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Why I Stopped Practicing Ashtanga Yoga

in YD News, Yogitorials

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by Annina Luzie Schmid 

I have been out of the Yoga loop for a good six months now. Before I left my studio and mat, I was an avid and dedicated practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga: I had a regular, six day a week practice, had completed 150 hours of Yoga teacher training as well as a massage and injury prevention certificate, was an assistant teacher and wrote a popular enough Yoga blog. I was a vegetarian at first, then a vegan, and in the middle of developing an interest in macrobiotic cuisine. I was part of a dedicated community and a student of a well-known teacher. I even found myself a Yoga teaching husband. I thought that whatever would happen, I would do Yoga.

And then, weirdly, happiness happened. And by happiness, I mean the kind of contentment that will let you rest and relax. Calmness and ease unfolded, and I started seeing my daily practice in a different light. Here are some of my thoughts:

Ashtanga Yoga is a relationship outside of your relationship

It has become my conviction that anyone who practices Ashtanga religiously, and by that I mean six days a week, all year, every year, is missing something vital in their personal life. These people – and I know I was one of them for a long time – are looking for something they will not find on their Manduka mats. Ever.

Exercising on more than four days a week is unhealthy

Studies like this one show that exercising on six days a week for a prolonged period of time is actually detrimental to your health. Every health professional, coach and personal trainer on the face of the earth would agree. No wonder Ashtangis look skinny and tired and hurt themselves all the time.

There is no wisdom in practicing through injuries

No wisdom at all. When you are injured, you need to rest, and probably anti-inflammatories. Surely you can stretch your legs while dealing with a wrist injury, but you should definitely not put any weight on your hands. Again, any health professional would agree. You only have one right knee, one left shoulder, one set of lower back vertebrae. There is a reason why doctors suggest you should rest. There is also mass intelligence. If Ashtanga really had all the answers, everyone on the face of the earth would be doing it. Guaranteed. You are the only expert on your condition, and if something hurts, you are telling yourself to hold off.

Ashtangarexia is alive and happening

The definition of addiction, as I have recently learned during one of Emory University’s online lectures on coursera, is: “A repeated behavior with a negative impact (causing distress of some sort or health problems, for example), where you are unable to stop, require an increased frequency or dosage, and display symptoms of withdrawal avoidance.”

Now, I don’t know about you guys, but after a certain point in my practice, I could check off all of these indicators. I had lower back problems, the pressure to maintain my daily practice caused distress, but I wasn’t able to stop, either, because I was too afraid of taking a day off and losing all the ‘progress’ I had made. The fact that my practice had turned me a into an ascetic hermit without a real social life wasn’t even something I worried about at the time. With hindsight, however, some of what you say and do as an Ashtangi really is a bit cuckoo. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves: You can’t balance your chakras by chanting mantras in a language you don’t speak. Eating garlic when you’re healthy doesn’t make you a bad person. Be kind to yourself. Don’t fall into the rabbit hole of Ashtanga obsession, only to never be seen again.

If you know you have an issue Yoga cannot solve, seek help

Very maybe, you are trying to work through some intense trauma. Perhaps your upbringing was terrible, or maybe you suffer from an eating disorder nobody knows of. Yoga can have amazing positive effects on our mental health, but there are certain situations in life that point you towards professional help. Both you and your teacher need to admit that while Supta Kurmasana might release day-to-day stress, it’s not at all an adequate treatment for PTSD. Neither are shopping sprees at lululemon.

Authorization equals a frequent flyer reward

This is a line my husband came up with, and he is so right. These days, it seems, what you have to do to get recognized as a teacher is go to Mysore often enough (read: pay enough money), and someone will bestow upon you the reward in form of authorization. This is irrespective, of course, of your level of experience or teaching skills. On average, if I’m not mistaken, authorization will be granted after four or five trips of several months each, at a monthly cost of €400 or so. There are so many students going through the shala these days, that Sharath himself can’t keep track anymore. I have heard of people who were offered authorization twice. Not for free, of course, the authorization itself comes at a price. Later, there’s the added cost of certification, and psssst, it’sexpensive. While I understand that everyone needs to make money, a hierarchical fee scheme seems pretty… unyogic.

The tradition isn’t evolving, it’s arbitrary

Sunday as the new Saturday? Changes in the sequence just so that the student traffic in Mysore can be handled more efficiently? Come on! No problem with making changes to your own organization, but why does the whole world need to follow? If you are serious about your Yoga, you will not brag about what pose you’re on, how many trips to Mysore you have taken in the past, how many you will be taking in the future, or how many people came to take your class on any given day. On that same note:

Teaching Yoga isn’t a profession – it’s a side job

I have been warned about this, and I will do my duty and warn you: Do. Not. Quit. Your. Occupation. For. An. Unlikely. Career. In. Yoga. Don’t do it! Yoga is like blogging. It is something that is best enjoyed in small, fun doses on the side. Unless you will be moving to a town where there is not a single Yoga teacher within a radius of at least 50 kilometers, do not open a Yoga studio. You will be losing all your money, and you will be left with no perspective after 35. Do yourself a favor and trust me on this one.

So – do I miss my practice? Sure, sometimes I do. What I miss about it most are its superficial aspects, though: being strong and flexible, looking fit. These days, I prefer to take my dog on forest walks and go for runs. I enjoy the fresh air, and that I get to make my own schedule. When I will return to the mat, it will be on my own terms, in my own time.

~

Annina Luzie Schmid is a digital media strategist, blogger and author. She was born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1983. After sojourns in Frankfurt am Main, Auckland, Kuala Lumpur, London and Berlin, she currently lives in Toronto. Annina is a political scientist (M.A., Department of War Studies, King’s College, London) and communications specialist. She also trained as “Professional Practitioner of Massage, Physical Wellbeing and Injury Prevention” and completed her Ashtanga Yoga Assistant Teacher Training in 2013. Just this month, Annina published her first bilingual poetry collection “Underwaterdawn.” Find her on twitter and instagram and at anninaluzieschmid.com.

