Anything Is Possible? Um, No. /// A Yoga Selfie Blog Fail

As a rule, I try to avoid the low-hanging fruit on the ever-blooming tree of yoga idiocy. But every once in a while my news feed is smeared with dreck that so astounds me with its orgasmic smugness and contempt for critical thinking that I have two choices: punch back, or gnaw my arm off. And if I gnaw my arm off – oh no! How will I ever again do one-armed peacock and snap selfies at the same time?

On Tuesday of this week, the Ashtanga Picture Project published a (unconsciously, I hope) tone-deaf piece of body-shaming snark called “The Myth of the Unattainable Pose”, featuring a fine selection of impossibly beautiful Ashtanga selfies, some pithy hits from a Pattabhi Jois Quote Generator, and all the reasoning power of a gerbil on a wheel. If common sense is prana, this blog is doing some serious retention on the exhale.

Full disclosure/caveat/apology, etc: My critique here is not about the Ashtanga yoga system. I’ve taken about a dozen Ashtanga classes in my life. They thrilled me, and hurt me a little in what I then called a “good way”. But it wasn’t my scene. I’ve been friends with many practitioners – some who have stuck with it, and some who’ve moved on. It is true that I’m currently researching yoga injuries, and I’ve heard many of the harrowing stories you’d expect from AY practitioners, given the rigorous adventure they’ve chosen. And while this post does consider the injury implications of certain APP Ashtanga attitudes, what I’m writing here is absolutely not a bash at the lineage as a whole, because 1) AY isn’t any single thing to bash (anybody who tries ends up playing Whack-a-Mole) and 2) I know enough to say for sure that the sentiments of APP are not representative of the broader community, which is peopled by some of the smartest and most sensitive thinkers I know. Bottom line is that I’d call this APP post out regardless of its lineage affiliation, because this stuff hurts people. If it had just been about the pictures I would’ve given it a pass. But the post doubled down on its surface message by spiritualizing a form of body-discrimination.

Let’s walk through it. Nugget by nugget, I’m afraid.

Whenever I hear people talk about poses being unattainable, I ask one question: “How often do you practice that pose? [sic] 99.9% of the time, this shuts them up, because the answer 99.9% of the time is they don’t practice it.

So this raises a few questions. Do I need to strap on figure skates and take a ankle-knocking run at a triple salchow to know the triple salchow is unattainable to me and to most human beings? Do I need to streak onto the pitch in Rio and try to tackle Lionel Messi to know I will always suck at footy? Do I need to audition for the next Cirque show to know that a 90° extension angle at T1 will really really hurt my spine?

You shut them up all right. A pompous non-sequitur can do that. Thing is, the poor souls were talking about themselves, about bodies they know and experience and love and get hurt in. Bodies you could be curious about because they are different from yours — differently proportioned, differently flexible, with different effort capacities and pain thresholds.

This comes up frequently around the topic of instagram. People who are against yoga sefies [sic] on instagram often say, “the poses shown are unattainable. [sic] If they are unattainable, how was that picture taken? Isn’t that person doing the pose? Doesn’t that technically mean that it is attainable? Just because it is not attainable for you doesn’t mean it is not attainable for others.

I’ll just ignore the nyah-nyah reasoning here and turn the whole thing around for a tic. Consider this culture-jamming yoga selfie featuring what It’s All Yoga Baby‘s Roseanne Harvey calls her “lumpy butt”.

Roseanne Harvey, doing her beautiful practice.


Roseanne’s cobra isn’t “attainable” for me either. Know why? Because Roseanne and I are diff-er-ent. Let it be known that my own butt has some lumps but is mainly scrawny and flaccid by comparison, flattened by way too much sitting, droopy with dysfunctional glutes from a bad game of yoga-telephone instructions, which is another story.

When we talk about “attainability” with regard to elite postures, APP, we’re talking first and foremost about bodily difference. Not about will power or practice time, not about strength, not about moral character, not about psychic openness or devotion. We’re not talking about psychological values mis-mapped onto physical prowess. We’re talking about material and structural conditions that – despite the stories of Hatha magic past and present – can usually only change in any stable way within a very small margin, influenced heavily by genetics, previous movement patterns, and injuries. I might manage a dropback one day if it ever interested me to try, and if I put in the requisite work: I have the spinal length and shoulder strength/mobility to maybe make it survivable. But Roseanne may never and probably should never do a drop-back. Our differing spines and butts preclude the wisdom of trying to attain each others’ postures.

It’s into this obvious world of difference that the over-represented bendy-elite selfie enters. Why over-represented? The progressive demands of the AY series mean that like with any other activity defined by physical intelligence applied to the accomplishment of forms, the most photogenic practitioners will belong to the predictable spectrum of constitutional body types that can reasonably perform them. In a very brief and unscientific survey of the APP gallery, it looks like only 11 of the 100 posted image sets feature subjects who deviate from the vata-pitta standard. (There’s one good pic of a guy my age using a strap in janu sirsasana.) The same performance-based selection based on constitution happens in soccer, if you’ve noticed, although the demographic is classic pitta, with Thomas Müller and Clint Dempsey being among the few more-vata-ish exceptions.

Ergo, the vast majority (89% according to my scan) of Instagr-asanas feature way-above-average joint mobility, way-below-average BMI, way-below-average median age, way-paler-than-global-average skin colour (a separate but related issue). This begins to congeal a hegemony of aesthetic expectations not unlike those demanded by high fashion modeling. Am I saying the bendy people on their runway mats are bad people, self-obsessed people, foolish people, people intent on soiling the purity of yoga? I’d be a fool. Who knows who they are? They certainly aren’t to be shamed for their physique or prowess. They’ve certainly worked at things: we just don’t know how much. The bendy didn’t make themselves bendy, or elite. They happened to be bendy, which has pros and cons with regard to overall health and functionality, and the culture made them elite, which tends to obscure the cons.

Why this elite-election happens is a mystery of MPY group psychology, which we can start to uncover by asking: What do the images do, collectively? How do they privilege the “open” over the “closed”, the mobile over the sturdy? More generally: how do they support or resist the dominant body-shaming culture of inadequacy that yoga might be trying to unravel? And what are we doing to participate in the production and circulation of these images? What are we actually doing, collectively? Or is yoga culture too individualistic for us to really bite into that one?

Let’s get this straight. Any reasonable critique of the yoga selfie habit isn’t about the character traits of the selfie shooters. If you post a selfie and someone criticizes your “ego” or implies you’re narcissistic, they’re full of shit in one major sense – they don’t know you and can’t grok your intentions through Instagram. So until Google fully perfects the surveillance monostate by releasing the Intentogram app, you’re missing the point when you take the attack personally.

It’s about the system. If you listen carefully, beneath the anti-selfie ad hominem you can hear the pain inherent in living in a pornographic spectacle machine running on autopilot, spitting out imagery that some call inspiring but in reality excludes and hurts many others. Those who are impacted aren’t calling you names for aiding and abetting the system, even when they sound like they’re calling you names. It’s more likely they’re saying: “Our bodies feel disembodied by a tyranny of images that do not reflect the diverse realities of our lives. Please stop.”

I know this may be hard, APP, because it seems your site depends on the bendy-elite selfie. Of course you’re free to curate as you wish, but many would ask you to take responsibility for how you shape public space. You are producing cultural artifacts that function as advertisements that sell products, activities, and worldviews. Just like Martha Stewart or Hugh Hefner. These artifacts have meanings and effects. They can exclude and harm people. And it’s really no surprise. Taking responsibility for the effects of the selfie is no different from dealing with the moral dilemma of driving a car, chanting a mantra that others feel has been stolen from their colonized land, or scarfing down tomatoes that came off an airplane.

