement here.

I still have blocks – places where the astute observation of a teacher or re-phrasing of an alignment cue can make a world of difference.

That ashtanga class has leap-frogged my downward dog into a place I didn’t know was possible. The most recent class has unlocked a vital piece of forward bends. Yet the idea of going into another yoga class and feeling trapped within the confines of the group practice gives me shudders.

Which is why I love Shiva Rea’s classes so much. She knows that Prana will lead the way, she embodies that grace and wisdom in her own practice, and in the way she teaches. Her classes do have set asana, but they also invoke moments of sahaja that allow students to let their own divine wisdom shine forth. She’s found a way to walk the delicate balance between form and expression. Uniform class practice and tailored personal practice.

In Shiva’s world, she’d love it if we all came to class, perhaps started together with a mantra and moving meditation before all diverging into our own practice, coming together only at the end. That would be yoga. That is yoga. Joyful expression of the goddess within.

Which is why all this debate about what yoga is and what yoga isn’t… is so silly.

Yep silly!

Because it’s all yoga. At least, it’s all along the path of yoga. Or put another way. It is what it is, the only question that matters is, does that work for me? If so, I’ll use it. If not I won’t. But you can, go right ahead. It doesn’t offend me if it works for you. Why should it? Get all Slim Calm Sexy Yoga-fied if that’s your thing.

Why do I give a rat’s arse what kind of yoga you practice? I mean, really?

Why?

The only yoga I care about is my yoga – what works for me. What my body and mind needs. What’s going to balance me. What’s going to help my body sit comfortably in meditation so I can watch the storms begin to abate and the pond begin to still.

And I love my yoga.

My yoga happens often in the kitchen while cooking for my son as he plays in his high chair. It happens in the bath as I ponder the changing nature of my body. My yoga happens when I put Madonna on and dance around in the lounge feeling the joy of Lalita expressing herself through me. It happens down at the beach, in the park, on the trail, on the mountain. Anywhere where I feel nature becoming me.

My yoga is only ever a breath away. My yoga is God. It is Love. It is All.

But it sure as hell ain’t your yoga, and while you’re still clinging to a teacher, a style, a class… you’ll never know what your yoga is. And that’s ok. That might be right where you need to be right now. In that Ashtanga class. So enjoy.

But when you feel like there must be something more… when you can feel the subtle movements of Prana whispering to you from within… I dare you…

Let go, take a dive and sit in the not-knowing, because it’s time to go beyond what yoga is and is not.

It is time for Sahaja.

The tree grows according to Sahaja, natural and spontaneous in complete conformity with the Natural Law of the Universe.

Nobody tells it what to do or how to grow. It has no swadharma or rules, duties and obligations incurred by birth.

It has only svabhava – its own inborn self or essence – to guide it.

Sahaja is that nature which, when established in oneself, brings the state of absolute freedom and peace. ~ Mahendranath

Read more: What's 'Real' Yoga?Why I may never take another yoga class – a teacher’s response

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Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for contributing such a provocative post, KL!

    As a long-term practitioner of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga I feel the urge to share my response….

    I’m curious that you say that “practicing Ashtanga over and over and over again isn’t swimming in a pool of stillness. It’s doing laps up and down an indoor Olympic pool…” My experience has been very different. Practicing Ashtanga regularly has been very powerful for me in stilling the mind. That’s mostly because there’s so much emphasis on the breath (and other things to help me focus, like dristi). My mindfulness keeps growing, as I observe where the mind wanders as it tries to focus on the breath, and how it responds to different postures/sensations. My whole practice is a moving meditation. My body moves but my mind always grows more still. This creates more space in my life for changes to emerge.

    When you talk about your experience of Ashtanga vinyasa, you mostly talk about your experience of doing a transformed downward dog. Yes, Ashtanga is a very physical practice. But my teachers have always led me to understand that it’s not about how far I can physically get into a posture or how many asana I can do. The asana are only tools for travelling “inwards.”

    Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (“PJ”) was very clear about this too (and the fact that this form of yoga was called Ashtanga yoga—where asana is only 1 of the 8 limbs—gives some clues to this). PJ described how each sequence of postures was designed to be “more and more humbling.” They therefore assist people to release their egos (i.e. their limited conceptions/experiences of Self). Some of us are humbled very early in the practice. We may never do many different asana (although the experience of every asana is different every day). Some of us get very far before we meet big challenges. It’s more important how we respond to these challenges than what pose we are doing.

