This article is an open letter response to Why I Stopped Practicing Ashtanga Yoga.
by Jessie Horness
I’m an Ashtanga practitioner. Every morning, I wake up before the sun, make my way to the shala, and dive into two hours of asana practice. Sometimes it’s blissfully easy, my body oscillating naturally with the breath like dance. Sometimes my mind and body are stiff, and every vinyasa is an effort. Whatever the day’s practice brings, however, it is always joyful. I often find myself laughing and smiling through my practice. And when it’s over, I’ve already achieved six impossible things for the day. Then I have breakfast.
I’m an Ashtanga practitioner. I practice six days a week (unless, of course the moon is full. Or new. Or I’m on my period. Or I have a fever), but I don’t look skinny and tired, and neither do my companion practitioners. I have practiced with injury, though never through it – and there is an important difference- and I’ve come out stronger because of it. The practice, under the advisement and guidance of a counselor, helped me heal from both sexual assault and disordered eating. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to this method and this tradition. I recognize it as a tool and I know, as Ani Difranco put it, “any tool is a weapon, if you hold it right.” As a hammer can be used both to build a home and to commit violence, Ashtanga can be used for evolution or devolution. That doesn’t change my sense of awe and gratitude for what an effective tool it can be, or how blessed I feel to have it in my life.
I am an Ashtanga practitioner, and I don’t care that you stopped practicing Ashtanga yoga.
When I first read the somewhat viral “Why I Stopped Practicing Ashtanga Yoga,” I was, quite frankly, nonplussed. A year ago, I probably would have been incensed. I would have found the harsh words directed at my beloved tradition upsetting, never mind the suppositions that, as a practitioner, I must be missing something from my personal life. The practice, however, is constantly teaching me equanimity. So now, reading this piece or one like it, I find I simply shut the window when I finish and set the alarm for my next early morning. Just keep practicing.
You see, what Ashtanga has given me is so much greater than happiness. It’s equanimity. Life is not always going to be comfortable. In fact, many of the best things come from times of discomfort. Through its no-excuses methodology, its daily confrontational moments, its ever-present discipline, Ashtanga teaches me to take all things as they come. I find myself growing ever more even-keeled. No matter what happens on the mat, you just keep breathing. Whatever happens in life, just keep practicing. Through the practice, I know that all things come, and all things go. All you can do is take it one breath at a time.
So, when I read a piece like this, I no longer hold onto it. It’s not my circus, not my monkeys. I just keep practicing.
A friend of mine told me a Zen koan the other day, a favorite of her father’s. Two monks are about to ford a river. They see a woman struggling to cross the current Even though monks aren’t supposed to touch women, one of the monks picks the woman up and carries her to the other side. The monks continue walking. Ten kilometers down the road, one monk looks to the other in slightly scornful disbelief.
“I can’t believe you picked up that woman!” he chides.
His companion shrugs. “I put her down,” he replies, “You’ve been carrying her for 10 kilometers.”
So to the author of this piece, I say this: Ashtanga has taught me to put things down, to not carry things around that disturb my equanimity. I’ve put down the fact that you’ve made attacks not just on my tradition but my character and personal life as a practitioner of that tradition. I read your point of view, I processed it, and I kept walking.
I don’t care that you’ve stopped practicing Ashtanga yoga. I’ve already put this down. Why, six months after stopping your practice, are you still carrying it?
Jessie Horness is an Ashtanga practitioner and yoga instructor (though she is happiest as a student) proud to live in beautiful Northern Michigan. Off the mat, she loves playing with words, whether that means writing them or reading them, and exploring the world on as many adventures as possible. The path to her heart is paved with witty conversation, quality music, and vegan milkshakes.