The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: I had the extreme good fortune to spend last weekend there. Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of ashtanga yoga, died in 2009, but his legacy lives on in thousands of devoted students and teachers. Encinitas, California is kind of the mecca of ashtanga in the west, so the confluence is held in nearby San Diego.
I usually don’t try very hard to explain ashtanga to people who ask me about yoga. While some of the poses look similar, it feels totally different than the power vinyasa yoga you might find at the gym. It has a reputation for being difficult – and it is very physically demanding. It also seems to have a reputation for being too physical, too gymnastic, too rigid, too competitive, perhaps just too much. There have been times in my life when I’ve certainly thought so. But my experimentation with other, more “gentle” yoga styles – or no yoga at all – over the years have confirmed that for me, I always feel better with ashtanga than without. And it is helpful to remember that, before Westerners came knocking at his door, Jois taught yoga to Indians who were in ill health…and it helped. Holistic health requires effort.
For me, the confluence was extremely grounding. No one got up and insisted “THIS is what yoga means!” or had any interest in forcing anything on anyone. It was just a collection of people sharing the gifts of their long-term, devoted yoga practice with students who want to feel that lightness for themselves. This generation of teachers were fortunate in their timing – they got to study with Guruji before yoga really became mainstream. And it was lovely to see how this one system has manifested differently in each of them, yet stayed true to its roots.
Dena very eloquently described yoga as a tree that, as it spreads out and drops fruit grows new trees, and how the growth of each new tree will be influenced by its environment. Evolution is natural and there is no need to struggle against it.
Of course the weekend was also very physical. I think my internal organs got completely rearranged during a Marichyasana D adjustment. I could barely lift my arms after a balancing workshop. And mental – mula bandha is not what I “think” – but it is a triangle, a muscle, a mandala, a candle flame wicking upwards, a lock, a parachute, a goddess waiting for an invitation – woosh. But if I fixate on either extreme, I’m missing the experience.
My theory (for the moment at least), is that if you let the contradictions bother you, ashtanga yoga will drive you insane or lead to injury. But if you can stand not knowing exactly what is going on, you’ll benefit. Thank you to all the teachers who share this practice so joyfully. You make the journey fun.