    PJ also modified the practice to suit students with specific needs (e.g. people with injuries). One of the beauties of the “Mysore style”, and what attracts me most to this form of yoga compared to those that rely on led classes, is that each person also gets lots of individual attention and is empowered to learn and own their personal practice.

    I’m not a “Type A” personality who was attracted to Ashtanga to show off my asana. I’ve had a very challenging practice. I was attracted to it—and I still am attracted to it—because it simply works for me. I also respect and admire my teachers who are very dedicated to ongoing practice, learning and sharing their love for this world through yoga. They’ve also kept their own unique characters during the process of gradually and gently releasing their egos.

    Ashtanga *is* a very challenging practice though. Maybe that’s why it sometimes has a reputation for attracting lots of “Type A” people. One of my teachers told me that people who push and strive to get far in the physical aspects of the practice usually don’t keep practicing beyond a few years. People that take it slowly, realising that the only place to “get to” is within ourselves, often practice for life. Maybe that’s why another of my teachers so often uses the words “gently, gently” and “slowly, slowly” while he is teaching. A challenging practice can teach us great kindness, understanding and compassion.

    The discussion about what yoga “really” is also intrigues me. Yoga is an experiential practice, so any concept of what is “right” is only that—a concept. Yoga encourages us to learn through direct embodied experience what works for us. I can find out if a practice is right for me by asking questions like: Through my regular practice of yoga, what is my life becoming beyond the yoga mat?
    - Do I experience greater clarity and stillness?
    - Do I fell more light-hearted and joyful?
    - Do I behave more calmly, especially in challenging circumstances?
    - Do I find it easier to be grounded, even when I am uplifted?
    - Do I feel more full of life?
    - Do I experience greater compassion and deeper love?
    - Do I appreciate more of the mystery in life?
    - Do I better understand who I really am?

    I also want to share a few more comments about Pattabhi Jois. I’ve often heard the story that Krishnamacharya gave PJ the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice because PJ was a “skinny, Indian boy.” I don’t think that really does justice to either Krishnamacharya or PJ. It’s only looking at the outer form. I suspect he was given this practice because it suited PJ’s character and how he would connect with Self through the practice, as well as how he could share that with everyone. He wasn’t just a young Indian boy. He was a human with a very special character. This practice was just what he needed to bring out the essence that shone through him, into the rest of the world. Will this practice work for everyone? Nope. Will it work for other people? Yes. I’ve never had a guru, but I was fortunate to meet PJ. When I look at his life, I see that he was a person with an enormous open-heart. I guess that’s what really makes a guru.

    Thanks again for prompting this. Much as I love Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, I know it’s not for everyone. When people tell me that they’d like to try yoga, I tell them to try as many forms as possible and to find a good teacher (I usually recommend a few people that I think would suit them). I trust that they will know when they find a form and a teacher that suits them. I’m very grateful that Ashtanga has been a powerful practice for me. Right now, as I understand more and more about this method through consistent practice, it also seems to suit me more every day.

    “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
    there is a field. I will meet you there.
    When the soul lies down in that grass,
    the world is too full to talk about
    language, ideas, even the phrase each other
    doesn’t make any sense.”
    ~ Rumi

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Nick,

      Thank you!!! You’d added the articulate, balanced, well-informed Ashtanga perspective that was so badly needed.

      And yes, you caught me, making bold assumptions for arguments sake that aren’t always true – like the lap-swimming analogy.

      Love your insight, and the time you took to craft a reply.

      Many blessings,
      KL

  2. says

    Fantastic post! I’ve been doing yoga classes off and on for years, and have just recently got to that point you describe – on the brink of wanting more. I think it’s a result of doing my Pilates teacher training and learning a lot more about my body and my self.

    I have the same problem too with the classical Pilates sequence. It was also one workout for one person (Romana), and yet a huge swathe of instructors swear by it and close their eyes to what the client really needs.

    Thank you for a great breakfast read!