Article originally appeared on Girls Can Blog, republished here with permission.

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65 comments… add one
  • shannon rose

    First of yoga is yoga….. sure it can be a “good work out” if that is why the individual is practicing asana, so be it, people come into different types for different reasons. Ashtanga is more regimented and more demanding, physically, than say hatha or kundalini or whatever you practice.
    No need to justify/defend stopping your practice- it just wasn’t for you. It is in fact fairly typical for an athlete to have 1 day of rest per week- nothing wrong with that. It is up to the individual to get proper training and guidance to prevent injury- whatever the physical endeavor.
    People come to yoga from a variety of backgrounds- some are not at all athletic, so asana becomes “exercise”. Nothing wrong with that. Eventually, though, asana practice becomes a means of connection, so that one can get to deeper levels- of consciousness. If this doesnt occur, asana practice might as well be gymnastics or a boot camp- a set up for burn out

    • John

      I agree that the athlete reference with the six days a week point could be rephrased. It isn’t unheard of for athletes to train 6 or 7 days a week. It is for them to practice exactly the same sequence daily with no periodisation or tapering or variation. That’s not a physically healthy thing for the vast majority of people to do and it’s certainly not the recipe for athletic success in any discipline.

  • Ariane

    I liked your article and found it was pretty courageous to denounce what can be seen as excesses in the Ashtanga world.
    But still, I found that you looked pretty angry and almost bitter at the end of your article. I also had a very strong ashtanga practice at some point in my life and it created some injuries in my body. But at that moment, my mind needed this strong practice. When I was practicing, I met some people that really get freed through the Ashtanga practice, and some other that just put themselves in jail.
    Later on, I turned to more gentle practices and learned to listen to my body. I now practice Vinyasa, Yin and Restorative Yoga. There, I found wonderful and deeply knowledgable teachers and a great and open minded community.
    Some people have a body that allow them to do all those fancy postures and exercices. It’s great for them if this is what they need at that moment. Mysore style is still a very beautiful practice of calming the mind, it just doesn’t work for everybody!

    So my advice would be : get back on your mat and start to listen to your body and mind, keep on being kind to yourself and to others. Well, do yoga!

    • Curious Cat

      Great advice. I totally agree.

  • Andrea

    I love the experience of the mysore-style class but I am afraid I have to agree with all the points in this article. I decided to take a “gap year” from my practice this year (and i’ve never been an everyday practitioner anyway) after some pain in my wrist ligaments. I am looking to go back because I am aware of the benefits but one thing will change for sure, my teacher will get a lot of “no, thanks” from me if I feel something is not right. It has to be MY practice and not a race. The life/yoga balance has to be right otherwise the practice becomes detrimental and ultimately unhappy.

  • Ruth

    100% hearing you on this one. I too have loosened my relationship with ashtanga and am feeling healthier and full. I now have an intuitive practice which involves waking up and deciding what I want to do. Beach or forest walk, run, swim. Yoga and I love it. I feel part of society again. I have dog walking buddies, early beach friends, yoga buddies and feel like I am truly serving my soul!!
    Nice blog!

  • Dwayne

    Interesting article.
    I have an athletic background, and even though I started yoga late (at age 49), I really thought Ashtanga would be the thing for me. I live in a rural area with no Ashtanga instruction available, so was somewhat self-taught (David Swenson’s book and a number of videos are good resources). After some years of on-off efforts, I decided that Ashtanga was not right for me, because whenever I got really serious about it I developed small nagging injuries (I was never injury-prone at all in sports). One interesting thing: I had very tight hip flexors from years of running, cycling, etc., and it took years of work on hip-opening to be able to do lotus/half-lotus postures safely. I don’t think I would have been able to open my hips to that extent within a strict Ashtanga framework.
    I still include a lot of Ashtanga elements in my practice (sun salutations A & B, the standing sequence with some add-ons, a lot of the finishing sequence, and I do many postures “Ashtanga style”), but I mix things up more and have taken to practicing Yin a day or two a week.

  • vq2

    Someone who would practice Ashtanga, but wants a more personalized approach/American approach to a Mysore style practice might practice Adamantine Yoga or some other Ashtanga knockoff that isn’t (but is close to) Ashtanga …

    All the new schools of yoga try that approach at first, some are successful at it.

    I think self-practice (for a $$$$ cost in some cases, but so be commercialism {sigh}) is what people really want now. The more Ashtanga-like, for some, the better.

  • In other words, your personal journey is (so far) from Ashtanga to ashtanga… from the physically demanding style/international brand, to the eight limbs of wisdom described in Patanjali…
    I guess your direction was always the same, you just changed the vehicle 🙂

  • vq2

    Going from small “a” ashtanga to self-practice, is what I did.

    The only other place to go from there, is–seriously–taking it and keeping it, mostly off the mat. Easier to do than talk about, especially now.

  • S.

    I wonder who led the author into believing that yoga would fix her problems and create a living for her. That seems to be the root of her disollusionment.

  • the anonymous ashtangi

    This is truly an unfortunate opinion but I guess opinion s are always formed on both sides. Its a shame that someone has to speak ill of something that that works for some. Just bracuse someone stops doing a practice and forms an opinion that is on the negitive side dose make make it a reality for the rest.

    Just because someone who has a regual six day a week practice dose not mean that they ate using this to fill the hole in their life. It dose not mean that they use it to call them selves a better person. It may be true that some people have used this practice or many others to figure things out dose not mean that everyone dose.