Look at the bright side: the APP could be an awesome site if the number of bendy-elite images actually reflected the proportion of bendy-elite practitioners in the general practice population. This would test two things: how dependent is the site on bendy-elite click-bait, and the willingness of stiffies to rise up fearlessly and be seen, despite bumper stickers like these, popping up in boldface as the post continues:

Body is not stiff, mind is stiff – Pattabhi Jois

Body Strong. Mind Weak – Pattabhi Jois

It really doesn’t help anyone to parrot decontextualized aphorisms your late mentor uttered to particular individuals in the intimacy of his workplace as if he meant them to be universal platitudes. He delivered his teaching in an oral paradigm. Everything he said carries interpersonal nuance, which in print should be supplied by commentary if not caveats. Jois may have had startling insights into the subtle links between emotions and motor nerves, but these quotes are about as nuanced as a meniscus tear on a dude cranking into lotus. Probably better to avoid stiff-shaming people with them, or telling them they’re weak-minded if they can’t do a posture. I mean really.

The post continues:

Ashtanga is the yoga of seemingly “unattainable” poses. If you look up any ashtanga yoga chart you will find poses that are mind blowingly difficult. Here are some from the APP.

[Insert lots of bendy-elite pictures here.]

But yet, all over the world, Ashtanga practitioners are doing these poses everyday. Why can these people do these seemingly impossible poses? Because they work at them, day in and day out, year after year until they get them.

Why can’t you do them? Because you or someone else has told you that you can’t and you believed it or simply because you don’t work on them enough.

I imagine this is what it would sound like if Tea Partiers started reading The Secret and then got high to sing kirtan. Success rides on work and self-belief! Buckle down! Practice! Loosen your mind! Be the change! Live the dream! You’ll be loving it! Success will be yours! Success has nothing to do with your natal wellness, your build, your nutrition as a child, your early exposure to physical play and sports, your anxiety levels, your injuries, the fact that you haven’t been crushed by a car too badly, or even the leisure time you have to practice something with exactly zero survival value. Consider this: the workers who made the phone that’s taking your selfie don’t have time to do yoga. Even if they did, those of them who don’t fit the ideal physical demographic won’t likely “get” the postures.

(I’m waiting for some Kazakh slave-wage coder and nighttime hacker to figure out how to virally stamp every yoga selfie with the caption: “This image brought to you by someone in pain.”)

What kind of yoga would it be to be aware of the ethical implications of all of our actions? What kind of crucible would that be? Who could bear it? And who wants to practice anything less?

Is the APP writer aware of all this stuff? Prolly not. Did they mean to be so crass? I sincerely doubt it. Do they love practicing AY and feel themselves grow and develop through it? I’m sure they do, and that they’re lovely peoples besides. So am I being too harsh on somebody’s innocuous side-project that they lovingly tend? Maybe.

What I can say for sure is that people get injured in asana when they are encourashamed by unrealistic expectations projected by people who don’t notice or pay attention to difference because if they did they would have to modulate their belief in the universal value of whatever they’re selling. So I’m asking for that to stop, please.

The post winds down by talking about David Robson and Kino MacGregor overcoming obstacles. It doesn’t say what the obstacles were, but I doubt they involved manual labour injuries or rheumatoid arthritis. Then it ends with:

That is what I love about Ashtanga. Anything is possible with work and time.

So not true. But with work and time, empathy is coming.

Okay. I think I got enough of that out of my system to get back to my more objective research. Wish me luck.



  • Sorry if I was not clear about this on the post but attainable does not mean that your pose will look just like the picture. Making something attainable asks the question, did you take the time to practice it enough to find the deepest possible version for your body? The answer is usually no. The beauty of instagram challenges is that people always find a way to make it attainable. Some use a block. Others use a wall. Some use straps but they make it attainable. The beauty of Ashtanga, is that you don’t stop trying. You don’t say I will never be able to do this so I am going to just never do it or never try. Every day you try full lotus. Every day you try full wheel. You try if with an attitude of openness and with an eye on the journey and not the end result. You try it with a block, you try it with a strap, you try it with an assist but you try. It is not about pushing yourself to injury. It is about slow and steady progress over time getting to your own bodies ultimate expression of the pose. Honestly, there are some poses in the practice that I worked at for over 10 years to get them where they are today.10 years of not looking like an instagram picture until now. I am not saying that everyone will or should work on a pose for that long. However, it is possible that it may take that long or longer for the pose to be attainable. Yoga is a life long process. People like to feel that Ashtangis are just naturally flexible or strong but it is just 10 years of doing that same pose over and over that made it attainable.

    • Thanks for the partial clarification, Shanna: I appreciate you taking the time. You make some interesting points about props, etc, but you actually double down on the nature vs. nurture / body type argument, which formed the substance of my response. So I’m not convinced.

      “Every day you try full lotus?” If you’re not aware of just how many people have injured themselves through this kind of cheerleading, I hope you try to find out. Leslie Kaminoff’s breakdown of how lotus breaks most people down is pretty illuminating.

      • Nice work here, Matthew. Why should anyone try the ‘full/ultimate expression’ of a pose everyday (possibly for years) with the intent of ‘getting them’? Acting without being tied to the fruits of our actions is being missed here. This is the first I have seen of these yoga selfies and they seem to be self-selected for bendy people achieving their poses, which may be out of reach for many. From my perspective, honouring your body and cultivating an awareness of balance between strength and flexibility in each posture is most important to practice on a daily basis.

    • I think part of Matthew’s point is that individuals who fit a certain body type and are naturally bendy are over-represented in the imagery of yoga postures. So if you say that using props and modifications are a regular part of Ashtanga practice, it makes sense to me that we should see pictures of people propping and modifying. Alas, what’s usually shown is the most extreme expression of the posture which may or may not be attainable despite how long you work at it.

  • I wonder about the ‘collective atman’.
    I think maybe a new understanding of what ‘work’ is might be useful.

    So, I do wish you the best of ‘luck’ with your work, mremski.
    —But I suspect ‘luck’ isn’t quite the grease we ‘wish’ it was. Let us know how ‘luck’ is ‘working’.

    For sure, each individual is fated with genetic material/s. So too the collective. Every day we try something, eh? Full Lotus may be Luck, who knows?

    The ties not only bind, they twist.

    • Best damn thinker in the bunch. Thank you Collective Atman!
      You got close mremski when you said the stiffies need to brave-up and post their photos. My best guess is that guy with the strap in janu sirsasana (actually it is ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana) neither believes he was just made that way (stiff), nor that he is destined to stay that way. He is the bad-ass…practicing and proud enough.
      It may not be the fancy people’s fault that the stiff ones don’t post their work for fear of not being good enough. Stiffies are stable, loving sorts, but they are also slow to change. That includes changing their ideas about how they were made.
      Even a stubborn kapha-pitta like myself is not destined to stiffness. That, Mr. Ayurveda, is an imbalance!

  • Yes, thank you for this post. I’m occasionally told that since I’m prone to injury in Ashtanga yoga that I’m either not doing it right, i.e. not following the sequence properly, or that I haven’t practiced for long enough. To me this is magical thinking: that with adherence to a singular, absolute structure and time and devotion, the practice will develop along its trajectory and the body will heal itself.

    Well, this hasn’t happened. I had faith that it would, but there’s only so much injury a body can take before you have to ask yourself — is this *really* working for me?