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Diane,

      Welcome to the Brink! Such an exciting place to be… who knows what you’ll find and where it will take you…

      Many blessings,
      KL

  3. says

    Good Morning!
    You have written my thoughts of the past 12 years so well. Thank you for leaving me more time to do MY yoga as I have been trying to explain to friends and acquaintances alike as to why I don’t go to many yoga “classes”
    I have my practice in my studio behind my home in the early hours of the morning before my daughter or Mom are awake, before the birds are awake!
    I take a class or workshop to learn a tidbit. Have taken many and been “enlightened”; have taken some and with all due respect to the facilitator, wondered what I was doing and just went ahead and did what YOU did, that being my own thing. Few times I was actually called out on it!
    Nothing wrong with my hearing I was thinking, you should know (I was thinking), that knowing how long I have been practicing (over 40 years), that I listen to my body….While I promote yoga and have written about yoga and use it in my art classes and the program you can see on my site, and design The Kitchen Yogi cookie cutters in the shapes of asanas, I don’t promote ASANA as the be all and end all.
    Hope to connect with you soon.
    Look at the product as well as my art on the website listed above;
    http://www.thekitchenyogi.com is the site. Fun stuff. To promote the slow life, the healthy life, dog biscuits anyone? DOWN dog biscuits? It is obvious you have a great sense of humor.
    Keep writing, hopefully together apart, we can start a whole new movement of MY OWN YOGA. Actually I like that, think I’ll send out a new flyer to my clients/and the ones who pooped out and went back to a “regular class” and hurt themselves.
    Peace,
    Karen

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Karen,

      Nothing like early morning yoga eh? Even the air smells different before the birds get up.

      There’s something rather joyous about those cookies on your site…

      Blessings,
      KL

  4. says

    from a teaching standpoint, my job is to impart a skill. that skill is accessing prana through asana and pranayama.

    typically speaking, people will experience prana for the first time in two ways: 1. the spontaneous experience of prana; and 2. a diligent, specific practice that puts them in the position to experience prana.

    for the first, it’s a joyous, thrilling taste (ken wilber speaks about this in his writing One Taste) that draws us to seek it out again. sometimes, people find a method (there are many); sometimes people don’t, and they flop around seeking that experience again and again.

    for the second, whatever method is chosen (and whether consciously or unconsciously seeking prana) skilled instruction and diligent practice go hand-in-hand to discover, and continually rediscover, prana.

    Asana practice is a means discovering and rediscovering prana. When a posture is properly aligned, the prana flows, and over time, with repeated proper alignment, the person begins to feel that flow. For many people, it is easiest to feel that prana through the body itself, and asana provides specific opportunities to feel specific workings of pranic flow through the body.

    Proper alignment, taught through skilled instruction, is not “cookie cutter.” instead Asana is individually adaptation to the individual body so that the energy body aligns properly and the prana flows. There is an energetic dialogue (at least in my teaching) between my body and that of the student. And through this dialogue, I help create a condition where a student can experience prana in a safe, open, and exploratory environment.

    from there, it is up to the student what they choose to do with that experience. truly, it’s not my business. I simply teach a skill that people utilize in their own ways — without any judgment from me about how they choose to use it, where, and when.

    Even so, what my students report is that yoga begins to naturally flood their lives, streaming out beautifully into all aspects of their mind, body, spirit, and social interactions. The skills that they learn and practice in asana classes become skills and practices that they use in everyday life. Their experience of prana in class allows them to experience prana in life.

    And even so, they keep returning to class to explore more, to learn more, to go deeper into their bodies, their asana, their prana, and their experience, and take those lessons from class out into their home practices, and well beyond the mat. with the student, we create that environment together, where they experience again and again, at deeper and deeper levels, their own experience and truth within the asana itself.

    As far as “not following the teacher” goes — this can be problematic for the teacher because of the needs of the students. I have no problem with a student “doing their own thing” within reason. For example, if we are doing crow pose, and the person wants to do child’s pose or just a forward bend (which is how i prefer to enter the pose), then this is fine. but if we are practicing triangle pose and the student is working handstands, this is not appropriate.

    part of going to class is submitting to the teacher. at the very least, it is acknowledging and respecting that s/he is creating a specific space in the classroom for learning, and that the learning is specifically prescribed for that day. I can understand — and have also felt — the strong urge to “do my own thing” while the teacher is going a direction my body (and more often usually my mind) is fighting. But, out of respect for the teacher, i have held myself back.

    Why would i do this? Well, again, because of my own teaching practice. In my classroom, i usually have mixed levels — beginner to advanced students. beginners haven’t figured out the basics of the alignment for their bodies, or even the basics of any given postures. many of them may not have felt prana yet, and they often look to other students for insight. A student doing his/her own thing in class is inhibiting the process that I am creating for the whole class, and in particular to facilitate the process for beginners.

    second to this, Dharma Mittra once told us that if one person in the room does the pose, everyone does the pose — our energy bodies speak to each other. This is why, he told us, he likes to lead mixed level classes. “advanced student’s body sings to beginner body!” he said. he told us that the energy calls out and draws the new student in. beginner’s bodies learn more quickly, find alignment to prana more quickly, when they are with experienced practitioners!