    One of the first things I learned about my self from this practice is that it’s NOT going to solve ANYTHING. What it did teach ME is that I can show up everyday for something even if I don’t want to, that I can become dedicated and persiver no matter what the practice or life throws at me. That even though at times I may want yo I don’t have to. If such a claim is going to be TO EVERYONE that has a regual practice, may as well include the entire the entire human race as that is what one of the biggest question we face: what will fulfill me as a human being, what am I doing here? I personally hope to aleay have this question as to keep me growing. If I even find the awnser and say “ok this is it!” I may grow stamgnat and not continue to grow.

    Over excersize is not healyhvi agree. However I don’t view my practice as that taxing on the body. After years of practice it gradually becomes easier. I DO NOT have a gifted body when it comes to this. It took years of dedication and intelegence to practice it safely. Primary series is now rather relaxing as is intermediate. Leaving a more chalenging 3rd only four days a week and it too is easing up. The body has a great ability to condition it self. And anything repeated usually becomes easier with time. What use to take hours can now be done in about an hour and a half. If you were doing intense trainnkng for hours a day six days a week like for footba or another competyiive sport I would agree.

    I’m a late bloomer to Ashtanga as I am only 28 and never got to practice under Pattabhi Jois. My first trip to Mysore was the year after he passed. I have done my best to study with senior students of his as well as Sharath yearly and NEVER have I ever heard anyone say to practice through injury. It has always been go slowly and do what you can. If you have a teacher that made claims to practice with serious pain then it is probably for the best one finds a smarter teacher. If you have pain in a pose chances are you are forcing with improper alighnmet. Coming from a stiff body I have studied anatomy as best I can and applied this to the direction I would like my bones to move. I have made it through the first two series without any seirouse injury. Sure there have been aches and pains and prolong time spent at certain postures (marichasana D: one year, kapotasana: two years), and this allowed for the time and opportunity to examine what was happening with me and the pose. I would ask myself “how can I do this effectively and safely.”

    As far as an addiction I’m a recovering her I on addict with over 6 years sober. It is my oppionon that if a claim is going to be made about someone being addicted that what they are doing causes ruin to their life and their families life AND they are unable to stop by their own choice. Everyone has “addictions” some are more harmful than others. It sure is easy to point the finger at Ashtanga practioner if they are dedicated. There is a huge difference between addiction and dedication. This claim could easily be made to anyone about anything they are passionate about. “Oh man he sure is addicted to playing the piano!” If you are practicing and beating your self up this is another story that has to do with the individual, not the practice. Its easy to stereotype.

    If there is “fear” around loosing progress again that is something to look at within your self and hopefully the practice made this clear. Fear is there, most humanneings and it allows the opportunity for growth.

    Of course the claim could be made that chanting in a language won’t balance your chakras, who knows if they are even real! They can be used as a good metaphor though. Its just as eaiy to say that praying to any God of any faith is just a bunch of habaloo, and I’m not going to even get into that new age mumbo jumbo as that is just as easily attacked. I have tried my hardest to study the the very tough Sanskrit tongue to try and understand what it is I’m saying and I ways encourage others to do the same. It has been my experience to interpret most sacred things as symbolic, not take it for the absolute. If someone wants to have faith in something that is their business and if I criticize them that leave the door open to for me to be criticized by others.

    I’m anti social by nature and choose carefully who I associate with. If someone gave me a hard time for what I was eating or when I went to bed or really anything that I was doing, as long as it wasn’t harming me or someone else, I would find other people to call my friends.

    Everyone had trauma to some degree in their past. And if you think that yoga asana is going to cure that you may need more help. If your teacher (the one that claims to practice through pain) says this will solve all your problems, then they aren’t well either and the responsibility comes back to the individual to find a better teacher.

    Now on to teachers… This is one of the biggest problems in yoga today and would be a whole other topic. I’ll try and keep it short. No one wants to even be a student! They all jump to teacher as it is hip and cool and what is in! There are so called “teacher trainings “where people pay thousands just to learn from someone, who probably dose t know much them selves,” just to get a love of paper that says something. Pieces of paper can be important like a Ph.D or a doctorate or they can be crap as well, but at least those papers take years to accuire.
    The only reason I came to mysore is that’s what all the old students I looked up to did. I knew so little about Ashtanga when I first came that I didn’t know about authorization or any of that. I came to study. If someone comes JUST for a pics of paper then they aren’t really doing yoga and probably won’t make a great teacher either.
    The only reason I happen to be a teacher is because in one of my rehabs there was yoga twice a week. When I got out I thought that was really nice and thought it was a good way to give back. Eventually people wanted me to teach for them and at their studios, I did not have a “day job” to quit. I barely had a life being a gutter junkine not long before… And as I grow up a little I realize that I can’t make a great living off teaching, and I’m not going to sell out and shamelessly self primate and whore out yoga like too many teachers do. So what dose a rational person do? They go back to school, which is what I have done. I love yoga and what it has done for me and will continue to teach as long as their is a willing student and as lkng as I contiune to learn, but I won’t ever plan to be rich from it. Everybody wants to tale from yoga, no one is willing to give back to it… She people tell me they want to teach and ask my advice I tell them it’s a horrible idea and while it looks glamourus leads to a life of poverty. Dose anyone ever listen? Of course not! They do it anyway but I suppose this is how we learn.

    The change in the rest day probably bothers me more than most but the practice has always been changing and any honest well educated Ashtangi will tell you that. I don’t plan to observe the Sunday as the day off u less I’m with Sharath and if I’m branded a heratic so be it as usually care little about what others think and do.

    If your one only dose yoga for superficial reasons like looks and muscles that is silly as there are much better ways to get fit and healthy, to find flexibility and strength. If you do it for the trend it may be rather vain. I have always thought: whatever gets people on the mat is great, its possible that some part of them is calling out to know more, hopefully they will listen. Hopefully they will realize that asan dose not have all the awnsers. Hopefully they will have picked a practice that is somewhat rooted in tradition and encourages deeper studies. Studies that encourage you to be good and do good and ask questions that need to be asked, not just the questions that everyone asks them selves like what’s the meaning if life but Questions that are much deeper and more personal than that.