    As it turns out, not every body can follow the sequences as they’re laid out in Ashtanga. Some of us need to modify in order to prevent injury. By “modify” I mean take extra breaths, do preps for poses, practice poses more than once in the sequence, etc. These are things I would not be allowed to do at most traditional Ashtanga studios I’ve practiced at. Nowadays I do follow the sequences in a way that makes the most sense for my body (which I’ve learned about and become familiar with over the 15 years of practice), but it’s not the same practice promoted and approved by Ashtanga HQ.

    Ashtanga itself isn’t the bad guy here. As you say, it can be taught with intelligence and compassion, or not. I think Ashtanga teachers need to be aware of anatomy and alignment — and some are more so than others. Attention to alignment for some teachers has taken a back seat to rigidly following the breath count and the exact structure of the series. And this, for my particular 40-something, often chair-bound body, leads to injury galore.

    APP saddens me as an idea because it celebrates all the wrong things in yoga. To me the most inspiring people are those who work hard to practice the less ambitious or glamorous primary sequence poses. Like me, they struggle, the poses don’t come easily, yet something brings them to the mat every day. It’s not about attainment or non attainment. It’s something else, hopefully something wholly (emotionally, physically, spiritually) therapeutic and healing in the long run.

  • Everything in Yoga is attainable, only patience and perseverance over so many years… + one Key element, true intelligence, one that can put good concepts into practice… most skip this part and get hurt.
    As the Hatha Yoga Pradipika states, only the truly wise attain the Lotus posture, because there’s so much more involved than stretching hips.
    And lets try not to lower yoga to bending the body. It’s a (yes, beneficial) but quite optional part of the path.
    And yes, most Mainstream Ashtanga nowardays is Laughable… (From a born and Raised Ashtangi)

  • and when you begin to witness extraordinary things, that make you believe in the overwhelming claims of the Great Yogis present and past (I.e. Chapter 3 of the Patanjali yoga Sutras) so many years is spread over lifetimes… many things are put in place at the time of birth… now to assume you have predisposition to be a yogi cause you can easily do all the postures of ashtanga is ignorant at best. Maybe this person was predisposed to be a circus artist… and maybe a yogi. To consider yoga and attainable poses is just showing the ignorance of the west to the art of yoga.

  • The well-meaning intentions in the original APP post seem to have been grossly misinterpreted and taken out of context by many. A good teacher is able to empower students to reach their full potential. And ‘full potential’ is not really up for discussion, as this is highly individualized and intricately personal. What good can it do to say instead “based on your genetics/musculoskeletal makeup you probably won’t ever be able to do this pose”? It goes without saying that there is a very fine line between pushing to your limits and pushing past them into an injury. While the instructor encourages you to reach your personal best, it is the student’s responsibility to listen to their bodies. This is where the asana practice stops and the yoga practice begins. The teacher cannot practice the yoga on behalf of the student.

    • Thanks for the note, Bandit. How has the APP post been misinterpreted in your view? Where’s the additional context?

      There’s a difference between saying “based on your genetics/musculoskeletal makeup you probably won’t ever be able to do this pose”, and “based on your genetics/musculoskeletal makeup, your injury history, your Beighton scale readings, your visible range of motion, my extensive knowledge of biomechanics and the physiology of stretching, maybe trying to do this pose is not what you need or will make you vulnerable to injury; let’s look for another option.”

      Yoga teachers committed to movement ideologies have to stop blaming students for the ramifications of cheerleading, uninformed instruction and aggressive adjustments. Yoga in the classroom doesn’t happen on the bubble of the student’s mat. It is interpersonal. Dividing responsibility seems to be the favoured way of avoiding it. Honestly, the primary series’ name in Skt means “Therapy for the Body”. Would you go to any therapist for inspiration and guidance and tolerate being told that being injured by the therapy is your fault?

      • Mr. Remski: it’s the (Bindi)Bandit to be exact. I thought my comment was self-explanatory, no additional context is necessary. If you need additional context: I am a yoga student, and NOT a yoga teacher. My ideas are not clouded by attempts to defend my yoga teacher ego or business. I speak from a student’s perspective and know what a student needs to hear. Additionally, I speak from the context of having attended Shanna’s class, and I know for a fact, that her intentions are well-meaning. Her writing style may not be as robust as yours, but in her own words she communicated “her” truth. She feels the power of her yoga practice and simply wants to share this power with her students. I also speak from the context of being a fitness instructor, where I am bombarded daily, with the idea that pushing past your limits is what strength means. I fight my fight daily, by trying to speak out against the loud masses to communicate instead that, real strength sometimes means having to say no. Teaching is a hard job. Period. You walk the fine line of being motivating but not pushy or dangerous. This is not a blame game. It’s not the teacher’s fault or student’s fault. As you explained, it most certainly is interpersonal and we are all doing the best that we can. And our ‘best’ is designed by our unique experiences, abilities and inabilities. There is a teacher for everyone, wouldn’t you agree? I think it is important to point out that your article brought about a lot of great discussions. Bravo !

        • I was referring to your remark that criticism of the APP post ignored the context. So I’m wondering what that context is. a

          The critique isn’t about intentions. It’s about messages and what they mean and how they’re heard. Thanks for your reply.

  • Children try to “get” poses, to feed their ego and impress other children.
    Adults work to use the poses skillfully as tools to improve their well-being.
    Learn the difference.

  • Matthew, I was so happy and relieved to read your commentary on the selfies of instagram AND to help our global community begin to acknowledge self-correction as our culture plays catch-up. I see much of our differences reduce down to when and how we as students of yoga induce experiential/embodied know how or deduce evidentiary/enfolded knowledge. OK? My comments ramble a bit, but I’d like to immediately chime in that in my day, Pattabhi Jois privately discouraged pictures of asanas. His students who received his blessing to teach the method did not need to use photos and books to market the teachings. It was an effort at modesty and humility, maybe intended to keep the teachings more of a lineage and less of a brand, IMHO. The ashtanga yoga students who have disregarded Guruji’s wishes may have not heard these stories about his hopes for the “tradition.”

    You offer us a portion on the dicey nature of this GAME OF YOGA from a critical gaze. Thank you. Because hello! As devotees who earn a living from yoga in a late capitalist global economic epoch….yoga may be a fascinating experiential journeyed and apprenticed and hopefully mastered inquiry into the nature of reality or the universe, but its “remains of the day” also may include a litter of earthly jewels like relationships, sensations, proximity, access, attention, money, status, endorsements, employment, excitement, enthusiasm, skin, and feelings, and physical contact of an adjustment that helps a student to understand what a pose is meant to be. It reminds me of Mt Everest and the trash left behind by those God-awful trashing pilgrims.

    The whole art of adjustments issue is not going to get any less controversial. Banking, insurance, public policy, laws, regulatory agents–these can be predatory or at least opportunistic communities of pros and if they sense a new product is possible they will manufacture the requirement for compliance/purchase of new finance, insurance, or real estate product. I saw terrorism insurance successfully marketed after 911. Perhaps it is not in the best interest of our community to pretend that the intensity and relativity of the Ashtanga Yoga in the SKPJ method are not going to be issues, or are not already issues, at least in California.

    Last week about a bill was introduced here in Pennsylvania which would require all practitioners who touch people (rolfers for example) to become certified in massage therapy. This could and may be extended to yoga teachers. Maybe that sounds good, but it is a lot like requiring a cpa to to take a bar exam too.

    The injuries do happen and since ashtanga is spreading exponentially now as the next generation of teachers sets into the market, I hope the next generation of Ashtanga Yogis will be more aware of these macro EXTERNAL forces.