    So, if you have a person doing handstand while everyone else is learning triangle pose, then what? From my experience — which mirror’s what Dharma spoke about — you have an energetic “clang!” right out of tune. 14 bodies going one direction; 1 body going the opposite direction. A beginner — who doesn’t yet have access to the prana willfully — their body will likely be confused.

    Dharma was so intent on this process that he was very specific “breathe together, move together. advanced yogins! practice WITH the beginners! stay WITH them. you, breathe as advanced in pranayama! but with the same pace as beginners! SING to them!”

    In my experience — in my personal practice, in my teaching practice, and in my practice with my teachers — yoga is not something you do alone, ever! When you are alone, doing it, your body does what you want — you align to prana in asana or spontaenously or cooking or doing art or whatever — but that song radiates out from you and touches everyone! it sings to their energy, their bodies, their souls! When we are in a classroom, we are tuning ourselves to each other, we are forming a choir — we are singing to each other, teaching others how to sing through their own bodies by our own bodies.

    And out and out and out and in and in and in and through and through and through it goes in infinite Om. It is always uniquely the individuals but always uniquely ours too.

    or at least, that’s how i see it.

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Oh Jenifer that is so, so, so beautiful! Thank you so much.

      So much depth, insight and wisdom, and so beautifully written. (I know, I said beautiful already didn’t I?)

      I just love that idea of a choir singing to itself. So makes sense.

      Plus you articulate the process of using asana as a tool to connect to prana in such a way that it helped me make sense of teaching and the role of the teacher.

      I swear, I can feel your heart singing out of the screen in this comment, and I think you’ve just added enormous value to my original article.

      Between you & Nick, my original article’s getting more balance, and more depth, all the time!

      Many blessings,
      KL

    • Yogini3 says

      Thank you for explaining to me thecharacteristic demands for relative CONFORMITY in a class practice, of the Dharma Mittra style. It had been in a Dharma-Inspired All Level class that I had been met with a great deal of resistance and pushing by the teacher in the face of what I, a primarily home practitioner, brought to the practice; and why – unless I was totally in child’s pose (and I had NOT been going there), I was fair game to be ambushed and assisted into a pose for which I would not be naturally ready many months down the road. Not all Dharma teachers were like this, though I had been hoping to take with a certain other teacher at the time to see if such an “adjustment” would happen again.

      Of course, I’d gotten no straight answer about these tenets from the studio; this Dharma style was a minority of the kinds of styles they taught. However, fact they wanted me to take a private which I could ill afford, wherein it had turned out to be a bait-and-switch.

      You have doubly confirmed my disappointment (anger flew away many months ago …) and made me feel grateful that I cannot afford to practice at a studio that features Dharma style the one time in the week I could get to it.

      • Yogini3 says

        I had been a student at barely intermediate level at the time. When later, in a much milder school of yoga, my yoga teacher assisted me into the same pose also without warning, I still had not been naturally ready for that pose, but my mostly home practice had strengthened me enough that I felt no boundaries were crossed.

        It also helped that she used props to enable me not to have to use my entire strength, and did not otherwise use force to box me into a corner wherein I felt I’d risk grave injury if I so much as tried to move out of the pose – because despite my audible and repeated protestations, the Dharma teacher turned a deaf ear …

        it was a feeling like being submerged under water against my will (and my breathing had been rapider than anything he’d heard in his life– my reptilian brain had become engaged.

        I will never take a Dharma oriented class now … so much for mindfulness and ahimsa (on the part of the teacher)

  5. says

    As a long-time Ashtanga Yoga practitioner I’m always disappointed to hear it being dismissed from what appears to be a lack of understanding of what it’s all about.

    I initially read your article because I was attracted by the title – I generally don’t go to yoga classes. I do my own daily Mysore-style Ashtanga Yoga practice, preferably with others to participate in the lovely energy exchange Jennifer Parker talked about.

    Pattabhi Jois’s Ashtanga Yoga tradition has allowed me to do this. It has given me the tools to do my own yoga practice. Before I discovered it, I floated around quite lost, wanting to “do yoga” but not knowing how.

    So I’m all for people developing a practice which they can do themselves, that can truly become their own tool for helping them through life.

