Last week I published an article titled “Why I don’t Chant”, in which I explained some of the reasons that I don’t use the Ashtanga opening and closing mantras in my classes or in my personal practice.As expected, I received mixed feedback on the article. Some people expressed that it resonated with them deeply, while others felt that by omitting the chant I was failing to do proper justice to the tradition.
I am often asked why I don’t lead the traditional opening and closing mantras in my Ashtanga Led and Mysore style classes.When I read the above quote from Indian classical vocalist Bombay Jayashri, I was reminded of some of the reasons for this.This quote from a musician reminded me of my yoga practice because Indian classical music and Ashtanga vinyasa yoga share some common features: An Indian Classical raga has strict structural rules that need to be followed by the performer, just as there is a strict vinyasa count and sequence to be followed in the Ashtanga system. In both practices surrender to this structure is essential to access some of the aspects of self-encountering.
It was such a pleasure to be able to practice with John Scott recently and to do this interview at Purple Valley in Goa. John’s energy and enthusiasm radiates from him and inspires all those lucky enough to be in the shala. I took this opportunity to delve into some of the things that are at the core of John’s teachings, such as the vinyasa count, and the embodiment of the posture’s essence (my words not his).
In this article I describe my history with Ashtanga Yoga, how my approach changed over the decades, some of the problems that I encountered, their solution and how this has influenced my teaching. Initially I was only interested in the meditation and philosophy aspects of yoga and practiced and studied those for many years. I came to asana only once I realized that the vitality of my body had peaked.
To start with words from a song by Katy Perry: “lost my discretion…caught my attention” (‘I kissed a girl’). This article is an attempt to make sense of our relationships within the yoga world (particularly that of teacher/student). It proposes specific ways of dealing with some of the difficulties that arise within these relationships. And it is significantly inspired by what has been happening with John Friend and Anusara.
The claim that Wild Thing can be done safely might involve the same wishful/magical thinking as the claim that yoga and meditation will automatically “shift consciousness”, whether individually, communally, or “vibrationally”. Both claims seem to depend upon overlooking concrete material conditions in favour of nurturing faith in vague metaphysical principles. Concrete material conditions demand specific learning objectives.
I would like to present this piece in the spirit of compassion, co-operation and communication. My thanks to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Sharat Jois and all teachers who have developed this practice and helped me along this path. The purpose of writing is to encourage debate and dialogue amongst practitioners. Some of what is written might be controversial but this is not a rocking of the boat simply for the sake of provocation. If I see an elephant in the room it needs to be said – even if that elephant is Ganesh. This is a heartfelt attempt towards understanding this tradition and the possibilities for transformation.
“Spiritual” is a concept or term often bandied around in yoga circles. It can be confusing to anyone – but especially a new student. We go along to a yoga class in our local gym thinking it’d be good to stretch our muscles after our workout. Then suddenly we learn it’s supposed to be “spiritual”. What does that mean? Is this some kind of cult? What’s going to happen to me?
Our yoga practice can give rise to difficult emotions, causing unnecessary confusion in our lives. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer a surprising context to help us understand this phenonoma. It seems there is a growing frustration in our contemporary yoga community as the popularity of this ancient Indian practice reaches new frontiers in our part of the world. Recently I have had several students approach me with a particular question about the presence of strong negative emotions in their practice and their lives.