We just got back from a one month teacher training in Berlin, two weeks with Maty Ezraty and two weeks with Chuck Miller. We learned so much! Here are a few thoughts I would like to share… Apart from the many many asana techniques we went through!
Maty Ezraty, though emphasizing the correct alignment for a beneficial asana practice, kept coming back to the importance of meditating. She made it very clear that it is completely untrue that you need to reach a certain proficiency in your asana practice before starting to meditate. Everybody can and should start as soon as possible to sit and observe their mind.
But in that case, what is the good of our asana practice? Is it just something to make your body feel good, so the mind is free to take on spiritual practice such as meditation? Actually, I realize that would be in itself a good reason to do asana. However, the question is how far we need to go, and why we set ourselves goals as to certain physical accomplishments (doing certain poses like marichyasana D in first series, reaching second or even third series).
In a sense, I find that the time spent with Chuck Miller was a perfect continuation of Maty’s teaching. Chuck offered an interesting reading of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali that interwove the Sutras and the physical practice of ashtanga vinyasa yoga.
The pillars of this interweaving are AHIMSA and SATYA, the two first Yamas (ethic principles towards others) described by Patanjali. To incorporate these two guidelines into our physical practice is not as easy as it seems! Ahimsa, non violence, and Satya, truth, were, according to Gandhi, difficult enough a practice for a whole lifetime. Satya, being truthful to yourself regarding where you are in your practice, goes hand in hand with ahimsa, non violence, not forcing yourself into a pose by ignoring the sensations of your body. For instance, not doing chaturanga over and over again with the shoulders slightly dropping, but acknowledging the difficulty, and maybe going back to half chaturanga until you build more strength.
In Sutra I, 12 Patanjali states “Abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodhah” : it is through practice and detachment that the fluctuations of the mind can be controlled. Chuck underlined that Abhyasa and vairagyam are very obviously applicable to our physical practice of ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Abhyasa is the practice or the effort, and vairagyam means detachment – detachment from the fruits of our actions. They may seem contradictory at first, but if you work in your physical practice the way Chuck teaches, detachment from the fruits of the work is, for example, detachment from the goal of doing chaturanga. It is detachment from the desire to be able to say (to yourself or to others) that you can do it. But this does not make the practice, the abhyasa – the effort – any easier; in fact it is often harder. It is harder to work the shoulders in half chaturanga than to rush through « normal » chaturanga, sagging in the shoulders. It is because we want to skip to our goal that we ignore the real hard work.
It is possible to see the physical practice as a sort of microcosm, a way to train your mind to implement yogic principles – at least this is what I understood. Also, there is the idea that your body influences your mind and vice versa. So training your body to feel balance, SAMA in sanskrit, to create harmony and practice non violence, also trains your mind to evolve in that direction.
I had often had some kind of suspicion that the name Ashtanga yoga was just a way of giving the practice authenticity, to link it to a classical text of yoga… and this disturbed me, so I was glad to hear Chuck make it clear that the physical practice of ashtanga vinyasa is intrinsically related to the ashtanga yoga path described by Patanjali.