    And to Matthew I say, as I feel I know you knows: “The draw of learning to trust “learning something from the inside out” is like trying to learn how to be more instinctive and graceful, to learn how to move like a bird or a salmon moves –it’s for rebirth and survival.” That’s a human conceit, for sure. But if you feel it, it’s very seductive! It’s like walking, it’s sexy! Virtue is it’s own reward, actually. And because it IS embodied and physical, it is very beautiful too.

    • Thanks for this golden comment, K. Glad to being reminded of the earlier bias against photography. I am also very moved by the trash-on-Everest analogy. Best, M

  • Bravo (hands clapping vigorously) !!!
    I learned a lot about proportions and joint differences in Paul Grilleys Anatomy For Yoga DVD. It completely changed the way I see bodies, mine & my students. I Now know my skeletal structure is just not designed to ever practice the “full pose” in some asana. I can let go of trying to “master” them and enjoy some if the other hundreds of poses out there!
    Enlightenment is not attached to full lotus, or plow or headstand to insist on practicing a pose that can bring you nothing but pain and injury is ignoring Ahimsa.
    Thanks for bringing this to light

  • I agree with the post and maybe a different perspective. If you look at yoga as a fitness modality similar to lets say a sport such as running, fencing, basketball, football, soccer, olympic weightlifting, gymnastics etc. then everyone needs to understand and appreciate that NO ONE Practices the sport and the same thing daily. There is a reason and specific progression to doing things and achieving levels of flexibility and mobility to be more efficient in your ‘sport’. I do olympic weightlifting but in order to be better at it overall you need to practice components of it not the full lifts everyday. Even the Elite don’t do that.
    Being super bendy, flexible and skinny fat/chain smoking after yoga class is not Yoga.

  • Hmmmm… I’ve had teachers try to get me into poses that I wasn’t ready for or that my body may never be able to do. Those were the minority. I’ve had far more Ashtanga teachers tell me that I should do what my body can. I think the discernment in the practice comes with taking the responsiblity to learn the difference between real physical limitation and lazyness, between patiently approaching something every day for years and knocking your head against a brick wall… this isn’t just true of asana. it’s true of many practices that need years or decades or a whole lifetime, and where you end up eventually doing things that you thought were impossible for you. that doesn’t mean i honestly think i’ll ever physically be able to do the advanced postures of people who are naturally strong and flexible who have more time to practice than i do, and there are things i will simply not even try given my past injuries, but i have learned that my body, with it’s own limits and strengths, can, slowly, learn to do far more than i thought it could, and the benefits of this aren’t actually the asana. it’s all that i’ve learned while working on them. they’re just objects for meditation. treating it like circus school seems like a fairly immature way to approach a yoga practice.

    • Thanks Linda. Sarcasm and cynicism are just rhetorical devices against platitudes and shaming. They don’t work for everyone all the time, which is why I try to vary things.

      • No matter the excuse, sarcasm is shaming and cynicism is having platitude as a worldview. May your loneliness be alleviated and may you be with peace.

        • It’s not an excuse. It’s a conscious technique. Cynicism is at the root of philosophical method. Check out old Diogenes. I imagine he enjoyed his solitude, living in his empty wine cask in the agora. But he had plenty of friends.

          • Fantasizing about the ancient past and playing games will not relieve the hurt sarcasm and cynicism express. No, they are not rhetorical, they are a call to people who also want to hurt and will continue your loneliness (you can see why people interested in health avoid them!) If they are rhetorical, giving them up for 6 months is not a problem! Set aside the hurting (it wasn’t going any way, right?), make joy a regular exercize, something for all your activites. It may take time to develop and get good at just like any skill and may even seem painful at first, but a day will come when you realize are you aren’t lonely and haven’t been for some time. Sometimes people prefer hurting because that is what they are used to, but this doesn’t have to be. Wishing you joy. 🙂

          • You might say these techniques are not rhetorical if I used them all the time. I don’t.

            On another note, most of the time people hurt because they have been hurt.

            Thank you for the emoticon, and the well-wishes. You can invoice me for your therapeutic services through the contact page.

    • Oh my linda. The pith in your pithy is a hard hard stone. Turn that stone over. Dig under the earth under that pith. Keep digging and go deeper. Take photos.

        • Linda, Lovely Linda (not sarcastic),
          I was so delighted, then saddened, by your assault on our Dear Friend Matthew. I agree with, and was provoked by, your insight: “sarcasm is shaming” and cynicism is platitude. Then (screeching brakes/loud crash), you throw away any hope of sensitive discourse by projecting loneliness onto our Friend. Smug, defensive…maybe? And perhaps you’ve never read anything else from him, but clearly he is a thoughtful, caring and daring dude. He is willing to examine himself the way he asks society to examine itself. He is not trying to bring anyone down. Even as he defends himself and employs further sarcasm, he never attempts to assume anything about you or to throw you into the huge hole you dug for yourself.
          Sincerely, take the advice of Collective Atman (my new favorite person) and turn that stone over. (I don’t need to see any photos.) I just want you to know that your entire line of writing smells like and feels like the very thing you were accusing Matthew of, shaming. (And it was disguised as loving advice, eech.)

  • The poses mean nothing.

    As a teacher I’m getting clear that in my class I can’t tell who is doing yoga and who isn’t. I can’t see what is going on in their mind and the “quality” of their pose tells me NOTHING ABOUT THEIR YOGA.

    My definition of yoga is from the sutras which remind me that yoga is a state of mind, not body. It could be called a state of clear vision. It is reached primarily through mind/meditation practices. The few mentions of asana in the sutras and the doubt cast on them in the book Yoga Body have clarified my take on the poses. I use poses to create disturbances in the mind through which pranayama and presence can be practiced and trusted.

    It’s obvious that pride could accompany attaining the unattainable pose. As could selfies. That could create more cloudy vision. So as as a teacher I don’t encourage form of poses much beyond safety unless I’m using alignment cues to direct mind awareness. I try my best to call attention to the content of mind vs the form of the pose.

    I respect ashtanga for the discipline it teaches. Discipline of the mind. The poses mean nothing.

    • Thanks, Philip, for offering a pretty straight-edge Vedantist view. Combined with the historical oddity of using Patanjali to reflect on asana at all, you’re at strong variance with the heart of the Hatha tradition, which sees and experiences the body as the very site of revelation. The instructions in HYP and the Gheranda Samhita definitely do not suggest that the “poses mean nothing”. They are deeply meaningful, and made moreso by the technique, ardour, and repetition with which they are practiced. They each have specific psychosomatic goals that unfold in an orderly fashion, towards the vision of embodied bliss or salvation.

      The Ashtanga system has inherited this lineage in part, and the precise attention it pays to sequencing, breath patterning, gaze, and bandha are not simply disciplines of the mind. These have material meaning and consequence, which is why some spend decades learning to perfect them.

      • Paul Grilley is our god.

        So there is a brave ashtanga teacher out there being skewered here. Perhaps she is using too many questionable platitudes.

        But she is trying to articulate what Anyogi said: “…Everything in Yoga is attainable…when you begin to witness extraordinary things, that make you believe in the overwhelming claims of the Great Yogis present and past (I.e. Chapter 3 of the Patanjali yoga Sutras)…”

        But want about Paul Grilley? Paul Grilley has videos! With sciency pictures! So it’s hard not to believe him! So we mostly all do. Paul Grilley is our god. Isn’t that what this blog is saying?

        Do you trust your experiences of joy or Paul Grilley?

        How do we decide who to believe? Who are our gods today? Who do we believe with total faith? White coats. Doctors, medical researchers, these are our gods. So a little Advil pill cures our pain. Because we worship the pharmaceuticals. But these gods teach us only what we allow ourselves to believe. Advil works only because we believe in it.