    I typically keep quite about my thoughts as most people don’t want to hear them except for those close to me. These unfortunate few encouraged me to wright this.

    The anonymous ashtangi

    • Camila

      Thanks for sharing your story. I can very much identify with all the points you have said. It is up to the individual to take responsibility over themselves.
      There is wonderful teachers who encourage a safe and spiritual practice.

  • John

    I am quite happy to see so many replies to and discussion over this article.

    I am quite unhappy that in leaving your practice you seem to have not taken one lesson of awareness with you in seeing the reach of these words, and that they can be interpreted as hurtful to certain practitioners, and their level of dedication and commitment.

    Taking a quaint and shallow poke at a tradition that has its life time of evolution ahead of it, is quite cowardly and non productive in addressing any of the brief bureaucracies you tired to bring up. This practice has its roots, and those roots are growing , changing, living and nurturing (if you let them be). I am proud and happy for you to come to a realization such as this practice not for your situation and/or lifestyle, yet it does work for others, and works in a complex way that is far from surface level in understanding.

    All in all, in the breadth of your article, there is actually no reason, either interpersonal nor educatedly provocative, given for why you actually left the practice. Could I purpose that this article exists purely as a form of lashing out and watching the immediate gratification of the ripples you can create with its reach?

    There will probably be many more replies and addresses to this ‘open letter’, but I hope the follow up article “Why I chose to write an article on Why I left my Practice” has some more insight fuelling the content. I smugly invite you to come back to Ashtanga and help your self figure it all out 🙂

    • John, I agree 🙂

    • Yogi from the southern tip of Africa

      Here is a response to this article that was thought provoking.
      http://ashtangapictureproject.com/app-responds-stopped-practicing-ashtanga-yoga/
      In unrelated news, the practice of Yoga is primarily to control the modification of the mind – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 1.2: “Yogastha citta vritti nirodaha”.
      He outlines this in the 8-fold path that has now become known as Astanga Yoga, or the eight limbs of yoga. Yoga Asana is only one of those.
      I am not a student of Sri K Pattabi Jois
      Or his grandson Sarath. I do know that they encourage the exploration of ALL 8 limbs, an important point that the author has missed or omitted.

      In order to control the modification of the mind, the aspirant practices saddhana.
      Satya (Second Yama) is one of these practices:
      Speak pleasant truths
      Do not speak unpleasant truths
      Do not speak pleasant untruths
      Do not speak unpleasant untruths
      This is a way to balance ahimsa with satya.
      Just food for thought.

    • Aime

      Yes, John I’d have to agree with you. While we are all entitled to our opinions, why not shed some positive light on what the practice did for you, in some way or other. I mean, there must have been a time when it ‘worked’ for you. I get what you mean though, it can be a slippery slope. If you’re using/treating the practice in the wrong way, for example, as a tool to be hard on yourself (pressure to practice 6 days a week and to attain whatever pose, etc) then it’ll be pure hell. I sometimes fall down that path, but have to remind myself that I DON’T HAVE TO practice.. I CHOOSE to. I make it compliment my life, not run it. Yes, I manage to fit in 6 days a week, but when I’m busy, maybe its 5. I don’t practice in the morning due to my early work schedule and the fact that I’m not about to get up at 4 am either. I’m mostly vegan, I try not to cause too much harm to others, I don’t always follow moon days, and I still drink wine on weekends. For me, this approach works. It’s a balanced way of living where I can reap the benefits of the practice and still live a fairly normal life. I’ve tried other forms of yoga, but this one fits. The intensity helps me focus and I’m intrigued with the tradition and overall system. So, after this banter of mine, I want to say that while I understand some of what you have to say, it might be a good idea to rethink some of your negatively sweeping statements.. at least for the Ashtanga newbie who might fall on the article and develop a skewed view of the practice. I hope you don’t stay bitter and at some point get back to your mat!

    • Very well said. The author is very obviously coming from a judgmental, condemning place. That’s how HER practice was. It’s fairly easy for the ego to high-jack your yoga practice in today’s McYoga culture, because the original purpose is missing (using asana, pranayama, and meditation practice to regularly come to inner stillness, deepening your capacity to connect intimately with Life). The potential of yoga practice is HUGE, and very deep. But it doesn’t have to be asana practice for everybody… Ramana Maharshi didn’t do Ashtanga 😉

  • Dwayne

    “a tradition that has its life time of evolution ahead of it”.
    This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read! Utterly nonsensical. One can only conclude that the post is some kind of joke.

  • jo

    I am not an ashtangi. But wow, the author here seems to be making a lot of assumptions, and even accusations, that are all based on her own relationship with herself. Please don’t assume that everyone else’s relationship with themselves is the same as your own.

  • I find your journey and perspective to be very personal. To such a degree that you can’t give advice on it. There are lots of healthy Ashtanga yogis. I am a Hatha Yoga teacher, but I know Ashtangis who are healthy, happy, married, successful, teachers and harmoniously balanced. I also know many teachers who make a living by teaching yoga. Sure they supplement it with retreats and training and workshops, but it is all yoga based.
    I also know people who went through what you went through, which is why I think your journey is personal, and your advice does not pertain to everyone and therefore should not have come as an article to all. I quit my day job. I have a very small home based studio. I am doing quite well thank you and I have never been happier in my life at 37. I am sorry it did not work for you and I am sorry you feel it can’t work for anyone else.

  • Zee

    Hi, 🙂

    you will be back to the Ashtanga practice… Take a rest, enjoy the life. You will be back.

