Friday, April 13, 2012


I was putting together links to some articles, interviews, and essays that I will disperse to interested practitioners at Portland Ashtanga Yoga, and among them is “Grounding Anusara, Part 3: Intimacy, Methods, Therapy, and Making It Open Source,” by Matthew Remski.

Have I melted your face off with boredom about how resonant I found Remski's three-part series?

"Part 3" is another great article that sprung from the Anusara meltdown, or Anusgate, if you will.

The questions that Remski raises regarding Anusara are ones we as Ashtangis should ask, both of ourselves as students, and of our teachers.

Among those questions: Do economies of scale obstruct relationship? How is your relationship to your Yoga teacher affected in a room with 60 to 300 people — versus six or nine? Is a personal relationship still possible in larger class settings?

Is a “personal relationship” what we, as Yoga students, are in fact after? Is it essential to the process and experience of Yoga?

In my experience, a daily Mysore-style practice inadvertently cultivates an impersonal intimacy. For example, my teacher Tim saw me struggle — and fail — day in and day out, for many years. Full-depth and intense hands-on adjustments and synchronized deep breathing often left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. 

I never felt I was met with less than respect and empathy (sometimes, with baddha konasana, sympathy). 

Yet in a month often we would exchange five or six words — at most.

So when Remski uses the word “relationship,” what kind of relationship is he talking about?

Should your Yoga teacher know your name? Should she know your birthday and the names of your kids?

What do we gain from our relationship to our Yoga teacher? My sense is that much of Remski's use of "Yoga teacher" is as "therapeutic friend."

I think this has a different flavor than what is presented as the typical guru-shishya relationship (itself rife with a history of abuse), in which the teacher has had an "understanding" of the deeper (derper!) aspects of Yoga, an understanding recognized as such by that teacher's peers or teacher, an understanding that can then be transmitted to others.

What understanding do we expect Ashtanga teachers to have? Should they be able to articulate their understanding of kaivalyam/dharma megha samadhi? How is their understanding then verified or knowable? How are they transmitting that understanding to us?

The Ashtanga sequences and principles (unlike Bikram Yoga, for example, and unlike Anusara) are not trademarked. (Yet?)

So Remski ends with a call to making Anusara open-source, which I’m not sure is entirely applicable to Ashtanga — though reflecting on this question is vital, because it raises an interesting question: exactly what makes Ashtanga special?

It’s not the separate pieces of breathing, breath-body movement, or gazing. It’s certainly not the wonderfully strung garlands of postures.

Beyond an adolescent magical-thinking perspective of the practice — that to practice the postures perfectly will unlock some new, different, and other experience —the sequences and principles leave us with an overall gestalt.

So while I think the (semi) decentralized aspect of Ashtanga has rendered it in some ways open source — anyone can utilize or take advantage of parts of the Ashtanga principles and sequences — for me, at this time in my life, this gestalt only arises when Ashtanga is practiced as a system, or as Ol’ Dirty Bastard said, “raw and uncut.”

The aspect of open source that doesn’t work for me — that of crowd-sourced modularity — seems to me the reason we now have power yoga and the other Ashtanga derivatives that are tailored to the aerobics room in gyms.

(Salient features: air conditioning on high, mirrors, windows into the weight room, blaring house music. During class a Bro in a skintight rash-guard is not interested in Primary Series. He arrives late, does not take off his running shoes or remove the ear-buds from his ears, and tells me, “Bro, I just finished a bench workout. I just want to stretch out.”)

When we practice the Ashtanga sequences and employ its techniques, we maintain the “authenticity” of the external “tradition.”

This allows us to pass along the experience of Yoga allowed to arise through the application of these sequences and principles.

Still, I think Remski points out an interesting fact — method does not exist beyond the way it's shared. Put specifically, the parampara of Ashtanga yoga exists to serve students and the transmission of Yoga — and not the other way around.

That is, the students do not serve the parampara, the results of which T.S. Eliot so beautifully evokes in “The Waste Land": “Lips that would kiss/form prayers to broken stone.”

Remski also points out that to reduce a system to a trademarked product would indeed force us into the “one-way relationship of producer and consumer,” which would “derail the therapeutic.” I would submit it also goes a long way to derailing the luminous. 

I highly recommend checking out his first two articles.