Yoga is not the architecture of postures. It’s what happens in the encounter with them. This process of meeting is designed to bring to light our conditioned responses (known in Sanskrit as samskhara-s), and it’s here that we are invited to offer our attention. A yoga mat is a very revealing place to be. How we show up there is how we show up as a whole human being – not just the parts that we know about, the ones in full light and plain sight, but the mysterious dark and floating ones that lie below the waterline.
As beginning ashtanga practitioners, most of us are very interested in who’s doing what, and whether we can do it as well or better than they can. We may rate ourselves on our ability to jump, bend and perform technical tricks, as if we were in some kind of yoga Olympics. At the same time, in many yoga circles, the obverse view is de rigueur: practitioners with the capacity for very physically challenging postures are slated for their prowess, as if being able to balance on one hand makes them in some way not ‘serious’. Actually, neither being ‘good’ at asana nor being ‘bad’ at asana is an index of spiritual attainment. It just isn’t about that.
From the teacher’s point of view, in the Mysore room I don’t see ranks and levels, I see nature arising. Each person who steps into the shala brings with them a unique ashtanga vinyasa, one specifically adapted to their own body, life experience, age, temperament and so on. These multifarious ashtangas do not exist on an ascending scale, they exist within a broad field of arising. In a Mysore shala, as in any environment, we need our biodiversity in order to cultivate a balanced ecosystem.
I think that ashtanga can be much more interesting than the dogmas of a fallen guru, the wizard revealed behind the screen. It can be about Dorothy and Toto, the Tin Man, Glinda, the Cowardly Lion, the Munchkins and the Monkeys with wings. It can be the story of each of us, different and individual but gathered, like an armful of wild flowers. Then it feels various and inviting. Then it feels like something I want to be a part of.
I have been teaching ashtanga since 2003. You can find me at Greenwich and Woolwich Mysore. Go to Embody | yoga + dance.
This article is part of a book in progress about the intersection of autism, ashtanga, dance movement practice, and teaching in my life.