Before you read this post I want to share an idea I recently learned from a Taoist teacher on judgement.
It comes from the second chapter of the Tao Te Ching which says -
When people see things as beautiful, ugliness is created. When people see things as good, evil is created. Being and non-being produce each other. Difficult and easy complement each other. Long and short define each other. High and low oppose each other. Fore and aft follow each other.
When we judge something as good and make the other thing bad we miss the Tao.
My question to him was “well how do we know what to choose when given options? “
He said “with resonance”.
When you are drawn to something.
This small distinction might seem like no big deal but it's had a massive impact on my life.
Ive been writing about resonance for over a decade but referring to it as the following the golden thread.
What I didn't see was that my moralistic judgement when I made anything that wasn't my path "bad" and how that was an obstacle to my spiritual growth.
It was an obstacle because of the reason that drove my actions - to be good, better, higher etc.
The one lesson I've come to know is 100% true through experience is that the obstacle is the way.
I want to bring all this up now because in this post when I talk about the differences in types of yoga methods I am not saying one is bad and one is good.
I’m attempting to objectively describe the differences then why one has resonated with me.
The what is the surface. The why is one level deeper.
I learned all of this through real life experience which included travelling to Mysore India for 5 years and practicing with Sharath Jois.
Sharath is a yoga master and earned the authority to speak about yoga from decades of dedicated asana practice.
He is the only one up to this point to have completed all the different series in the Ashtanga system.
What I learned most from him was not asana’s.
It was how to set up the room to practice in
(if you already practice Mysore style Ashtanga and you are saying I know all this then you might want to read the second post in this series - whats missing in Mysore)
In the western structure of a yoga class the way it is set up means it is always the 1st day of a Mysore class. Which means it doesn't ever get to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th day of a Mysore class.
The format is that you have a bunch of people in a room doing the same movements at the same time as the teacher instructs with their voice.
The postures everyone does are not known by the students until the teacher speaks them in the moment. The student has to listen to the teacher then think about what to do.
In the Mysore style of learning yoga the teacher will do this on the first day for each student with one posture - Sun Salutation A. (The most important posture of all)
The student memorizes the movements and then the breath that goes with each movement. Later in that class or the next day the student will do this sequence of movements on their own in silence.
The student at this point will consciously place their attention on their own body and breath.
This is everything.
It all comes down to what we are paying attention to. The voice of another mind or the voice of our body.
Anthony De Mello, a great mystic who’s books I highly recommend said:
“To hear the voice of God you must pass through silence"
Now this is just the beginning of what is possible because the next day the student will learn another posture and then another and then another until they hit a physical obstacle.
So at this point they have their own practice that they can do it silence. If you get a room full of all these students you get an experience I’ve found nowhere else and the best of both worlds.
A group of seekers moving together in silence.
The energy created when you have multiple people with a common intention breathing and moving in silence together is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. It's what kept me going back to India year after year.
My goal is to create the same experience here at my new retreat center, Northaven, but instead of a city like Mysore in the mountains of Alberta Canada.
Read the second post in this series, What’s Missing in Mysore, to learn more.
If the governments actions these last 2 years taught me anything it's that I can’t rely on on others to understand the importance of practices that increase my health without drugs.
Many yoga students stopped practicing altogether when the studios got shut down but for me it was just a chance to revisit how I started in the first place.
With the Mysore style of yoga you have your own practice that you can do without a teacher and anywhere anytime.
I prefer having a group of seekers to practice with but external circumstances always change so when that option is not available the mat still gets rolled out and practice gets done.
It’s different but I’ve learned a lot from myself in those early morning hours practicing in my living room while the world sleeps.
No time is quieter and the more quiet it is the louder my inner voice becomes.
There was also a development as a result of the lockdowns which I personally don’t want in my practice which I talk about next.
3. Mental Housekeeping
If I keep adding and adding information into my head I get a feeling of anxiety and overwhelm. It’s gotten so much worse with mobile phones.
I remember when we used to have so much time during the day where the mind wandered. Time when the mind had no inputs.
Another teacher I studied with last year, Joel Green, wrote in his book the Immunity Code “without housekeeping normal functioning stops”
Practicing Ashtanga Mysore style is a form of mental housekeeping that allows the mind to digest what it already ingested.
