I am pleased to report that I have finally overcome the lethargy that's had me tethered to my bed. I am feeling energized and enthusiastic. Practice has been suspiciously good, and with the practice have come the insights. I have had the itch to write more, but have not been of the temperament to produce. It's an aversion to the empty page that I hope to overcome.
However, the time I've spent not writing here has been spent in part reading and commenting on other blogs, and sharing goodies on the Damn Good Yoga facebook page. One such nugget in particular that sparked a conversation was a post by La Gitane at the Yoga Gypsy entitled "Dear Ashtanga: I'm seeing other Yoga."
It's a well written "Dear John" letter to Ashtanga, in which the author expounds upon a variety of reasons for the relationship to end, among them the idea that Ashtanga is the "Ferrari" of yoga: fast, flashy, and downright impractical on this winding road we call life.
La Gitane writes:
"But don't worry, Ashtanga - it's not you, it's me. I've changed. I've grown in my practice, and you, of course, have been a part of that. But as I have become more in tune with my body - and my spirit - there are things that I have become less comfortable with, too.These sentiments are not uncommon among defectors. The idea that Ashtanga is rigid and dogmatic is an unfortunate misinterpretation of the structure of the system, which the author acknowledges. I left a comment which you can read at Yoga Gypsy, but since then I've been thinking more about the roll of faith in the lifespan of one's Ashtanga practice, and how dogma comes into play.
You see, I'm not a dogmatic person. I don't have a religion, and I don't subscribe to the idea that any one system is better than another. Yet when I was introduced to you, Ashtanga, that sense of superiority was somehow present in the subtext. Now, I know that you're saying "it's not my fault I'm misinterpreted!" - and you know what, you're right. It's not your fault! But somehow that's the message that slipped through - "Ashtanga is like the ferrari of Yoga", one teacher said to me. The implication being that other 'vehicles' will get you there (wherever there is!) all the same, but that Ashtanga will do it faster. And with a bit more panache, perhaps. And I admit, when I first came to the practice, I certainly felt a bit of that turbo charge from the fast pace of the sequence and all those vinyasas! But I've come to a time where I'm suddenly thinking that a Ferrari is maybe not the only car that I need, because really, a Ferrari is only good if you have perfectly smooth, wide roads - say, a healthy, fit, injury-free body. To be honest, I'm more of a 4x4 girl myself - because life is not a smooth ride, and I'd happily sacrifice a bit of speed to make sure that I have enough flexibility to deal with anything that comes along!"
Faith is the root of dogma. And faith, while it may have its merits, is not a necessary precursor to meaningful practice. There are plenty of reasons to keep coming back to the mat outside the realm of faith or belief in the system itself.
Curiosity, for example, is probably my primary source of motivation. I love to think that every practice is a gift just waiting to be unwrapped and I await the privilege with anticipation. The nature of the gift is revealed posture by posture. To the observer, that gift might look the same from day to day, but the accoutrements are varied and a delight to unveil from posture to posture, day to day, and even year to year.
By approaching my practice from an inquiring place, I avoid the trap of dogma or the assumption that Ashtanga is the superior method -- the Yoga of Yogas, if you will. My choice to practice this method is not a reflection of my belief that Ashtanga is superior, but a reflection of my suspicion that it matters not which method we choose to practice, but that we must choose one method -- one path -- and stick to it.
There is a parable that I think may have its origins in zen which illustrates this concept well:
There was a farmer who wished to dig a well on his land to water his fields. So, one day, he took his shovel, went out into the field, and started to dig. When he had dug a few feet and found no water, the man crawled up from the hole he had dug, moved ten feet over, and began to dig again. But again, he found no water, and so he crawled up out of his hole and began to dig again. And again. And again, until his entire field was full of shallow holes, but no water had been reached. After some time, the farmer's wife came and saw the mess he had made of the land. She cried: "Husband! That is not how you sink a well. You must stay in one place and dig deeper."Of course, this only applies if it is one's intention to evolve intellectually and spiritually through one's practice. If the yogi (or the well-digger) is only in it for the abs and ass, it might actually serve one better to keep digging those holes. Do the work for the sake of work and nothing more. Practice different styles, and even mix in some pilates for good measure. But if you sense that there might be something more to this practice, that there might just be some cool, clean water down below, stick with it. See where it takes you. To paraphrase one of David Williams' many gems: Just try it out for ten years and see if you like it. If you haven't decided, try another ten more.