Saturday, January 28, 2012


As Craig Finn sang, "Let's raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer." Becca works at the studio; she also occasionally attends the Monday night led Primary Series class.

I have a habit of asking people what they would like to talk about prior to beginning the physical portion (i.e. the 1% versus the 99% practice), and she always makes a point of bringing in questions.

I appreciate this — I appreciate the conversation because it's another means of connection (yoga), and it enriches the whole process.

Yesterday morning she asked my thoughts on traveling to India: "What's up with this Mysore deal?" This in great synchronicity with the conversation that's been percolating of late and which perpetually arises about 2 years into everyone's Ashtanga Vinyasa practice.

She felt that if Yoga was a language, you need to go where it's spoken in order to learn it the best. This is not a bad analogy.

Yoga is a language, or type of knowledge, and it's also a tool (techne), as opposed to knowledge (episteme). Kriya or karma yoga (yoga of action) versus jnana yoga to parallels these Greek concerns.

To stretch this metaphor to other instances of technology use to drive home a salient feature of a good tool  — the car was (for the purposes of this argument) invented in Europe; I do not need to travel to Europe to learn to drive. I love the films of Seijin Suzuki; I do not need to travel to Tokyo to love them more or deeper, or even to watch them. I love to play the piano; I do not need to travel to Italy to learn to play it. From a doctor-patient standpoint, a sick patient does not need to travel to England, where Fleming discovered the use of penicillin, okay, you get my point.

I think everyone understands that the the most ideal concept of Yoga-as-technology is that it resembles an artisanal tool rather than an industrial one; that is, one developed by craftspeople and singularly wired up for each individual's use, rather than mass produced (that is, rather than a Bikram factory) — but even so, Eddie Van Halen learned to shred the fuck out of an assembly line guitar, Nicu Vlad trained to win Olympic weightlifting medals on a bent barbell, and your iPod, perhaps the last example of an artisanal item scaled up for mass consumption, will still play the songs you love, and affect you as deeply, as some hi-fi stereo snob fuckophonic sound-system (i.e. fuck vinyl).

If Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is an effective, powerful, transformative tool, this tool must be powerful, effective and transformative for its user/practitioner, full stop, end of statement, not "powerful, effective, transformative only in Mysore." It can't be dependent on a specific location.

A (wise) friend once said to me, "If God is in all things, as all things, you think he cares if you're chanting Sanskrit, Aramaic or Old English?" To accept this requires heroic affirmation, because it requires the acceptance of the fact that those particular chants are, in fact, just a collection of sounds and in and of themselves bear no intrinsic sacredness separate from you. At best we can say that, for whatever reason, they strike a particular chord in you at that time.

In one of those studio talks, Richard Freeman mentioned hearing Bach, or sitting in church, watching light stream through stained glass windows — and then conflating the ensuing equipoise with the church denomination or the specific piece of music, and trying to recreate that equipoise by returning to that church or repetitively playing that same piece of music.

For my part, I realize that for whatever reason (samskaras, karmas) there are certain pursuits and practices in my life (Ashtanga Vinyasa) that I choose to pick at like loose threads on a rug because I find them compelling. As I continue to do so, part of maintaining their relevance and vitality has been to realize how and when I've used the pursuit of these practices to escape other situations in my life, which has usually been relationships, and then to not do that.

For me, a tendency I personally have is to lean pretty hard into ascetism as a means to power — saying no to experiences and relationships is addictive because it allows a sense of control.

So why should Becca go to India, or to Mysore? I think she should be leery if she thinks she is going to have a better, more pure or authentic, plus ne ultra, or most importantly, other experience of Yoga than the one she has here in Portland.

But I can think of a host of great reasons to go there — travel as a value is very important to me, and travel for yoga is a great way to combine two pursuits. Travel as sabbatical or recovery from burnout. A holiday or vacation. Big life changes free up time and present the opportunity for positive periods of travel and deeper/lengthier practices. Finally, curiosity is a great reason.