I STILL LOVE ASHTANGA - UNASHAMEDLY
My son Matthew’s birth marks the line in the sand when I learned Ashtanga Yoga and the time I began to practice alongside women with whom I still unroll my mat besides today. Matt was 19yrs old yesterday. Our first teacher, Christina Ireland, an exacting tutor in her own right and the widow of Derek Ireland, gifted this practice to a handful of curious island yoginis in a small pokey room above the now Ryde Town Hall building.
The dynamic, choreographed sequence isn’t for everyone and the collective shame of modern practitioners as they come to terms with a soul-saddening #metoo sex scandal, has left this style of yoga without a guru or a lineage that they can adore comfortably. And yet, maybe that has given us freedom to practice outside the realms of cultural appropriation and a guru tradition unfamiliar to the western psyche.
For me now in the ‘post-lineage’ era of yoga that is emerging, there is something atavistic in stepping up to the mat early in the morning, knowing thousands like us are collectively tuning into breath, body and Source. It’s like a communion, a prayer, humble, kind and patient. For Ashtanga, has been for me a real lesson in patience. It has never come easily to my body, especially in the early years when I hustled, sometimes forced too hard and definitely wanted trophy poses to much. The truth is that there are times when I’ve walked away from it, but like an old flame, it’s always been there. Familiar and comfortable when I just don’t know what to do next on my mat, when all I want to do is practice, not think, not wonder if this transition or that variation will work for my students. And so it is, that after nearly two decades, that there is a lovely paradox of familiarity allowing me to cultivate the beginners mind.
I did not practice Ashtanga in isolation, other yoga practices have illuminated, provided clarity and allowed me to modify the teachings for my own purposes and that of my students. Iyengar gives me the focus of alignment to spread my awareness consciously through the asanas, Hatha Yoga in the Sivananda tradition has illuminated routes for the body that lead me more creatively towards cultivating the strength and openness needed for some of the work and restorative, yin type practices have helped me to quit the hustle and surrender to the time it takes to feel meaningful change, or not, for acceptance too is a powerful practice. Ultimately Ashtanga is still part of the umbrella of Patanjali yoga, part of the eight fold path of yoga, or aṣṭa (अष्ट) root of the word Ashtanga, from ignorance towards truth and Samadhi.
People who study Ashtanga learn discipline, humility and the power of a home self practice. They practice long enough to know that there are times when we break, then heal and heal some more. And we break sometimes because we get over exuberant on the mat, sometimes because we trip over a curb or sometimes because the day job is physically demanding. Regardless, the drama leaves the practice. There are days when stuff is open to us and days when it isn’t, stuff comes, goes and comes back.
Uma Dinsmore Tuli posted recently that there are 13 patterns of abuse to be vigilant for in class and the first one is ‘disrespect for any other way’. It’s easy to dis Ashtanga or any method that doesn’t suit your current narrative, but it’s been the starting place for many of my most respected teachers, and many of the students I have taught, for whom yoga is a lifetime practice and not a fad.
So love it or leave it - but if you’d like to dip your toe in the water for a few months, then I have a one off course for beginners to Ashtanga. It’s slow, steady and tailored just for you. We begin in October in person or via Zoom.