  • SK

    Lots to say… but to keep it brief- get back on your mat and… ekam inhale… Learn what Ashtanga truly is. Learn all eight limbs. What you’ve been practicing is just one of those limbs. Learn the rest and practice them all. Namaste.

    • SK admirer

      I just wanted to echo what SK said, the eight limbs of Ashtanga make it much more about what you do off the mat. Getting closer to some higher power with the help of a teacher you’ve taken time to research and trust is really the essence of Yoga. If the physical practice is not accompanied by these principles, it’s just like going to the gym and deciding, you know what, I think I’m bored of swimming for cardio, now I’m going to try rowing… Thumbs up for the sharing, hope you’ll stick with the universally uplifting aspects of Yoga!

  • Wes

    Like with anything, Ashtanga is not for everyone… I love it but feel no need to push it upon others. I respect your own feelings about it and completely understand.

    As for my story, I reached an all time high body weight of 220 lbs on December of 2014. I undertook a very active training program featuring periodized weight training, running, treadmill and many other activities (i.e. kettle balls). I lost 10 pounds fast and was down to 210 by February of 2015. However, I never really got past that weight. I made some adjustments to my eating habits but was still making no progress. I was not happy and was seeing as many injuries (and soreness) pursuing these activities as I ever did with Ashtanga. When the summer came, I switched to Ashtanga. From the summer to know, I have lost 25 pounds. My body fat dropped from 23% to where it now sits at 16%. My muscle mass has increased significantly. Any reference to being stick thin is not true (you called it Ashtangarexia)…there are many Ashtangis in my class that are built very well. I am so thankful to Ashtanga for literally saving my life. I have found a physical connection (flexibility, cardio, strength) as well as a spiritual connection with this regular practice. And I love the Ashtanga community that surrounds me.

    Today, Ashtanga is not filling an emptiness in my life…it is a very solid companion to the happy life I lead. I approach practice every morning at 6 AM with a thrill and excitement.

    There is also no desire in our studio for ‘authorization’ or validation. Everyone is there because we want to be. There is no desire to get to the next level…we go as far as we can go and we are happy with it.

    About bragging Ashtangis…I think you have had some bitter experiences. Everyone in our studio is extremely humble. Most at work and amongst my family rarely hear of my yoga exploits. I don’t post videos. I don’t post selfies. I do Ashtanga in the morning and then I just go to work…

    All I can say is I am very glad that the author has found happiness. Each of our formulas for happiness is different from one another. It just so happens that Ashtanga works for me. So I am here, very humbly, to not tear others down or force it upon others…but to represent Ashtanga as a good thing in my own life.

    🙂
    Namaste

  • Rachel

    Thank you! Every word you said is what I have personally experienced for over a decade now. Exhausted–injured, tired in every part of the practice. It’s bliss to hear the other side articulated!

  • Paola

    I recently have been feeling like you did regarding Ashtanga. It’s great I saw this article.
    I still love this Yoga style, in my particular case I’m not liking the teachers military- Ashtanga goes first than anything in the world- approach. I don’t want to hurt myself or do postures in a bad alignment just to perform them faster or get to a posture as fast as possible, I want to go slowly at my own rythm, let things develop naturally. I also feel like having a nice dinner with friends, or just relax for a day, get a breakfast or whatever, save anergy to take a long walk, climb, etc. IS A MUST for ME (I guess everyone has it’s own particular preference on that matter and is entirely valid, as much as mine).

    My practice as it is now, leaves me with no energy to do any other activity, not even going to the store. I want to thank you because reading this post was great to finish to realize what I have already been thinking lately, that there’s no right or wrong answer to everyone regarding everything, because we all are different, it is about finding your own balance and feel satisfied and happy.

    As a personal opinion based on my own experience from the Ashtanga teachers I have met, with and without authorization or certification, I don’t think yo need to go to Mysore to bea great Ashtanga teacher and I do think that some great ashtanguis that are authorized are better than certificated ones (again based on my particular point of view). I did get to meet and take a few guided classes with Sharath and asked him about the removal of paschimottanasana B,C and his response was there’s no need to do them all, I guess he could have mention what you said about saving time because his answer was not that great to me.

    Now I’m gonna take action and either go to a new place, where they can teach things more slowly and naturally, or talk to the teacher and let her know I’m no digging her pressure style and obviosly skip practice if I feel like doing something else.

  • naturally like your web site but you need
    to check the spelling on several of your posts.
    Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find
    it very bothersome to inform the truth then again I’ll certainly come back again.

  • I have worked through some serious mind and body ‘stuff’ on my mat and have had to take a break from my asana practice due to some health issues. However, I believe that when the practice has done its job, you can then really begin to practice with grace and do so from a kind of ‘take it or leave it’ place. Ashtanga yoga saved my life by replacing my unhealthy mind patterns with some much healthier ones. However, some people take the practice and it becomes their whole life. My experience is that once I lost the attachment to ‘progress’, my practice had both done it’s job and on another level, really began. It doesn’t matter what sequence of asana your practice is. Some third series practitioners can still be practicing like beginners. I love the practice but I love it for what it’s allowed me to do for myself and now I visit it like an old friend. I know it’s there if I need it, along with my little yoga family. Now it’s just enough to breathe my own gentle practice in the same room with my friends, once a week and the odd time at home if my schedule allows. These days, you’re far more likely to find me sitting and breathing on my zafu. I still consider myself an Ashtanga practitioner because I’m applying what it has taught me to my ‘off the mat life’, my real life. We should not lose sight of where this practice developed and who it was for and if you know your yoga history, you’ll know it definitely wasn’t developed for a 49 year old, peri menopausal western woman or any number of other western human situations. We should love the practice for what we can learn from it and how it serves us. As long as our relationship with the practice is balanced and healthy, what it gives us will be balanced and healthy.