        What if our beliefs -our minds- control all things we see? It’s an extraordinary claim but is it true in your experience? When your mind is disturbed, sad, upset or angry, does the world look threatening? What do you see when your mind is at peace? Is it the same world in both cases? Who is creating what you see? Where does this power end? Is this the “extraordinary” cited by Yoga?

        I see yoga teachers get excited when medical research “confirms” what we teach. We cite studies on meditation and yoga with glee as if we are surprised. We are driven by our own lack of faith in yoga -our own insecurity- to study Paul Grilley and anyone selling medical anatomy. We don’t believe in what we teach. We don’t believe in Yoga. We believe in medical science as our yoga teacher. Or we cite ancient texts we don’t really understand to defend our insecurity. That’s what I have done anyway.

        It is totally obvious to me now after years of practicing, yoga worked by changing my mind. CERTAIN PRACTICES worked to focus my mind, put me in the witness, and give me space between stimulus and response. For me these practices were the meditative ones yoga teaches and they work regardless of pose. These practices lead to clear seeing. Clear seeing clears everything away leaving only joy.

        Your path may be different. Do you trust it? Isn’t that the question asked here? I tend to trust books and science. I think many yoga teachers do too.

        So, Paul Grilley is right if I believe him. When a pose reaches bone on bone it’s the end of the line for the pose -it’s SCIENCE FOR CHRIST SAKE! If my mind agrees with that I AM DONE.

        If so, I don’t really believe in “extraordinary things.” I don’t believe in yoga.

        • Thanks Philip. I can’t quite tell rhetoric from sentiment here. It sounds like you are saying that because reality is generated by belief, yoga advises belief in metaphysics to be effective. But then you say “I tend to trust books and science.”

          Regardless: Paul Grilley is no more right if you believe him than a climate-change scientist is. And while placebo effect is very real and little understood, it’s far too extreme to say that “Advil works only because we believe in it.” I just went on an anti-coagulant medication to help resolve a dangerous blood clot. It is working on my blood chemistry, far below the radar of any belief I have about it.

          It’s also good to remember that there are entire lineages of yogic practice that have nothing to do with the extraordinary at all.

          • Mr. Remski,
            You may be underestimating the capacity of your radar system.
            It is, at the very least, hard for me to believe you took that useful medication without telling yourself about it.

      • My beliefs are stubborn things.

        I can state what I think my beliefs are but I see my actual beliefs are slow to change. That is why i confess that i tend to failsafe into books and science, despite metaphysical experiences that taught me otherwise.

        Part of me values the world and wants it to be true. It’s like a game where I’m trying (even now) to be right, to win, to be taken seriously as a separate autonomous being. I’m upset when i am not taken seriously. It’s like a dream where I’m playing god and I stomp my feet like a petulant child-god when i am not “respected” the way “I ought to be.”

        Meditative practices stubbornly remind me that my beliefs cause what I see. It lets me doubt my petulant self, science, global warming, –your medicine actually being the cause healing you– and much of the world’s teaching. I think doubting the world lightens its grip, its rules. Glimpses of the extraordinary are harder to ignore. Trusting these glimpses are what yoga some teachers -this teacher- might be doing and teaching.

          • Funny.

            I have had experiences that have helped me to doubt my beliefs. And therefore question the cause of what I see. I have changed my mind and the situation looked differently.

            How much metaphysics do you want? To me it sometimes feels like the world is not the cause but an effect of my own thinking and of our collective thinking. Collectively we believe in global warming and science proves it. It’s like a catch 22.

            There is no science I know that can “prove” this non-dual teaching if that is required. And I’m not asking you to believe it either.

          • You’re right. Non-dual philosophy from Vedanta to A Course in Miracles cannot be interested in proof, or even evidence outside of personal experience. This would compromise its radical subjectivity.

            But so does plain observation. “Collectively we believe in global warming and science proves it. It’s like a catch 22.”


            The climate change evacuees of the Carteret Islands did not have to believe in or even know about climate change before their homes were washed away. Wealthy evangelicals in Miami still don’t believe in it, and yet their insurance companies do. Belief has nothing to do with it. Climate change is an evidenced, felt, embodied reality.

            In terms more practical to this post: as a yoga teacher, I’m wondering what you imagine is happening when you lead students in your class into one of those meaningless poses like pigeon, and for some reason related to genetics or karma or blocked prana or overuse or poor instruction, one student feels their medial meniscus tear. Has her knee been injured? Or has her belief in her non-injured knee suddenly shifted?

      • I am not denying that global warning or yoga injuries are happening. I’m questioning their cause.

        We are totally unaware of how entrenched and powerful our beliefs are, both conscious and hidden.

        In the case of global warming, we have collective decided that it exists and science reinforces our belief. But what if we all changed our mind? Withdrew our allegiance? I am suggesting that if we did, global warming would end and science would follow with plausible reasoning. This happened in the United States when high fat diets were believed to be connected to high rates of heart disease. All the while, in Europe, they were eating higher fat diets and believed it was good for them, and so it was. Science scrambled to produce some plausible answer: “it’s the olive oil!” – which we now collectively pledge our allegiance to.

        I am also suggesting that I alone am the cause of my own personal injury, illness,emotional state and healing. I can not and do not pretend to know what my students believe or might project; but I highly doubt it has anything to do with your proposed list of causes.*

        Whenever I catch myself pointing to anything external as a cause for my disturbance, anger, illness, injury or healing, I try to stop and remind myself that I am the cause. I have yet to find any exceptions to this. But I must search myself with radical honesty.

        For example when I look at the “ever-blooming tree of yoga idiocy,” as you call it, and something “astounds me with its orgasmic smugness and contempt for critical thinking,” I’ve learned to pause.

        Have I ever been smug? Had contempt? Been an innocent idiot? Failed to think critically? To the extent I am willing to be wrong, I can always find that I have and I’ve carefully denied it. This is a distortion in my mind. The cause of the disturbance is not the “idiocy” but something unhealed in me that I am projecting unconsciously. Otherwise there would be no disturbance.

        *(As a side note: I’m baffled by the fascination with injuries in yoga. I am not seeing them. Could it be because I see the poses in themselves are meaningless and I am not pushing perfect form. Oddly, when meditation/pranayama is emphasized first, the form seemingly perfect and appropriate for the body takes care of itself.)

        • Thanks Philip. I find your views fascinating, which is why I want to make sure I understand them.

          So you’re proposing that the causes of global warming and high rates of heart disease in the American population is collective belief, and the cause of injury on the yoga mat is the personal belief of the yoga practitioner. Do I have that right?

          In other words: it’s not that researchers are discovering that there are many mutually reinforcing causes of heart disease, and this complicates earlier hypotheses that isolated concerns about saturated fats. It’s not that yoga biomechanics people are gathering data on the science of stretching and understanding more about injury mechanisms. People get heart disease and yoga injuries because of what they believe about themselves, fats, stretching, and their own bodily limitations. Is that your view? I don’t want to misunderstand you.

          It also sounds like you’re proposing that science or presumably any other form of inquiry doesn’t discern how things work, but only describes the results of belief processes. Which would mean that there are no scientific discoveries at all. So when Louis Pasteur first publishes on the mechanism of vaccination, for instance, he is either revealing a belief he already has about germ theory, or changing his beliefs about how infection occurs?

          I have one question about your consistency. You say: “I can not and do not pretend to know what my students believe or might project…” Why does that not extend to statements of universal psychology? Like: “We are totally unaware of how entrenched and powerful our beliefs are, both conscious and hidden.” Which one is it? Is it that you have no idea what’s going on in people, or that you can speak for everyone?