    But then your article seemed to turn into a dismissal of Ashtanga Yoga and a plug for seeking out the pleasure without doing anything uncomfortable… and I think that misses the point of yoga…

    I’ve had the privilege of having a few great Ashtanga Yoga teachers. One of them, Richard Freeman, says it doesn’t matter why you start practising yoga (or continuing practising), it may be any reason at all, in fact the only genuine place to start is where you are. And if where you are is wanting to jump in to the pool and swim around and have a great time, that’s awesome, do it, love it.

    And the reason is because the benefit of yoga comes with practice. And if that awesome feeling gets you on the mat, then it gets you practising (actually that’s what got me practising). This is what Sri K Pattabhi Jois taught. He understood that most of us are not so advanced spiritually that we can go straight into the more advanced types of meditating and samadhi that Patanjali talks about (or that beautiful place in Nick’s Rumi quote).

    But inevitably at some point things will get difficult.

    The analogy of the pool (mind) is not about jumping in (to the mind) and swimming around feeling amazing. This is buying into the illusion that is being sold to us everywhere that we need to seek out pleasure in life to be happy. The analogy is rather to come to the point where the pool (mind) is so still that You (not your mind) can see right through it to the very bottom, like a clear mountain lake, no illusions.

    One of the things Patanjali talks about as an obstacle to Yoga (seeing things clearly) is clinging to pleasure.

    There’s a lovely passage in Gregor Maehle’s book that sums this up – “In yoga austerity means simplicity. Behind the term simplicity lies my acceptance of the truth that to be happy I need nothing but to know who I truly am. By living a simple life without extremes and without constantly yielding to my desires, my mind is concentrated and focused. On the other hand if I follow the call of the world to ‘spoil yourself’, ‘treat yourself’, ‘pamper yourself’ I communicate to my mind that I am not in charge of my life…” There is lots more on this topic in his book if you’re interested!

    I’ve been practising Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Pattabhi Jois for ten years. One of the results of Ashtanga Yoga is that you get fit, healthy, strong and flexible. If you practice, it just happens. If you keep practising, the more advance asanas just come. And some people get caught up in this and ‘getting there faster’ and it becomes about the ego, but that is their lesson to learn. And at some point they will learn it.

    You say that getting stuck on an asana practice or a particular style of yoga totally misses the point of yoga. I think that unless we stick with the path of our choice, we will miss the point of yoga. The benefit comes when we practice one thing consistently, for a long time, and with devotion to it. You only find water if you did your well deep in one spot, not shallow in many spots.

    By devoting yourself to a practice that resonates with you and sticking with it through difficult times and through rewarding times it becomes a mirror. A mirror that shows us the lessons we need to learn, like that life is full of suffering and joy, that we only add to the suffering by clinging to pleasure and avoiding pain.

    Ashtanga Yoga certainly teaches you all about pleasure and pain. Sometimes you’re flying, other times you’re trudging through heavy snow. Sometimes you feel completely stuck. It teaches you to observe and not get caught up in reactions to things. It teaches you that things always shift and change. It teaches you to be compassionate to yourself, and compassion to others follows.

    Ashtanga Yoga was never traditionally taught as a led class. Each student was taught one-on-one according to his or her nature and abilities. This is what is commonly called “Mysore-style”.

    I personally think that only those students who have a regular Mysore-style practice should do led Ashtanga Yoga classes. Otherwise they risk going beyond where physically they are capable and being hurt or put off. The benefits of Ashtanga Yoga don’t come from doing one class here and there. That’s not what it was designed for.

    I encourage anyone who is interested in Ashtanga Yoga to start with Mysore-style and to find a teacher who is prepared to teach them that way from the beginning.

    Ashtanga Yoga is one of the few yoga traditions that have been around for much longer than any of us here today. And it has a history of amazing yogis as teachers. It isn’t the only form of Patanjali’s yoga for sure, but it is a genuine one with real benefits for those who stick with it with an open heart and a desire to learn life’s lessons.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts :)

    Catherine

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Catherine,

      Thank you for taking so much time and care in replying to the article I wrote.

      It’s super helpful in helping me understand where I’m not communicating clearly. My pool analogy wasn’t about seeking pleasure, but about getting to a point where a tool or technique is no longer needed to dance with the divine.

      instead of us doing our practice, our practice is doing us.

      Whether that sahaja practice arises as an Ashtanga sequence or something else entirely is totally immaterial. So I apologise if my lack of clarity made it sound like I was dissing Ashtanga. It was unskillful of me.