  • Many people spend hours doing yoga poses that can actually lead to damage to the natural curving architecture of the human body. How refreshing to just enjoy a walk with your dog and stop begin addictive to a practice that many physical therapists, body workers and yoga teachers are questioning. Ashtanga yoga is certainly an extreme practice that can overtime lead to a laxity in the ligament structures needed to keep the Sacral/hip spine joints stable …Knees, wrist and even the plantar surface of the foot get over stretched doing many of the poses that are part of the first series. Pattabbhi Jois, who started the practice was certainly no expert in biomechanics nor someone with lifelong experience since he stopped practicing the asanas about age 40. Over 25 years ago, I was injured doing this practice and also molested by Jois…So I began to look at the way humans are designed to move and also how our body is made of curves and I eliminated all of the joint stressing, sacrum torquing poses from my practice. I created a way to do yoga that makes anatomical sense and aligns and tones your body so you can go and enjoy your life..
    Its called YogAlign..It makes sense and does not require hours of arduous practice or worshipping of gurus. please check it out. Also if you have been injured, I specialize in helping yogis heal from Sacral injuries, labral tears and ligament laxity.
    Heres a video of the creator of Ashtanga… It looks forceful and abusive and I find it ludicrous that he has any creditability at all in the yoga community.
    https://vimeo.com/70867645

  • I agree with some parts.. as I was an avid Ashtangi now rethinking things with my injury.
    But I’m learning so much about myself through this.
    And I did quit my day job, and I encourage anyone who is thinking of doing that to follow your dreams. No fear. Chakra number one. Ground. The earth nourishes you and you can have abundance, just do what you love and it all comes back to you.
    Much Love and Light.

  • Robert H.

    Could anybody explain to me why Asthanga needs to be ‘6 days a week’ just because Jois said so? We are invited to find our own path of the 8 limbs. Only we can know what is benefiting us or not. Actually, 7 days of yoga sounds more appropriate to me, but surely not 6 days of ASANAS. I totally agree with the OP on this. I practice asanas 3-4 days a week, and don’t shame myself if every now and then it was only once or twice a week. We are only human. However, I do consciously try to ‘focus’ at least some of my time on every given day on one of the eight limbs. This might be readings on yamas/niyamas, some pranayama, meditation or letting myself off the hook easily with some pratyahara/Yoga Nidra so fall asleep. The point is you connected to your practice and your soul actively. For me this is what is the clinch of my practice. To the OP, even if you are not doing asanas, I encourage you to keep up your practice. Asanas not necessarily required!

  • santosh

    good post

  • Yogi from the tip of Africa

    Here is a response to this article that was thought provoking.
    http://ashtangapictureproject.com/app-responds-stopped-practicing-ashtanga-yoga/
    In unrelated news, the practice of Yoga is primarily to control the modification of the mind – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 1.2: “Yogastha citta vritti nirodaha”.
    He outlines this in the 8-fold path that has now become known as Astanga Yoga, or the eight limbs of yoga. Yoga Asana is only one of those.
    I am not a student of Sri K Pattabi Jois
    Or his grandson Sarath. I do know that they encourage the exploration of ALL 8 limbs, an important point that the author has missed or omitted.

    In order to control the modification of the mind, the aspirant practices saddhana.
    Satya (Second Yama) is one of these practices:
    Speak pleasant truths
    Do not speak unpleasant truths
    Do not speak pleasant untruths
    Do not speak unpleasant untruths
    This is a way to balance ahimsa with satya.
    Just food for thought.

  • Peter

    What a refreshing heartfelt article. Thank you for having the courage to write it x

  • DD

    You are blaming other people for your own mistakes. I have my issues with commercial yoga as well, but come on. I see a lot of criticism for other people, for the Ashtanga scene, and some ok advice, some bum advice… yet nowhere in this article do I see you taking responsibility for your own actions: blindly adhering to a system. Grow up! All of this stuff was obvious to people with a low tolerance for bs within the first dozen classes You can absolutely teach yoga full time and open a studio without your life crumbling to pieces, by the way.

  • Rachel

    Honestly, those of you who practice–let us express our opinions….

    Any physical practice that uses the SAME muscles and SAME movements repeatedly, again and again, day after day, month after month….etc….puts stress on the body and joints at some points. Dancers, professional athletes….it’s the same.

    Why does each “form” of yoga or particular practice–have to “prove” that it’s the best above all others?

    Ahimsa….do what works

  • Louudr

    Oh yes I can see that the author clearly found happiness, so, so, happy

  • Rob

    You so, so didn’t get it. Rather sad actually, more sad that you chose to write this knowing what some would think, almost wanting that result. Farewell.

  • Juliano

    this article shows how people are different and if a medicine fits for me, it doesn’t mean that it will fit for others. I run, cycling and do gym, but I allways think that I need to do more Ashtanga and reduce the other activities, because Ashtanga gives me a lot of beneficies that no other activities are able to do.

  • Dianne

    I’m a yoga teacher in her 60’s and I came to Ashtanga as a regular practice only within the last year. I was a dedicated vinyasa yogi who also studied Iyengar. I can tell you without a doubt I have made more progress in my practice with a six day a week ashtanga practice than any other practice I have ever done. I modify the Primary Series to make it work safely for me. Sometimes I don’t do the whole practice. I listen to my body’s needs. Even more importantly than the progress of what I have made with the asanas is what I am learning internally about myself and my practice. I’m so glad I found Ashtanga and I plan to continue my 6 day a week practice until my last breath. I love how Ashtanga is sequenced and builds upon itself. I believe that is what makes it safe. Like any other practice you have to listen to your own bodies needs whether it’s Iyengar, vinyasa, Anusara, Yin…any of them. Afterall it’s really about developing a deeper internal awareness by the use of the postures. All yoga traditions have their addicted yogis. You can’t place the blame squarely on the yoga style or the teacher.