          It also sounds like you’re saying in a very polite way that the criticism I’ve made of the APP is a projection of my own internal struggles. There’s certainly some truth in that. But I wonder how that principle is working between us right now. On the surface you seem to be criticizing my argument and approach. Do you feel my post is a projection of your internal struggles? What’s going on when a non-dualist criticizes something? Do you feel you’re working out something subjective under the cover of a dialogue? Are my opinions your projections? Is the meaning of this sentence caused by your beliefs? I’m not quite clear here.

          I’m not really “fascinated” with injuries in yoga. I’m reporting on them as they’re told to me, and then analyzing underlying contexts. If you are “not seeing” injuries as a yoga teacher trainer, are you saying that no one is injured in your classes or trainings? How would you know that? What role would belief play in your claim that meditation and pranayama prevents injury?

          Last question: how many teachers have you trained?

  • hmmmm….as annoyed as I am with the never ending egos of selfies on Facebook, which is ironically what yoga tries to beat out of us …

    … and as someone who has received injuries in yoga, many times because a qualified teacher pulled on my body too much when I wasn’t ready for it …

    … the bottom line is that I used to not be able to do these “difficult” poses and now I can. Because I worked on them every day for 10 years … through injuries and through illness and through it being very boring sometimes.

    Call it what you will, but I still find it inspiring. Ashtanga is not for quitters and it’s not for lazy people but it IS for everybody else – lumpy butt or no lumpy butt, old or young, disabled or not. No, not everyone is going to be able to do the posture right off the bat, that’s where the hard work, stamina, and tenacity come in.

    I think I was at my most humblest when I saw a woman who is at least twice my size (a good 220 lbs) perform yoga asanas better than I can right next to me at the Jois shala in Mysore, India. That’s when it dawned on me that this practice really was for everyone and that no matter your limitations, if this woman could do it, I needed to suck it up and keep trying. I was also inspired by the people who are quite a bit “older” who make the “pilgrimage” to Mysore India — a few people there are in their 60’s, 70’s, maybe even older. They are doing ashtanga the best they can and not getting pissed off that a younger person next to them is able to practically fly around the room.

    I do yoga for myself only and not as a profession, nor do I have goals of being a teacher. A lot of days I feel like quitting, but this system of breathing and creating heat in the body has cured me of so many illnesses, physical and mental. I know that even if I can’t ever stand up from a back bend, this will be my daily practice for life. Even if it means only doing up until certain poses and checking my ego against what I wish was possible and what is reality. But one thing is for sure, if I don’t practice, I won’t every even begin to cure myself. There are so many other topics to choose from – especially as far as yoga injuries go – I don’t find it necessary to bash something that others find inspiring. Instead, let’s talk about how we can be honest with ourselves about what yoga is and how we can improve the system (or stick to it) so that we’re not hurting ourselves (or each other), physically or emotionally.

    • Oh my. You lost me before I could even finish what you had to say. I never got to the issue mremski had with you. Some overweight person could do what you couldn’t? Isn’t this evidence? Evidence for how unique we all are?

        • PS: I’m so glad you (Jami) have had positive help in your practice. But many have not ! Because they didn’t inherit the circus gene…. Yes, there is a gene for this kind of flexibility. The Houdini in a box is GENETIC (mostly Asian).

    • What an extraordinary comment, on many levels. I guess I’m mostly interested in your reference to “quitters” and “lazy people”. Suppose someone found it intolerable to have themselves adjusted injuriously as you describe. Let’s say they left the practice because of that. Would that make them a quitter? Would you have considered yourself a quitter had you left at that point to pursue some other form of health maintenance? Would you have considered yourself a quitter had you changed paths due to some other injury? What about your shala-mates? If someone roughly of your same abilities etc. had chosen to walk away after a similar injury to yours, would you have considered them a “quitter”? Is it a term that only applies to the speaker, and describes a self-perception?

      What about “lazy”? If I’m pretty sure that the primary series is not for me physically or mentally, does that make me lazy? Surely the word doesn’t apply to me and other disinterested people. Does the word “lazy” apply to members of the in-group who have already committed themselves, but find themselves doubtful? What is the effect of that word?

      It’s worth noting that I’m covering a broad (too broad probably) range of topics regarding yoga injury through the WAWADIA handle. I’m critiquing the APP post because, as it actually states:

      If you listen carefully, beneath the anti-selfie ad hominem you can hear the pain inherent in living in a pornographic spectacle machine running on autopilot, spitting out imagery that some call inspiring but in reality excludes and hurts many others.

      In other words, bendy-elite picture shows can pose a number of health risks, especially when accompanied by claims that “anyone can do this.”

  • Good post. Yes, magical thinking in Ashtanga is low-hanging fruit, but fertile ground for a project on injuries and questioning the purpose of asana. However you lost me here: “the APP could be an awesome site if the number of bendy-elite images actually reflected the proportion of bendy-elite practitioners in the general practice population.” Why, so we can get back to shaming minorities and the differently abled?

    • Well you lost me in turn. Are you saying that making a photographic survey actually representative of the population it’s serving is an invitation to shaming behaviour? From whom?

  • A representative photo survey would not necessarily be culturally sensitive or universally accessible. (To emphasize the average or norm is not exactly welcoming to minorities and the differently abled, perhaps even more than with elite photos since in that case the other 99.9% can share the same boat.) If elite photos are “stiff-shaming”, as you implied above, then it might be logical to suggest that representative photos are minority-shaming. Or not. Which is actually my point. It doesn’t make sense to expect a collection of advanced asana pictures to represent the population. Your case for “encourashaming” via decontextualized quotes is stronger than your argument against elite images. The normal and normative “can exclude and harm people” at least as much as the elite.

    • If you want to make the good the enemy of the perfect, sure. I’m sure you get the general point: a more representative selection is better than a less representative one. It may not “make sense to expect a collection of advanced asana pictures to represent the population”, except in terms of safety, when the pictured practice is claimed to be therapeutic for all.

      I’m glad that you’ve pointed out another obvious problem, that whether a broader selection would welcome minorities is an inclusivity challenge to the general politics of AY. I’ll leave that point to Angela Jamison, who explores it better than I could in this post:

      I’ll quote it fully here:

      Dear Ashtanga,

      I ask you this question in love and respect. I ask because I see how awake you are.

      When you are awake, hard questions make you curious. Not defensive.

      Ashtanga, this is who we are:

      we’re women;

      we’re non-white (Latino, Asian, people of color, however you want to talk about it);

      and we’re gay.

      But those of us with the power: we’re mostly male, and white, and straight.

      Unconsciousness doesn’t help anyone. But it’s built in to any hierarchy through this mechanism: the more power you get, the less empathy you feel. Like clockwork. Power increase: empathy decrease. This is what it is to be human.

      An unconscious human, that is.

      My question is this: can we all become students of women, of people of color, and of those who are not straight?

      And this: do straight, white men use power, and script their student-teacher dynamics, with a different sort of force and entitlement than… every one else around?

      Leaders: what do you have to give up to take this question seriously?

      Do you have too much skin in the game to feel in to this one?

      What is the cost to your own personal growth, and to our community, if you do not take this seriously?

      Here are some big ideas: structural sexism. Structural racism. These are NOBODY’S FAULT. They happen when organizations reproduce the unconscious biases of their surrounding culture. But check it out, Ashtanga. You are behind the game on this one. Maybe 8% of this student body is straight, white men. But nine times out of ten, the people telling us how to do it come from this tiny minority.

