The Girl Who Quit Ashtanga

While doing some research on the web I stumbled across this article, in which this ashtangi goes into great length as to why she gave up her practice.  I read it, along with the infinite number of comments (she really struck a cord!) and though I read this months ago, it has stuck with me.  So much so, that I felt compelled to write my own thoughts about it.  I guess the easiest way is for me to post her points and then my views.  Here we go!

1.)  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…”

My thoughts: Well, the link in the linked article doesn’t work anymore, so I cannot offer an opinion on THAT.  With that said, every health professional is a bit of a stretch.  If five professionals got together, even they probably wouldn’t all agree.  A cursory search on the web brings up articles showing disagrement as to how many days of exercise is ideal.  To make matters more complicated, each persons fitness level and health should be taken into consideration when considering exercise plans.

2.)  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…”

My thoughts: On this I somewhat agree.  This depends on the injury and the severity of the injury.  That is what modifications are for.  If you have a wrist injury, maybe do things on the forearm or skip handwork altogether and do standing and sitting postures.  On crutches?  Maybe do forward bends and pranayama.  You may not be able to get in a full practice, but you can do something to get movement in your body.  Honor your body.  No one (and hopefully not a teacher!), is telling you to do a full primary practice through pain.

3.)  Ashtangarexia is alive and happening
“The definition of addiction, as I have recently learned… is: “A repeated behavior with a negative impact (causing distress of some sort or health problems), 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…”

My thoughts:  Perhaps this person has an addictive personality.  Yes, people who are drawn to Ashtanga tend to have type A personalities, but if someone is having a hard time managing their life and cannot manage their lifestyle properly, perhaps a life coach or a therapist should be consulted.  If pressure from the instructor is forcing progression the student isn’t ready for, perhaps a new instructor (or shala) is in order.

4.)  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.”

My thoughts:  People are brought to yoga for a myriad of reasons- fitness, mental/emotional wellbeing and rehabilitation from injury being the most popular.  The thing about yoga is it tends to drudge up a lot of history and baggage.  Yoga often helps you work through these internal struggles.  With that said, there are some things (of course!) where outside help may be needed.  That is up to the individual yogi to decide.

5.)  Authorization equals a frequent flyer reward
“…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… 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.”

My thoughts:  Being as how I did a 200 YTT to teach vinyasa, I don’t see this as an oddity.  Sure, it would be great if he came to different countries for a couple months at a time, but India is his home.  Yes, it would be ideal if the teachers he certifies could then go on to authorize other teachers, but alas that isn’t the way it is.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t great teachers out there who aren’t authorized or certified.  I myself train under one- though she recently went to Mysore.  Find a teacher you enjoy and stick with them.  As long as you feel you are getting good instruction and feel safe, that is what matters.  When it is time for you to teach (if you go that route), then it is up to you to decide will you go a non-certified teacher training route or take the Mysore trip.  People say making money is “unyogic”- it isn’t.  It is an exchange for a service.

6.)  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.”

My thoughts:  Why wouldn’t Sharath change things to handle the influx of students coming to Mysore?  It is the responsible thing to do.  Otherwise, there would be a lot of frustrated yogis, left outside, waiting to get in the shala! 🙂  As far as off days, I do not recall a mandate saying that all shalas are required to take off the same day they do.  My shala is open seven days a week (except for moon days) to allow for everyone’s busy schedule.
I think it is okay to be proud of where you are in a sequence; especially if you have finally achieved a breakthrough.  You do not know how hard they worked for that posture.  They could have been stuck at the previous one for months… years!  Maybe they saved for years to go to Mysore.  I myself have been saving for over a year and I just spent it all (see here), so I am starting from scratch again.  Lastly, I’m proud of my little yoga tribe that shows up when I teach my classes.  Why wouldn’t I?

7.)  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.”

My thoughts:  Well, I sort of have to agree here.  Making a full time career out of yoga is hard, but I know several people who are doing this and the market is flooded where I live.  If this is your plan, be smart and have a plan.  Don’t quite your job without being able to pay the bills.  Either have money saved or a spouse that can support you.  Or, better yet, line up the yoga jobs and then quit your regular job.  See if you can do workshops too, as those pay more.  The thing to keep in mind is that teaching is exhausting physically, emotionally and mentally.  If you are teaching several classes a day, you are going to get tired.  Don’t run yourself ragged and get sick!

Conclusion: My overall thoughts to this blog entry of hers is one of sadness.  It seems that she trained at a shala where her teacher made her feel as if she had to strive for progression and perfection constantly and perhaps even work through injuries instead of working around them and using modifications.  I cannot say if she felt inadequate or not, but it is clear that she does like comparisons to anyone or anything.  It is sad to see that she has a bad taste in her mouth and no longer sees any benefits of the Ashtanga yoga practice.  Of course, all these are my own thoughts and interpretations and I could be misinterpreting and misrepresenting her entirely.

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