How extreme is Ashtanga yoga?

Lolasana, Summer 2016

Whatever you’ll be doing in life, there will always be someone judging. The brave ones will tell you straight into your face. The cowards will gossip behind your back. Don’t care! And just do what makes you happy! If you learn from it, keep doing it! Don’t care!

Whatever people are deciding to do or not to do, they will always find a justification for their choices, laziness, actions they don’t take. They will blame others. They will compare themselves with others. They will feel jealous.  Angry. Disappointed.

Now let’s talk about yoga style and choices.

Generally speaking, if someone has a tendency to be lazy and physically inactive, they will tend to say “I am not interested in these advanced yoga poses. I don’t even think my body needs them. I am too old for this. It’s impossible. I will never do that. I just sit here crossed-legged and meditate. This is enough. Who needs handstand? That’s not exactly yoga.”

On the other hand, if you like to push yourself, prove yourself how great you are and get approval from external sources, praise yourself for doing this and that, you might tend to choose a Vinyasa based class, Power Yoga, hot yoga, Bikram etc, strength demanding and sweaty yoga. You might say meditation is not for you. Sitting is boring. You are not interested in such “spiritual things”. You are here just for the workout.

The truth is Patanjali’s yoga has 8 limbs: Yama, Nyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dyana, Samadhi. If you are not practicing this, then better be honest with yourself and find another word for your own yoga. Staying truthful is afterwards part of the yoga method 😉

The spiritual part of yoga is nothing more than revealing your true authentic self without judgement, wrong perceptions and flower power stuff. This is what yoga is all about. And the way it works is through self-discipline.

Now self-discipline is a hard thing to do. Super hard! Some take it to extremes, others give up saying it takes the fun away. For me, self-discipline is freedom 🙂

If you do not have the power to control your own mind, then who exactly can do it for you? If your mind and other people are controlling you, then what is the difference between a lost boat in the middle of the ocean and yourself?

Not knowing where you’re heading to, living like there is no tomorrow and constantly finding excuses for the actions you are not taking, it’s not a choice for me. I choose to put the effort in order to fulfill my potential. If I’ll have to work all my life and not discovering it, then at least I’ll be happy I did my best and there will be no one to blame except my laziness.

Asana ( Yoga postures) is the most common yoga practiced in the West. It can be very limited, indeed. It can become ego driven, egocentric, a way to pamper yourself rather than discipline yourself. Especially in the West, where many instruct it in such a way to grow the ego and not help the students take responsibility over their own life.

But in my humble opinion, if one has the eyes to see and a good teacher, it can experience all the other limbs only through asana. To get outside your mind and more into your heart is a tough work to do. Really tough! Lots of people interpret it in a really wrong way. Lots get lost and give up.

Only when the ego is kicked out of the conversion and with daily practice we can experience things on a deeper level. Or at least this is what I experience in my own practice.

Ashtanga yoga in the tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is a wonderful practice. Suits me like a glove. Many people are attracted to it. Many people judge it without knowing what they are talking about.

The truth is, it is meant to be a daily practice, so if you give up easily and not have the mental strength to keep on going when things get tough, you will get bored, lazy, you call it. And stop practicing after a while. It is a routine. Like brushing your teeth, taking a shower every day. Day after day, you are making progress even though you will not always be aware of.

Obstacles will get into your way. So many obstacles! If you put the work, it will never get boring, that’s for sure. It will never get easy either. You never settle. Once you reach a milestone, there will be many others left. You get the chance to see your thoughts and patterns changing day after day. You train your willpower, self confidence, mental strength, you break the ego. People that are very ego driven tend to get attracted to Ashtanga, but soon after they are faced with the challenges, they must make the choice between breaking their joints or letting go and just learn.