      I love this minority, incidentally: the most important people in my life are members of it. And I want them to be fully empowered in this world. But the thing is, they don’t have to try quite so much. Because if someone matches a certain profile, it’s easier to see him – more than others – as competent, as strong, as deserving, as reliable, as knowing things, as a leader.

      If we are not awake.

      The way that structural racism and sexism die is like this: conscious leadership. Either leaders wake themselves up, and see how the advantages they’ve enjoyed aren’t personal – aren’t just a sign of their hard work and merit.

      Or their communities wake them up.

      I ask us to wake up.

    • I’ve looked at this photo blog and really have not had much to complain about. Yes, it got to Remski. Me, not so much. More that I feel sick by hearing things from Jami above. This is what really worries me, her kind of talk. This kind of thinking is where we get the women doing what the men say is so, like you know. Cutting genitals. Feel free to edit my comment out of existence. I’m fine with that. Just a thought I had.

  • I agree with mybad that it’s not the photos that are concerning, it’s the words/attitudes, whether encourashaming sound bites or the diatribes against laziness and quitters.

    mr: “If you want to make the good the enemy of the perfect, sure. I’m sure you get the general point: a more representative selection is better than a less representative one. It may not “make sense to expect a collection of advanced asana pictures to represent the population”, except in terms of safety, when the pictured practice is claimed to be therapeutic for all.”

    No, you’re missing my point. And the OVO post you quote is interesting but tangential, and I’m not sure this thread is the place to reply. We were discussing bendy-elite. Angela’s message does not touch on physical ability. “Structural racism and sexism” is worth discussing but has little bearing on the implications of bendy-elistist images.

    You seem to be suggesting that making advanced Ashtanga asanas more accessible is: A) possible; and B) safer. I reject both of these assumptions. Instead I sugest removing any notion that Ashtanga is inherently “therapeutic for all.” Which isn’t to claim that it can’t be therapeutic for particular individuals in particular instances.

    Here are my objections to your assumptions:

    A) You could add props, straps, modifications, and creative progressive sequencing for any asana, and the basic preparatory elements could be accessible to most. But wait, that wouldn’t remotely be the Ashtanga method.

    B) You could show, say, a range of body types successfully performing half lotus. That would not make half lotus safer; actually it would increase the risk (by appearing to validate the view that anyone can do it unless lazy or a quitter). Alternatively, you could show people “sorta” doing half lotus as they grimace and grind. That would not make half lotus safer either and might increase the risk (by validating that it’s ok not to heed comfortable anatomical limits). Another alternative would be to show people doing supine sleeping pigeon pose, and explain that both half lotus and sleeping pigeon require external rotation of the thigh. Heck you could depict average weight, average height office workers who have never practiced yoga showing this pose, since despite yoga’s growth in popularity, the average person doesn’t do yoga. See objection A.

    I looked at the APP site and enjoyed it for what it is. Some beautiful and inspiring images, for those who find joy in movement, including advanced yoga. Just try not to read too many of the words, or be prepared for body shaming along with at least four grammatical errors: “Are you at the correct weight for your body? To much weight weakens the joints. It takes away lightness which can hinder inversions, jump backs and jump troughs. To much fat around the tummy and thighs hinders binds and twists. What do you eat before you practice? Heavy foods effect lightness for inversions, energy, stamina, binding and twisting.”

    However APP does share some words of wisdom from Wayne Gretzky:“You miss all the shots you never take.” Nice reminder that Ashtanga is an athletic pursuit. And the average person needs to learn advanced asanas about as much as they need to score goals in major league hockey.

    • Thanks for this, Natalie. I get where you’re coming from.

      Yours is actually a more provocative position than mine — to “suggest removing any notion that Ashtanga is inherently ‘therapeutic for all'”. I pointed out elsewhere that the very name of the primary series means “therapy for the body”. I’m assuming that A) and B) are possible to the extent that the series can be changed/modified, which many teachers do. So I guess we’re in a definition question then about what the method allows. This is best left to the culture itself to reveal: there seem to be so many different opinions.

      And yes, the ill-informed fat-shaming is pretty bad.

      • Yes, the diversity in AY interpretations is interesting, but it’s certainly not for commentators to decide what the method is or should be, even in the name of safety or accessibility. And yes, drawing an analogy between advanced yoga and pro ice hockey is a bit provocative. But actually I think marathon running is a better physical analogy, considering the demographic, physical repetitiveness, obsessive tendencies, and cultural issues raised.

  • Question: how do you encourage people to practice a difficult type of yoga, without also shaming, and without pushing people to damage themselves? Jami’s comment above is very typical of the attitude within Ashtanga yoga culture… I believe it’s coming from one of the Patthabhi Jois quotes: “Old man, stiff man, weak man, sick man, they can all take practice but only a lazy man can’t take practice.” I don’t think anyone intends this to mean “lazy people need not apply.” I think it’s intended to say Look, this is your choice, if you want to do it, you can do it. It’s encouraging, and it’s inclusive. I’ve practiced in a few Mysore rooms and have always found them to be very diverse and inclusive, more so than other types of yoga classes. More so than most workplaces I’ve worked at. APP aside — that’s the reality I’ve seen in Mysore practice, in terms of range of age, race, size, ability, sexual orientation, etc.

    Is the point that not everyone can or should do Ashtanga yoga? Who’s to decide this?

    There’s an interesting problem with being a teacher of any kind. How do you encourage people to learn new things without pushing them too hard? I’ve always appreciated teachers who set the bar high, who see potential in me that I may not see yet in myself. Growing up, when teachers were authority figures, this was certainly the case, and was generally a good thing. The alternative extreme is for a teacher to be too lax, too coddling. This attitude might be more prevalent today, when the schooling system has been commodified — I paid you to teach my child, or my taxes pay your salary — they should be getting As! Even if they don’t try very hard.

    It seems that with Ashtanga, the teacher-student relationship is very complicated. A good teacher will be able to challenge the student without pushing too hard. (The big difference between intellectual striving and physical striving is that with the latter, you can actually hurt yourself!) They’ll also be non-authoritarian, and teach in a co-operative way. I am about to dive in to The Guru Papers, thanks to another commenter on this site, on another thread — a great way to celebrate Guru Purnima 🙂

    • ?No need for a ‘Teacher’ to be busy ‘trying to move a student forward’?
      Just be with the student.
      No need to be setting any bar. Unless the teacher is running a circus.

      Hmmm –Unless your students are boring, are too numerous, too demanding — too too too.
      If this is the ‘problem’, then the solution is simple.

      Quit teaching.

      • Hi Allise, I’m just thinking out loud here about what I look for in a teacher, and relating that to how I’ve been conditioned to be taught in the past. It’s interesting you suggest that a teacher ‘just be’ with a student. Maybe that’s the best approach to teaching, but it’s a hard one for me to accept. In the past I’ve liked yoga teachers who *do* have a high bar. But I’ve also been injured a fair amount. So this is something I’m working on, as a student.

    • Thanks for the note Stephanie. I’m working on some questions about Jois’ quote actually, which I find fascinating. I actually do think it suggests “lazy people need not apply”. But what’s more interesting to me is the question: Who exactly is lazy?

      It’s great to hear of your inclusive Mysore experiences… My point is not that anyone could decide for others what they should practice, but that we start getting honest about the intersection between advertising and “inspiration” — which creates all kinds of inner tensions about what we should do, what is virtuous to do.

      Also, I can tell you from experience that intellectual striving can cause great injury! Enjoy Kramer and Alstad — that book changed my life.

      • Thanks Mathew, so far reading it I can see how it’ll be a life-changing book. It reminds me so far, in tone and content, of Jacques Ellul’s book from the 60s, Propaganda. I read that book in my 20s and it also changed my life. Thanks to you and Iain for suggesting this one!