With a western style yoga class and a teacher speaking there is more information.
We now live in a world where you literally need to block out information which is delivered through screens.
Recently in response to lockdowns there has been a trend to have classes on screens.
I do the exact opposite and keep screens out of the yoga room. It has to do with my why on everything I do but in this example its because I want my attention on my body and breath. I also want a teacher physically in the room.
I also keep screens out of the beginning and end of my days.
There's a bunch of reasons when it comes to mental and physical health to implement a start and cutoff time for using screens. I will go into this extensively in the Ekaminhale Primal Series which you can sign up for at the end of this post
Yoga has a reputation for being stretching so you can become flexible. In the beginning that might feel like what is happening because our bodies have atrophied due to a lack of inputs from a natural environment.
You feel a sensation in your body and then can’t keep going when you attempt to do a movement. An obstacle.
A forward bend where you put your hands flat on the floor with legs straight is a great example. To complete this movement you also need to get your chest flat on the thighs.
The final destination has these 3 requirements plus a few more that you can’t see.
In the beginning when I tried to do this I couldn’t and yes there was a feeling of stretching the back of the legs.
Once I taught my nervous system that it was ok to go to this position then the next layer became not stretching but squeezing.
Squeezing builds strength and strength builds resilience.
What many people don’t understand or can see (myself included in the beginning) is there is big difference between what happens when a primal body does a posture and when a western body does.
The difference is not skill.
It is structure.
Western bodies have different tissues which as a result create a gap when they try to bring their knees to their chest.
The reason? Because there is an obstacle in the way of the gap.
Often what happens when a western student can’t get their knees to their chest instead of stopping and addressing the obstacle they keep going and do whatever they can to get there which usually means another part of the body has to compensate.
Like the lower back.
Take this approach over time and one day………snap!!!!! Thats what happened to me.
Primal bodies don’t have this problem.
So before we can even start to squeeze in yoga postures this problem needs to be addressed and most effectively outside of yoga practice.
To address the tissues each person has to be looked at individually because what is in the way of the gap might be different.
For that you need a teacher. And not a teacher with a piece of paper they paid for but one who has results from experience.
“The obstacle is the way”
In western style yoga the focus is what you can do.
Mysore style yoga is the opposite. It’s about discovering what you can’t do.
When people hit this spot as they learn the practice many, maybe most, choose to quit.
No judgement. Everyone can pick their own hill to die. My suggestion is that you still want to pick at least one hill and not keep changing them when things get hard.
For whatever reason learning how to bring my knees to my chest repeatedly and not destroy my lower back in the process was my hill.
It took me 10 years to figure out why I kept getting hurt myself doing these postures.
As I write this I I’m feeling good and not in pain which is more than many older Ashtangi’s can say.
It should have never taken me that long to regain the natural ability of bringing the chest to the knees but I made a crucial error in how I thought about the problem.
The error was that I just threw random solutions at it and hoped for the best.
Recognize any of these "solutions"
- Just keep practicing
- “Hip openers” like pigeon
- Piraformis stretches
- Rolling on a ball
- Deep tissue massage
- Gymnastic strength training
All of these were solutions for a problem that wasn’t there. Jumping to a solution was Step 3. I missed step 1 which is diagnose.
What was the obstacle that was blocking me from bringing my knees to my chest ?
Once I figured that out then I came up with the solution. Ideally that is what happens when we have a regular Mysore class with students that come everyday.
We are finding physical and mental obstacles together and working through them.
It takes time, it takes effort, it’s hard, it’s frustrating
The alternative to not doing it is worse.
Now all of the Ashtanga practitioners are nodding in agreement saying yup that is why I practice.
What I’m about to share next is for the Ashtangis and anyone considering practicing Ashtanga.
The truth is that many Ashtanga practitioners, like me, start to get diminishing returns from the practice as they attempt to keep adding postures and maintain the volume necessary.
Now the word diminishing returns is vague so I'll get specific. What I'm talking about is
I started to see all these things happen to my body after I started going to Mysore. Reading this the first thing that probably comes to your mind like it did to me is that the reason for all of this is the intensity of the practice.
But the first and obvious answer isn't usually the right one.
If you want to know what is the right answer and how you can avoid the same sign up here