Daily Ashtanga is the most significant, powerful self-discipline method I have ever tried. It is a practice where I get to see myself, not how I would like to be, but how I really am. I meet myself every day on the mat. Accept that today, I am different than yesterday. Different than how I will be tomorrow. And that’s perfectly ok. That’s a normal progress in life. One day I am weak, the other I am strong. Accept, but don’t settle for little. Always do your best!

Lao Tzu used to say: “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”

In my own experience,the so called “extreme” part of the Ashtanga postures is one of the most spiritual aspects ever. Working through difficult postures day after day teaches me how to remain strong and graceful in difficult situations in my every day life.

Ashtanga yoga is meant to remove the 6 poisons of the human mind: kama, krodha, moha, lobha, matsarya, and mada. These are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and laziness. Day after day, on your mat, you get the chance to see them. You get the chance to settle for nothing or put the work and change what serves for nothing.

It is a practice that trains your mind and reveals your soul, the pure goodness within that we all have. But because we let ourselves dominated by the fake knowledge based on memories from the past, bad habits, patterns, cultural environment, repetitive negative thinking, we become blind. We get caught into a vicious circle. We are not happy, but we do not want to put the work either. And the worst is, we do not know it. We just keep on going the same way until the end of life.

Ashtanga yoga is not a physical practice even though it looks like this on the outside. It is a wonderful way to work with your patterns and improve yourself every single day. It is a way to give something back to the world. And what is the most useful for the world than giving your authentic self?

As a conclusion, I would like to share with you something that Kino wrote in her book “The power of Ashtanga yoga”. It is the best conclusion I could get about how “extreme” Ashtanga yoga really is.

“The result of asana practice is defined in Yoga Sutra 2.48 as freedom from dualities such as pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion. Two of the obstacles to the spiritual path are attachment and aversion that result from the experience of pleasure and pain. The untrained mind runs toward pleasure and away from pain, and this constant effort fuels the cycle of suffering. Regular asana practice teaches yoga practitioners how to maintain a balanced state of mind and ultimately break free from this addictive pattern.

The promise of inner peace does not come cheap. You cannot beg,borrow or cheat your way along the inner journey. Creating a new way of being is not simply a matter of flipping a switch. Instead, you stand at the foot of the mountain of new desire and look ahead to a long and sometimes rigorous road to the top. With years of work, patience and diligence anything is possible. Yet when faced with such adversity, most people quit or take the easy, known route to average results.While there is nothing wrong with this philosophy, there is a much more powerful way to live your life to the maximum potential. Yoga leads the way through disbelief into an accomplished life.” Kino MacGregor – “The power of Ashtanga yoga”

© Unfold Your Mat 2017

6 Comments

  1. isabelle le pouesars isabelle le pouesars
    February 9, 2017    

    Very good article with solid references..thks Lavinia!
    Iam not an ashtangi anymore eventhough I enjoyed the practise for a few years.
    I wld add that there is not only one yoga but one yoga for every individual and we must seek for the best practise.
    In the West there is most of the time complete misunderstanding of what yoga is… as you mentionned..people are so buzy working on how tbey look but much less interested or not at all on how they feel.Driven by the Ego..looking nice..young …fit..
    Yoga is a science..the science of happiness and doing asanas without any mental alertness won t lead anywhere…except may be to physical nice appearance but how does this help us go thtrough life if we are miserable within???
    You know that you are on the right path when you attain “yoga chitta vritti nirodah” whichever system you are following.
    Yes discipline is a must..but it pays off ..
    You know that you re doing right when you cope with life struggles with equanimity!

  2. damon damon
    July 12, 2017    

    Thank you. This resonated with me and my practice!

  3. July 12, 2017    

    What an incredible article!!! Love Love Love the way you express it all… Touch down… respect!

    • Lavinia Lavinia
      September 6, 2017    

      Thank you Anke! <3 big hug

  4. Lorrie Lorrie
    July 12, 2017    

    Beautifully said,thank you.

    • Lavinia Lavinia
      September 6, 2017    

      Thank you for reading it Lorrie! I am happy you like it! 🙂

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