I did Vinyasa…and I liked it.
I hope my Ashtanga teacher don’t mind it.
Sorry Katy. I couldn’t help myself.
But you did read that right--this devoted Ashtangi of seven plus years has been “stepping out” on her practice.
Truthfully, I’m still doing my Ashtanga practice and have no plans to quit. Though lately, I’ve gotten the itch to test my limits, both physical and philosophical. My vinyasa flow adventure started as a way to get more exercise into my life. I love asana, so I thought, “why not just do more of that?” But, as I’ve continued to attend classes, I've developed a deeper appreciation for a method about which I've been skeptical, even judgmental.
I’ve always believed that any yoga which relies on the group class model is at least partially watered down; there is strong evidence that yoga as a spiritual discipline was not intended to be taught en masse in a fast paced class with blaring music. I don’t think anyone can say honestly that this ancient, esoteric practice fits neatly into modern day American life without some muddling. But Ashtanga yoga, unlike more contemporary styles, has retained many of its classical elements. There is a heavy emphasis on the student-teacher relationship. Change is approached cautiously and with reverence for traditional wisdom. Studying of the classical texts is highly encouraged. Humility and austerity are promoted as vital principles. I could go on, but suffice it to say that in Ashtanga, I have found what I believe is the most potent method for progressing down the path of yoga as describe by Patanjali.
However, despite my appreciation for the traditional practice of Ashtanga, and my initial reservations about westernized styles of yoga, I am warming to the more contemporary approach.
Ashtanga is precise. Some have called it stifling. Not me, but some. You do the practice to the best of your ability, but there are fairly strict confines. As I see it, this is for good reason. Most of us need direction in our lives. But goddamn if I don’t feel something shift energetically when I move with abandon. There is such liberation in letting your body guide you. A vinyasa teacher will encourage you to go wild on your mat and explore every possible expression of a pose. And I love the pulsating beat of a hip hop playlist. It gets right into my soul, as music always does. But in a vinyasa class, I experience it in a deeply physical way, much like dancing. I have always felt something so primal and authentic come alive while dancing. I’m not sure how I never recognized the spirituality of that before. A powerful vinyasa class is a rush of adrenaline and dopamine akin to the best drugs I’ve ever done…and in my pre-yoga life, I did plenty. I love it, and when done in conjunction with a deeper, philosophical study, it could move mountains!
At its best, vinyasa flow yoga encourages the practitioner to become uninhibited, free from the judgements and limits of your own mind. It pushes you to feel good in your own skin and let go of what no longer serves you. It implores you to practice radical self-compassion, only pushing when it feels truly safe. Frankly, it might be the world’s most perfect exercise, physical and emotional! It’s nothing short of brilliant.
But, I understand that all of this has a downside. Some restraint, of course, is a good thing, and keeps us humble. Too few limits can lead to indulgence. Too much of "the self" leads to narcissism. Though what doesn’t have the potential for abuse? When practiced incorrectly, the Ashtanga method can also lead a practitioner astray. Too much structure can lead to rigidity. Too much pushing can lead to injury. Too much reliance on a teacher can lead to cultism. Every Ashtangi has either heard of or experienced a cautionary tale of how the practice went wrong.
Some of you may think I need reminding that adrenaline rushes, feeling good, and self-expression aren’t the goals of yoga. Don't worry--I'm fully aware that the goal of yoga is not to get a temporary dopamine rush while ignoring the deep seated dysfunctions that caused you discomfort in the first place. Doing wild thing to Kanye isn’t likely to get you to Samadhi on its own, but it does get you somewhere pretty damn great. Who am I to say what is or isn’t a legitimate way to experience yoga? Do I, or you, really feel qualified to make that assessment? People experience genuine change from attending vinyasa flow classes. Sure, they may eventually need to dig deeper if Samadhi is their ultimate goal. That's true of any asana class. But they are improving their lives, conditioning their bodies, and, importantly, not hurting anyone.
So yeah. I tried vinyasa and I liked it. Coming down off my high horse feels good.
Till next week,