  • Mauro

    Well.. this gave me reasons to admit what I was hide in from myself. It seems that to make real progress in this practice you need to put so much of our life in it.. almost like a religion.

  • Jigar

    Seems like you have been wrongly educated on Ashtanga Yog. These days teaching and learning Ashtanga Yog has become a fad among people. Correct your facts for Ashtanga Yog and never try learning it again because you are not the right person to learn and the institute teaching you have never achieved Ashtanga Yog.

  • Rachel

    Again, looking at the practice–moderation, attention, breath….keeping these steady helps the body and the mind and is yoga…

    Om…

  • Read this comment

    You must make the transition from a fitness oriented approach to yoga into a devotional one. By getting this subtle shift you will gain consistency and regularity in the way that you do your practice. A daily spiritual ritual where you take time to connect internally to a deep sense of yourself requires dedication. The requirement to practice six days a week is meant to develop the kind of mental, spiritual and devotional determination needed in order make progress along the internal path of yoga. If yoga is meant to be a life long commitment to inner peace it behooves yoga practitioners to practice as much as they can. If you only practice when it is convenient or when you feel good then yoga is more of a hobby then a lifestyle. But sincere spiritual practice has never been a leisurely activity if it is to produce the results of awakening. True spiritual practice is an unbroken commitment to do everything it takes to see the deepest truth there is. It is not something you can choose to look at only on Monday and Wednesday for an hour and pretend it does not exist for the rest of the week-Kino Macgregor

    • Kino, One does not need to do asana to be a yogi. Yoga is a philosophy and a way of living consciously with awareness of the avidyas and the dukkha or suffering we create by not being in the state of comprehension that allows us to be present.
      Ashtanga vinyasa is a style of yoga poses and it is just limb of the practice. Is yoga an activity or a state of being? Yoga poses do not make one spiritual or even more connected to source. It is all about intention in all that we do and being a yogi is not the same as ‘ doing yoga’. The pursuit of flexibility and the ability to do poses that can actually cause harm is the danger of making yoga about the poses. Getting your feet behind your head does not make you a yogi nor will it help you reach enlightened but it may cause harm to your hip joint.

    • Kino, One does not need to do asana to be a yogi. Yoga is a philosophy and a way of living consciously with awareness of the avidyas and the dukkha or suffering we create by not being in the state of comprehension that allows us to be present.
      Ashtanga vinyasa is a style of yoga poses and it is just one limb of the practice.
      Is yoga an activity or a state of being? Yoga poses do not make one spiritual or even more connected to source. It is all about intention in all that we do and being a yogi is not the same as ‘ doing yoga’. The pursuit of flexibility and the ability to do poses that can actually cause harm is the danger of making yoga about the poses. Getting your feet behind your head does not make you a yogi nor will it help you reach enlightenment but it may cause harm to your hip joint.

  • Rachel

    Yes…of course spiritual practice is the goal and source–

    But working several jobs, raising children, affording rent–also a practice. Some days they intervene, come first…or become the 7th series.

  • Camila

    I find this post very righteous and patronizing.

    First of all, to equal every Ashtanga practitioner with someone who buys and practices and Manduka mats or in Lullemoon pants with the intention to become enlightened by that alone…
    It rips out the whole idea behind the eight limbs as a path to enlightenment and the cessation of suffer. Who is to blame? That Yoga has become a trend? That there indeed is 200-h certified yoga teacher for only xxxx USD that anyone can buy? In Mysore you get certified, because of your experience. What they want you to pass on, is the experience. I refuse to be assisted by so-called “Yoga teachers” with 200h certificate they did after 6 months of practice, because what can they teach me? Have they worked their way to Mari D or Supta Kurmasana? How many different students have they seen, how much different anatomy?
    I practice Ashtanga for 1.5 years, and it is the best thing that could have happened to me so far. I quit going to psychotherapy after almost 1 year, because I believe that the reason WHY I have certain issues is not the solution to the problem, but may very well be a justification to continue the behavior that brings me suffer (“I have an eating disorder, therefore I cannot help but stuff myself tonight”). Sure, it won’t be solved by practicing Supta Kurmasana. But what exactly do you do in Ashtanga? You put yourself deliberately in uncomfortable situations and you practice to STAY WITH IT.
    Very early on we learn that pleasant = beneficial, and unpleasant = not beneficial. This is one of the biggest misconceptions. Going with a craving… whether it’s talking to a handsome guy although I’m in a relationship, and it’s definitely beneficial although pleasant to receive some reassurances, or choosing to force sex because I won’t be seeing my boyfriend for a month and I need to “save for later”, it’s just two examples of why this calculation is wrong. To observe and unidentify with things, e.g. anger, and blaming other people for doing things that bring US discomfort.
    Practicing self-compassion and work with my ego and unhealthy ambitions once I tore my hamstrings, throwing me back in my practice has been another destination in my practice. As a teacher I see many students being eaten up by ambition, forcing themselves in asanas they are not ready for. First thing I always say is “there is nothing to win today. Focus on yourself and your vinyasa and your dristi, and not your neighbor. Do what feels right for your body today”.
    Choosing to practice yoga even though I’m lazy, but letting go and taking a short practice or none at all when I really don’t feel like it.
    “Ashtanga police” has stopped making me feel like shit, once I started practicing self-compassion and even using blocks and probs, but it was also very dependent on my teacher (student of Richard Freemann) who very much encourages this approach and studying with the old generation of Ashtanga practitioners (Ezrty, Stern, Scott, Swenson).
    Go ahead, blame Ashtanga instead of people who don’t take responsibility over themselves.
    But whatever suits you – I am happy you found your way in different style of yoga. The idea behind it is the same. Spiritual practice.

