Friday, February 8, 2013


"There is no improper alignment. There is only improper preparation."

Ido Portal is a charismatic and challenging guy; he's not invested particularly in any one school or system and therefore has no problem calling bullshit where he sees it.

An over-emphasis on alignment in Yoga is indicative of an Expert Problem, what I call the Alignment Expert Problem. From Taleb:

"At the core of the expert problem is that people are suckers for charlatans who provide positive advice (what to do), instead of negative advice (what not to do), (tell them how to get rich, become thin in 42 days, be transformed into a better lover in ten steps, reach happiness, make new influential friends), particularly when the charlatan is invested with some institutional authority & the typical garb of the expert (say, tenured professorship) [or in Ashtanga for example the Authorized or Certified Teacher] ...

Yet I keep seeing from the history of religions that survival and stability of belief systems correlates with the amount of negative advice and interdicts — the ten commandments are almost all negative; the same with Islam. Do we need religions for the stickiness of the interdicts?"

Four of Patanjali's five Yamas are "negative advice and interdicts," and the positive admonition, satya, could be interpreted negatively, as "not lying."

(Ahimsa: non-violence. Satya: truth in word and thought. Asteya: non-covetousness, to the extent that one should not even desire something that is his own. Brahmacharya: abstinence, particularly in the case of sexual activity. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness.)

(I am thinking about the Niyamas as heuristics, best followed as "rules of thumb" developed through trial-and-error in which a relationship to five Niyamas is developed by keeping the best results and discarding the negative; i.e. Yoga As Laboratory.

Problem with Niyamas as heuristics is unearthing cultural, social, personal biases ((usually expressed as Narrative Fallacy, i.e. arranging personal narrative around facts and deriving causality.))

(Also interesting to see kaivalya or svarupa shunya as the ultimate "negative interdicts.")

It's easier to be told what to do, than what not to do in broad strokes.

As evinced through numerous conferences with Guruji: "What do I eat? How much do I sleep? When can I have sex? What is the angle of the legs in triangle?"

Later expressed as, "In Mysore they do X, Y and Z." or "Guruji [now Sharath] told me to do X, Y and Z."

The art of Yoga practice is the art of learning not to be a sucker for charlatans.

I had some rough thoughts on how to identify a non-charlatan Yoga teacher:

1. Reluctance to provide positive advice (as opposed to negative)
"Don't breath so raspy" is better than minute and tedious technical directives.

2. Situational doctrinal flexibility 
Form and technique as expressions of lineage (asana sequences) are important in the large sense, and so too is the ability to bend, break or ignore that "tradition" with the person directly in front of you as their needs dictate.

3. Can transmit heart of tradition rather than its facile expression
Understands transmission of forms (asana sequences) and techniques (breathing, gazing, etc) as means of allowing Yoga to arise, and can answer questions and provide directions from this perspective.

Famous questions for example, "In twisting poses should the binder grab the wrapper, or the other way around?"

Barry reminded me Guruji would say, "You are asking the wrong question."

The non-charlatan might say, "How is your breathing?" etc.

The Alignment Expert Problem in Ashtanga is compounded by the fact that anatomical knowledge and expertise are wed to exotic and foreign Sanskrit jargon, dense terminology that can function to funnel expertise in one direction, as well as keep out those who don't understand.

Still one of the strongest components to practicing with Guruji and Sharath is/was the mostly disinterest in alignment cues --- Ashtanga is seemingly alone in this, as many other systems owe large debts to Iyengar, a system that perhaps best epitomizes the Alignment Expert Problem.

Watching Sharath practice, or the Indian practitioners during the later class, is/was revelatory as the typical cuing for body alignment is almost non-existant. The focus is on the breathing.