        I am curious to hear your thoughts on the lazy people quote. I always connected that quote to the inclusiveness of Ashtanga.

          • Well laziness in Ashtanga culture, as I interpret it, has always been about choice and ability. If I’m physically able to do something, and I choose not to, then that is being lazy. If I’m not physically able, and don’t do it, then that’s fine — no problem.

            The question for me lately has been more about physical ability and how to determine what that is. To a fundamentalist Ashtangi I probably do seem very lazy! I can hear the old admonishments sometimes when I take breaks between poses. But when I practice too fast, without deliberation and without taking extra breaths, I get injured. So for me, it’s fine to rest.

            This only becomes a problem, in other words, when the teacher is doing the admonishing and pushing, without listening to the student. I may look like I’m being lazy when I rest for a couple minutes before urdhva dhanurasana at the end of my practice (i.e. what some teachers call ‘sunbathing’, because of the position of the legs when you’re lying that way on your mat…) But I feel like I need to do that, and I’m actually working on breathing into my low back to release it and relax any tensions there. So in reality, in my inner world, I’m doing something to the best of my ability, though outwardly this may seem like laziness.

            Laziness can also mean inattention… There’s a degree of effort and focus and energy that has to be alive when you practice. Otherwise, you might get injured. So it’s not a good idea to sleepwalk through the practice.

            Ultimately I don’t think there are lazy people — only lazy choices. No one is inherently lazy. So that, to me, was what Pattabhi Jois meant by that quote, and that’s why I’ve always thought of it as encouraging, or as a push towards inclusiveness. I never practiced with either him or Sharath so this is quite possibly an overly optimistic interpretation.

            I don’t feel like a fear of being seen as ‘lazy’ or a ‘quitter’ has ever kept me from leaving the practice. Though perhaps the push to ‘not be lazy’ has gone too far in the past. This comes down to a teaching style, though. Of course the judgmental push to ‘not be lazy’, coming from an external voice, can cause injury. How can someone else know if I’m being lazy or not, if I’m working to the best of my ability or not, or if I’m paying attention or not?

          • Ha. It’s like you broke into my hard drive and scooped the next post I’ve been working on! These are some great thoughts. Stay tuned!

  • How does laziness translates across cultures or not? What was the original social and linguistic context of the Jois quotes? Is laziness in AY about Jois/ other teachers and spirituality, or childhood memories and religious influences?

    How do AY’s moralizing and rules interfere with personal understanding of what is or isn’t therapeutic for one’s body? Note that a given posture in the sequence (or rest quantity) could be modified, depending on one’s beliefs and community norms. But it’s a lot harder to question the overall structure of AY, which has influenced vinyasa yoga. Daily repetitive, rigidly structured, upper body weight bearing movements. I would argue that anatomically, a daily grind of sun salutes and vinyasas is a helluva lot more injurious than occasionally performing wild thing with active stability and mindfulness.

    Yoga chikitsa – inspiration, advertising, religious creation myth?

    • Some great questions.

      “Daily repetitive, rigidly structured, upper body weight bearing movements. I would argue that anatomically, a daily grind of sun salutes and vinyasas is a helluva lot more injurious than occasionally performing wild thing with active stability and mindfulness.” — I agree. WT was actually a more modest target than going after the entire structure of AY/vinyasa.

  • Matthew: the APP is nothing compared to the serious fat-shaming from a so called ‘yoga teacher’ on this blog itsapleasantlife
    Everything on there is most unpleasant. A ‘yogi’ that goes on fat fasts and freezes fat cells. I’m mortified at the caliber of individuals that are allowed to become teachers of such a pure discipline. Mortified. Since you shredded the APP article, I can’t help but wonder what you might say to this?

  • Who knows who this fat-shaming yoga teacher is. Let’s find out. And then post it on a billboard next to a yoga studio –and see what the fallout is/does.
    FOR SURE it’s time to take back the street.
    itsapleasantlife? If this is for real, CALL IT OUT.
    No time like now. Time to separate the yoga from the boga.

  • Maybe Pattabhi Jois was talking about the real ashtanga all along, not just asana, and the broader yoga culture (including many ashtangis) have misunderstood him. There are many interviews with him where he seems much more interested in the purposes of liberating the prana, concentrating the mind, and ensuring practitioners can handle sitting in meditation. Trouble is, many never investigate the higher limbs. This is a rather long excerpt, but had to share. Keep in mind, English was not a strong point.

    “Sthira sukham asanam (Yoga Sutra II.46). Perfect asana means you can sit for three hours with steadiness and happiness, with no trouble. After you take the legs out of the asana, the body is still happy.

    In the method I teach, there are many asanas, and they work with blood circulation, the breathing system, and the focus of the eyes (to develop concentration). In this method you must be completely flexible and keep the three parts of the body-head, neck, and trunk-in a straight line. If the spinal cord bends, the breathing system is affected. If you want to practice the correct breathing system, you must have a straight spine.

    From the Muladhara [the chakra at the base of the spine] 72,000 nadis [channels through which prana travels in the subtle body] originate. The nervous system grows from here. All these nadis are dirty and need cleaning. With the yoga method, you use asana and the breathing system to clean the nadis every day. You purify the nadis by sitting in the right posture and practicing every day, inhaling and exhaling, until finally, after a long time, your whole body is strong and your nervous system is perfectly cured. When the nervous system is perfect, the body is strong. Once all the nadis are clean, prana [subtle energy] enters the central nadi, called Sushumna. For this to happen, you must completely control the anus. You must carefully practice the bandhas [energetic locks]: Mulabandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and the others, during asana and pranayama practice. If you practice the method I teach, automatically the bandhas will come.”

  • When my son was 10 weeks old, I needed my Ashtanga practice. He was so lucky and I nursed him every 2 hours for 31 months. He didn’t sleep well until after the age of 3. I went to the Mysore class and had a massage from the same teacher the day before trying to get some relief From a ganglion cyst in my wrist from all the bouncing and soothing. 10 weeks post cesarean section, that same teacher came over (trying to be funny) and put me into supta kurmasana and my intercostal muscle tore and I fell out of the posture. The teacher laughed and the student next to her said “Oh well” and laughed. It was dark that early morning but nobody came to ask if I was OK. I sent the teacher an email and informed her. I believe I received an apology with a “everything happens for a reason.” I foolishly continued seeking advice from the teacher/health/wellness/nutrition consultant as I was in the depths of navigating stormy waters with my baby (who it turned out has a severe dairy allergy and many food sensitivities). 2 years later I tried a different yoga shala mysore class and after about a month was injured in upavishta konasana as the teacher pressed my lower back down, my hamstring popped very loudly (tore). After a short investigation of whether I could move my leg, I was encouraged to continue and pushed into back bending and drop backs (reinjuring my interview muscle) as well. As a new mother, with no sleep my thinking was definitely not the best. However, I received relief from my home practice during those months of being a new mom and needing space to heal my body, mind and spirit. Looking back I see GROSS NEGLIGENCE on the part of both communities. In addition, I was still after all this tempted to attend an ashtanga teacher training. However, after finding space to get clarity I decided I needed to focus on healing. I informed the owner of the studio 5 weeks before it commenced and she called me the next day to inform me the teacher didn’t give refunds. There were no cancellation policies on either website. The only way the owner was willing to work with me was for me to attend the training. She wasn’t interested in even a partial refund or receiving money for her inconvenience. Instead, I was feeling subtly pushed to her agenda. I called my credit card, disputed the charge and received a full refund.

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