  • Camilla, Yoga can be a distraction when there are addictions too.. Personally I do not think that you can get comfortable by being uncomfortable and many poses in Ashtanga are uncomfortable, dangerous and frankly unnecessary.
    Staying with discomfort does not bring enlightenment but can bring injuries.. Please be careful.. See http://www.yogainjuries.com

    • Camila

      Thanks for caring, Michaelle.
      I am talking about asanas like Parsvakonasana, Utkatasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana. I guess it’s different for everbody, but I really hate those. I am not talking about irresponsible practice like forcing myself into Marichyasana D five times per week because “pain is part of it and the sequence is like This.”

  • Kenza

    Actually chanting mantras in Sanskrit is extremely more beneficial than in other languages because it’s the vibrations made by the sounds that connects with different parts of the body and chakras

  • advaita

    Very pertinent observations Annina, a sound education has given you analytical skills to see light on darkness, it has given you the ‘ninth limb of yoga’ that Patanjali failed to predict ‘keep out of greedy uneducated Indian yoga gurus that pray on gullible Westerners by making them feel special through a daily martial physical regime’. Pattabhi Jois died a millionaire who did not believe or practiced a single thing he preached (and you can look at pictures of his to tell and you can hear the tales of some former female students…) but it’s not his fault but the fault of the simpletons that arrive in masses to India to find a Shangri-la in yoga, buddhism, tantra, Vedic lore and countless Indian gods.

    HATHA YOGA IS HANDED DOWN AS EXPENSIVE SPIRITUAL ENTERTAINMENT.
    Human mind has a strong need for storytelling, so when an uneducated Indian yogi tells you that your body pain is prana cleansing your impurities, there you go. When the con artist tells you that it is not the body that is inflexible but the mind that is inflexible, there you go. Spiritual entertainment at its best. It’s not his fault for telling you, competitive soul, a deformed story out of an old Sanskrit text, if he made the practice simple as per the real classical hatha yoga texts (for example http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/hyp/hyp03.htm ) you wouldn’t need him or would find the practice boring, therefore he would lose his business, so he has to make the practice harder in order to have your custom, it is a marketing strategy.

    ALL TEACHERS/GURUS ARE SPIRITUAL ENTERTAINERS
    Since they play to audiences, hatha yoga was originally passed from guru to chela, 1-2-1 only. Hatha yoga in all its variations (and the same goes for mindfulness, meditation, etc) is also big entertainment business, in India and elsewhere, no wonder it tends to be the preferred plan B for failed or not so emerging artists; musicians, actors, dancers, that cannot make it in their field but yet find their applauding audiences in a yoga/meditation setting. Because yoga/meditation/mindfulness and all its expensive paraphernalia, workshops and retreats, have become entertainment for the middle classes. When I taught yoga, I felt as much an entertainer as Sarath Jois does while touring the world with his acrobatics, but earning a fraction of his fee, unfortunately, I am not the only one, a reputed yoga guru here in London, UK put it more bluntly ‘we are self-employed trained seals’ therefore I agree with you that it works as a side thing only, hardly ever as a proper job, unless you want to ruin your body, work unsociable hours and be financially insecure. (Or open a yoga shala and con people into expensive teacher training)
    The truth is that Yoga/samkhya philosophy does not mix well with fast& furious capitalist societies either; it is so contradictory to teach people to relax and to let go while you are running around the city like a headless chicken to make a living!

    KNOWLEDGE IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF YOGA
    So as a seasoned student of no guru but the eternal ways of Nature and reluctant yoga teacher my advise to career fast-trackers is:
    You want to become a yoga teacher, become educated instead, become a lawyer or a doctor, or anything that gives you knowledge and financial stability … and then teach yoga on Saturday morning if you wish.
    There are not shortcuts to education as there are not shortcuts to make money. The expensive month long teacher training at your favorite yoga shala or fancy trips to Mysore will give you neither education nor financial security. I suggest you to leave the mat and go to university. Education is the highest yoga and the only yoga worth exploring, Raja yoga, as the philosopher Sankara rightly put it in his theory on knowledge ‘It is knowledge and not action that brings about liberation’ I can’t add more than that.

    • Advaita,
      You have made some astute observations regarding the pitfalls of yoga teaching and gurus as con artists. No doubt that the yoga industry has seduced many with images of a slim contorted female body in tight and expensive clothing who travel the world in a glamorous lifestyle. Much of what you say is so true and yet we do need tools that help people with chronic pain and anxiety as well as mindful practices to balance out our capitalist lifestyles. I advise anyone taking my teacher trainings to focus on private yoga sessions and to obtain a massage or PT license if they are serious about working with the human body as in asana. I was injured in yoga, groped by Jois and verbally abused by several other so called gurus so rather than stopping the practice, I created a whole new system based on aligning rather than contorting. It has taken almost 3 decades of hard work for me but now I teach teachers and give them tools to help others realign their posture in just a few weeks. Let me know if you would like one of my books and where to send it.
      http://www.yogalign.com

  • Ray

    Ashtanga is merely a tool. How you use it, is up to you. If you use it in a bad way, the outcome will be bad. It’s also a mirror, because it tells you on a day to day basis where you are in your life. Smart people learn it’s wise to take notice of these reflections.

    Everything you write in this article says a lot about you, where you are in your life. You should use these thoughts as a self reflection. Why did you have these thoughts. And even: do you still have the same thoughts now, or are you simply not aware of them anymore.

    Ashtanga as well as any other type of yoga is first of all a mental practice.
    How you treat your body says a lot about your current mental state. If your practice was self abusive, you should carefully look at why that is. Again, Ashtanga is just a tool. You can use it in a good way.

    I personally have learned a lot from my practice. Learning to accept that it may take you a long time (if even ever) to being able to master an asana, makes the ego humble. It has definitely been the greatest gift ashtanga has given me. But for that you have to work. Mental work is not the easiest. And self reflections can be terrible. If you want to grow, Ashtanga is a great tool.

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