I was moved by my friend Paul Gold to write a response to a post he had created, "The Obsessing Ashtangi."
When discussing the “obsessive Ashtangi,” it’s also important to acknowledge the unspoken systemic values of the Mysore-style Ashtanga system or else we risk merely blaming the victim. To not unearth these values is to remain blind to their risks.
Chief among those values is that more poses is better, and more advanced series or poses are even better.
There are a host of ways this is transmitted as a value to students, such as postures ‘given’ by ‘towering’ authority figure in a public group setting, as well as the general tones of respect, admiration and awe used for those practicing complicated postures.
Beginners to the Ashtanga Mysore system also have no conception of the years of practice put in by those around them, and it is therefore very easy to assume that the floating and bending is what Ashtanga is supposed to look like.
Underneath these assumptions also lies the unspoken promise of our lives and yoga practice as a project that can be ‘completed’ or ‘finished.’
Our hips are not light switches or bits of binary code (on/off, open/closed). Any strength, flexibility and mobility are part of a process that only exists in relationship to conditions (in this case, the movement demanded, the plane of resistance, the joint angle, etc, etc).
Ashtanga Yoga is a process. It is not a scavenger hunt of postures, with the winner collecting kaivalya, or a recipe in which ingredients are mixed perfectly for samadhi pie.
The “obsessive ashtangi” is an important stage people should go through in practice — it is the honeymoon phase of romance.
Hopefully as teachers we can encourage restraint and commitment.
Also, hopefully we can use the honeymoon phase to ask important questions and have enriching conversations: why DO we want to do marychyasana D? Why do we want to stand up from a backbend? What do we think will happen in our lives?
Jason owns and directs Portland Ashtanga Yoga.