      The unexpected benefit of my muddy writing has been the insightful clarity of those who’ve taken the time to respond, adding far greater value than what I originally wrote.

      I kinda dig that.

      Many blessings,
      KL

  6. Kristina says

    That ashtanga class has leap-frogged my downward dog into a place I didn’t know was possible. The most recent class has unlocked a vital piece of forward bends. Yet the idea of going into another yoga class and feeling trapped within the confines of the group practice gives me shudders.

    - Sometimes following a teacher even if it is challenging or what we think we don’t want at that time opens us up to something we never would have found if we had avoided the experience. My most challenging/confronting experiences (on and off the mat) have been my biggest teachers. As yogi’s we actively seek teachers to take us deeper into our own experience/wisdom, regardless of how it is in the moment – I think, from your article (see my exert above), both teachers offered you wonderful gifts even if it was challenging for you to take the lesson in, in the moment. Remain open, do not judge and be grateful for the lessons. Every yoga class transforms you on some level.

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Kristina,

      Lovely to hear from you.

      It wasn’t that following the teacher was challenging or not what I ‘wanted’. It’s that my own connection to Source, to Prana, to Kundalini, to Shakti, is so strong that when I’m in a yoga class now it’s like having two teachers talking at the same time. And one teacher is giving me exactly what I need for my body/mind/spirit in that moment, while the other teacher is giving more general instructions that can still contain many gems of wisdom.

      For now, I’m honouring this wisdom, and doing all my practice at home so I can tune in to that internal teacher – Prana, Kundalini, Shakti, Source, Divine…

      Many blessings,
      Kara-Leah

  7. Nerine says

    Nick you rocked my socks off! KL, just love both perspectives without judgement…Thanks for facilitating a site which, unlike some other popular blogs/forums/comminication hubs tend to fill up with really negative comments accusing right and wrong. So refreshing! And loving…
    Breathe in, breath out. Repeat. x

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Nerine,

      It’s a conscious effort to cultivate another way to explore what it means to be human (and practive yoga!) beyond right & wrong, beyond identifying with this or that… And it’s wonderful to know that we’re managing to walk that edge. Great to have you stop by!

      KL

  8. Cat says

    For those of us with a chemical imbalance or whatever, I speak to the idea that having a routine and a practice to evolve into and being able to access freedom and patience through the body is a god-send. Ashtanga yoga has been the saving grace for me, though I don’t go to other yoga classes that put me off and all the drama that fills the air at some yoga studios I’ve been to. I do not feel that my teachers are drill sargents hanging around me. I see my teachers as those who have gone before and provide guidance and support. Just for myself, it works better for me than anything I can cook up in my poor brain or my own body, which is he best way I have been able to access anything like life force or spirituality. I like what Catherine said and a few others. I wish I was one of those who could just get “awakening” through my brain and thoughts alone, but it never happened…damn depression…until Ashtanga. But in a way, I feel blessed for it as well, because my body is changing and freeing itself of long-term stuckness in amazing ways.

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Cat,

      Yes, yes and yes. Yoga is a personal practice, and we all have different needs. That’s what this article is about really – understanding that what may work well for many people may not work for you.

      A personal practice that arises from within isn’t ‘cooked up’ from one’s own mind or body, it comes from Prana – literally lifeforce. It is the Divine within us, gently guiding us through what it is we need.

      Until that force is liberated from within, we need the support and structure of routine and discipline and teachers and defined asana sequences like Astanga. It sounds like you’re in the perfect place for you, and I’m so excited for you to be there! There is such joy lying in wait for you.

      Many blessings,
      Kara-Leah

  9. Cat says

    I wanted to add that think what you experience is supposed to be the ultimate goal of yoga? Liberation – even from the physical practice or does practice need to be maintained? I know someone who teaches Yoga Nidra and says it goes so far beyond Hatha yoga. But I like what yoga does for my body. I have a lot of body trauma and I hope I keep my Ashtanga practice going and going. I really just started on this path two months ago.

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Cat,

      From my experience, yoga is a constantly evolving practice based on meeting our needs right where we are. For most of us, we need to start with asana, and we’ll likely stay there for a long time. That then opens us up for meditation. It sounds like you know when you need, trust that. Let go of any idea of a goal, or someplace to get to, and enjoy being where you are. Beginning yoga is such a time of grace, and you’ll never get to be there again. Soak it up, all of it!

      Many blessings,
      KL

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