Saturday, March 24, 2012


I may (or may not) produce a later post whose sole content will be titles and one-sentence summaries of posts I've written and subsequently lost the steam to finish and publish. Maybe this tendency is a consequence of the hunker-down in winter mind-set?

However! Spring popped in Portland yesterday (Friday), today it's 64 and sunny and the whole city is hot to party — the only other time I've felt a comparable manic spring madness was in Tokyo during cherry blossom season; San Diego springs were much more laconic.

Despite the dearth of posts of late, I do hope to share a few articles written recently that I think are worthy of further consideration.

The first are three by Matthew Remski. I confess I know nothing of Remski but what I've read in these posts, which he published at the end of February.

They're responses to the apparent collapse of the style of yoga known as Anusara.

I was and remain awe-struck at the pure blinding speed with which this system appeared to implode.

Part of what compels me to share Remski's series was a line that jumped out at me just a few days after attending the first Ashtanga Confluence in San Diego.

In Part 3, Remski writes: 
"[T]he airplane and hotel-bound modus operandi of any transglobal yoga corporation will have a hard time fostering grounded relationship, because it mimics the alienation of all late-capitalist structures. How could it not? Either cynically or unconsciously, the corporation will try to hide its relational weakness behind escapist/transcendental philosophies, exclusive knowledge hierarchies, classist economic barriers, distractive marketing copy written in Shringlish, and the palm trees and spa robes of its resort-retreat-intensive gatherings."

 This was striking, as just a few days prior I had worn a spa robe — well, my wife and kid grabbed the spa robes, but we had all basked in the San Diego sun and gazed at the token palm trees that littered the Catamaran Resort in Mission Bay. Tara and I had attended Mysore class, workshops, and discussions in a banquet hall full of hundreds of fellow students and teachers.

In his series, Remski offers not just a critique of Anusara specifically, but global yoga "brands" generally.

To paraphrase Remski, "In yoga it is obvious that economies of scale obstruct relationship. Go big or go home? Let’s go home, thank you very much. Let’s think smaller ... more than six mats in the room and you lose relationship."

The irony is that, at the Confluence at least, all five long-time students of Pattabhi Jois shared (to several hundred people, in a resort-like setting) what they felt were among Guruji's greatest strengths and gifts: that he invited small groups of students into his home to teach them yoga — through the application of postural sequences — with no bureaucracy in place. He took them in and he treated them like family.

I think Remski inadvertently spells out some of Mysore-style Ashtanga's greatest strengths, chief among them that Mysore classes are settings in which a teacher addresses the person directly in front of them.
As the articles are titled, Remski talks about the need to "ground" Anusara and its principal teacher John Friend in the day-to-day routine of work, family and practice.

For those unfamiliar with Anusara, the closest and best analogy I can use to describe how it was taught by Friend is that it was (is still?) similar to jam-band concert events — hundreds, thousands of people would gather for extra-large classes held during extended weekends at banquet halls, resorts or retreat centers.

This "grounding" feels to me to be a chief strength of Mysore-style practice. The people who find this practice love it, and do it every day, and enfold and entwine it into their daily lives. During this process and relationship, we all get to know each other, our spouses and significant others, our children, our pets, our careers, our home and work lives.

His series are worthy of a read, and the questions he raises are worthy of further and deeper discussion for Ashtanga people. 

Among them: Does Mysore style as it's currently practiced hide any "relational weakness" behind "escapist/transcendental philosophies"? Thankfully, as Eddie Stern indicated at the Confluence, there isn't yet any explicit Ashtanga company "brand" as there was with Anusara, as in, a registered property with trademarks.

Still, do we have "exclusive knowledge hierarchies"? At first glance, Ashtanga is also, in many ways, very much not "open source," though I think this perspective falls away on closer examination of the specific and individual situations in which it's taught.

Are there "economic barriers"?

While we don't have "Shringlish" to consider, Ashtanga does contain its own jargon.

Does a Mysore class size inhibit, or perhaps even diminish the practice of Yoga? How big should a Mysore room get? Does it even matter? 

This begs another question: Is it necessary to have a personal relationship with your Ashtanga yoga teacher? What exactly does a "personal relationship" entail, and what does this look like?

At any rate, I recommend his series. 

And anyone well-versed in Ayurveda: I would love to read some thoughts on Remski's prescriptions. What would are Ayurvedic pitfalls to Ashtanga, which can become overly grounded or routinized? 

Oh! And I included the link to Part 3 on Elephant Journal, rather than Remski's own blog, because  there are some BANGING discussions in the comments. Here's one: 

Shyam Dodge:
"While I'm not advocating for a pedagogy devoid of teachers or of connection to lineage, I fear that an over-emphasis on non-authorship (for much of the sastras while attributed to a mythic figure are in fact a product of many nameless authors)--and the traditional model of sampradaya--has the tendency to reinforce archaic educational dynamics that are in themselves tyrannical. This is because the metaphysics are inextricably wedded to the pedagogical theory. 

Because, in reality, JF's downfall was not just the product of “late-capitalism” but also of the metaphysics underlying Anusara and the traditional model of the guru-student-sastra paradigm."
Is the traditional guru-student-sastra model inherently "tyrannical"? Is the way Ashtanga is traditionally taught, posture-by-posture, "tyrannical"? Do we skate around this by proclaiming "I'm not and never said I was a guru"? Is some "tyranny" acceptable, or even necessary?