I dug out an old hard drive, and found photos and videos.
Watching them, it occurs to me that the advanced expression of Ashtanga postures and transitions are GREATLY aided by --- if not made possible by --- a thin, long body.
In 2005, we were staying at a hostel in Bangkok after 4 months in Mysore. The restaurant downstairs had raw, crunchy vegetables and oatmeal cooked in coconut milk. Fucking delish.
Tara filmed this, and Rowan was about 1 year old. Video is shite because camera was shite.
"If you cannot perform an [asana] at a level that has allowed your connective tissue to adapt to it, you have no business attempting anything harder."
I cannot recall where I cut this from --- probably a gymnastic forum? --- but it's an apt quote for Ashtanga people.
It's also a nice idea to approach the person with whom you practice to ask what they expect from you so you're not left wondering or guessing --- or, on a more complicated level, projecting onto them your lacks and your excesses.
Tim Miller revisited Portland this weekend. At one point he said, "Ashtanga is an edgy practice." Tim maintains injury is not inevitable. I am a little more sanguine about it, and to paraphrase Ido Portal, if you have a dedicated (movement) practice, the chance of injury is 100%.
Ashtanga is also challenging in that it is very easy to confuse a difficult postural practice with sadhana. It is easy to get sweaty and jump around and really push ourselves to our physical limits, yet sweaty extremes do not automatically equal sadhana --- or even paradoxically tapas. In fact a sweaty, a challenging postural sequence can be the opposite of yoga practice because it can be a distraction. All flash and no thunder. All show and no go. Big hat, little horse.
One strategy to look at the confusion of physical difficulty and discomfort with sadhana is to take an Ashtanga practice out of the Mysore room and back into the house.
A few weeks or months (or years!) of a home practice seems to me to chill people way out and force a look at a lot of oft-ignored questions, such as, "Why am I doing this?" "Do I still do it in this way with no one watching?" "Will I do this if no one is around to give me approval?" "Is it cheating if I don't do all the jump-backs?"
I certainly don't do the practice in the same way at all when I'm at home, versus in a class, and the duration of home practice, done over time, can change the tenor quite a bit, and make it sweeter, lighter, certainly shorter in length, and often more of a yoga practice and less bodily mortification.
When done consistently, a home practice provides yatha tatha [yavata tatava], "as much, so much," as they say in Sanskrit. Just the right dose of practice!
I'm not saying anything new or extraordinary when I say that life is nothing but a series of relationships --- literally, matter itself is nothing but electrons relating to other electrons.
Patanjali expresses a similar idea in the Yoga Sutra when he talks about the gunas, which means threads or strands.
A fundamental and to me pleasing idea that Patanjali includes from the Samkhya tradition is the idea of the gunas, or threads, to which are assigned three different qualities --- sattva, tamas, rajas.
These are often typically translated as luminosity (sattva), dullness or inertia (tamas), and energy or excitation (rajas).
Life, and our experience of it, is seen as a constant cycling through these three conditions --- each quality arises, expresses itself fully, then decays into the next.
Casey Palmer from Near East Yoga once put it that the practice of Ashtanga is nothing but "gunas acting on gunas."
Our relationship to our experience of Yoga, and how it is expressed and practiced, will change over time. If we hang onto it, we cling to an idea of how it should be --- we ignore the present, enshrine the past, and disrespect evolution.
Yoga in this sense becomes a reclamation project --- as Paul McCartney says, "Get back to where you once belonged." --- a process of reclaiming both our own previous experiences as well as the imagined transcendent experiences of other Great Teachers.
In a body-based practice, clinging is one way we get hurt --- by re-enacting the forward bend from Friday-night led class, rather paying attention to the forward bend on Monday morning. Or by performing a transition the way I performed in a led class in Mysore, India, 10 years ago, versus a rainy Sunday in Portland.
A relationship with Ashtanga --- whether it's performing perfectly the individual series of Ashtanga Yoga or with practicing Ashtanga Yoga in general --- are gunas. It will change and is already changing.
Some people come, find the practice and stay for a short time. Some come for 9 months, a year. Some few come for decades.
Jason owns and directs Portland Ashtanga Yoga.