Sunday, August 1, 2010


Once a month, the Shala has a led Primary class followed by a discussion. Today was led class day. I’ve been looking forward to it all week!

I go through phases in my attitude towards led classes. Before I started practising regularly at the Shala, I really enjoyed them. But after a month of Mysore Style practice, I started dreading Sunday led classes (they used to happen every Sunday). Everything was so overwhelming to me at that point, I think the led classes were a ‘sensory overload’.

Then my teachers started offering them only once a month. This has worked out really well for me because I’ve come to look forward to them as a special ‘event’ and a break in routine. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single minute of the led class this morning. It was so much fun!

R made sure that I got a Prasarita C adjustment and my hands made it to the floor! I didn’t have any help at all in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, which was a bonus because I had the opportunity to balance on my own. I didn’t botch it up too badly, but I’m perplexed about one thing: it seems impossible to gaze over my opposite shoulder on the first side of the ‘B variation’ (without falling over) but I’m fine doing it on the second side. Weird!

Recently, Navasana has become much easier. I no longer struggle in the pose; It feels comfortable. I’m guessing that this new ease is due to a combination of leg strength and bandhas. It was nice to feel confident in the pose today, though I was feeling tired by the fifth repetition of it.

Backends felt stiff and uncomfortable. On the third Urdhva Dhanurasana, R came over and pushed my arms inward (I’m guessing they weren’t straight). My shoulders probably tightened up over the Saturday break.

Led finishing is the BEST! I was in a Happy Headstand Blissout state for hours after I left the shala. :-)

I baked vegan Blueberry Walnut Muffins to share during the discussion afterward. Fresh blueberries! Look how pretty:


Second Practice:

I wasn’t even sure I would get around to doing it today, but I made some time after I walked the dog. I kept it short: 30 minutes, same stuff I always do.

I’m raising the bar this week. I can drop back, now I want to stand up! I was thinking about it a lot yesterday. How can I get my brain and body to co-operate with one another? I developed a theory: if it’s easier to drop back with a wider stance (because of my looooong legs), it might be easier to stand up with a wider stance.

Sounds plausible, doesn’t it? I tried it today. No dice. After my second dropback and unsuccessful rocking ‘up’, I collapsed into laughter. It’s FUNNY! Because it feels so IMPOSSIBLE! Standing up from a backbend feels about as ‘doable’ as standing on the ceiling.

But I’ll keep trying this approach because I think I’m more likely to stand up from a dropback (rather than Urdhva Dhanurasana, coming up from the floor). I’m doing all the right things in my dropbacks that *should* be ‘transferable skills’ to standing: strong legs, rooting through the feet, a good arch in my back.

When I was in grade six, our teacher used to let us watch films backwards. We thought it was hilarious! This is exactly what I need to do: Dropbacks, backwards!

At least dropbacks are not a drama anymore. Today, I was fearless! I need to move my feet closer together though. That’s another project for this week.


Ursula summed it up better than I ever could: “Jois will become a brand******”

I didn’t write about this yesterday because I needed a chance to calm down, think about it and also hear from my teachers. My initial reaction to this announcement was distaste and deep sadness.

I find it incredibly disturbing that Guruji's name and image is being turned into a 'brand'. I don't think Guruji dedicated his life to teaching this practice in order to create an ‘apparel collection’. During his lifetime of teaching, his single goal was to share the healing powers of this practice with as many people as he could. He expanded his shala to accommodate more students - not to make the quick buck. He risked losing students in order to teach lepers. I’m almost certain ‘Jois Yoga’ is not a 'legacy' he would have appreciated.

When I asked my teachers for their thoughts this morning, they didn't seem very concerned about the project or its impact on the practice itself. They said: “This is separate from the practice”. As I moved through the Primary Series, I felt reassured. It’s just as powerful and meaningful to me now as it was before I learned of these changes. Nothing has really ‘changed’. per se.

In his last years, Guruji work tirelessly to bring Astanga to the west, emphasizing the practice itself as the core value of the Astanga system; ’99% practice’. It has a strong foundation because it was built on people! There’s a HUGE community of teachers and practitioners out there who are passionate about traditional Astanga and have experienced the benefits of the practice.

What we bring to the mat every day as a community is the *real* legacy of Guruji and ultimately, I think it’s bigger and more powerful than any amount of marketing hype, ‘boutique shalas’ or $100 yoga pants.

I’m also guessing we’re not such an ‘easy sell’.

I’ve said it before: Traditional Ashtangis are a quirky lot. The practice seems to lend itself towards a certain level of simplicity and minimalism in daily routines and diet. It makes us a tricky ‘marketing demographic’ to pin down. We buy clothes that are durable and adaptable to the practice. We pick our teachers carefully and loyally follow them for years. Relationships and community are as important as the practice itself - they’re *part* of the practice.

I didn’t pick my shala based on a ‘dynamic shopping experience’ and I don’t choose my practice clothing because it expresses ‘the joy that is Jois’ (Oh, *cringe*!!!!). I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find ‘physical, mental and spiritual happiness’ by purchasing a piece of clothing at a ‘shala boutique’ just because it has the name ‘Jois’ stitched on the label.

Astanga is my spiritual practice, it’s not a 'lifestyle'. If there’s one positive outcome from all of this, perhaps it’s the opportunity to connect with the deeper reasons that we do the practice, the tangible benefits it brings us and the importance and power of the community that supports it.

And to put it bluntly, I hope this whole ‘Jois Yoga’ thing falls flat and fades away into failure because frankly, it pisses me off.


roselil said...

Uhmmmnnnmmnn to Happy Headstand Blissout :)

Boodiba said...

Isn't it funny how the bar gets raised so quickly - dropping back is part of you now & it's onto the next! I'm very happy for you.

I won't even comment on the other thing

Loo said...

Wow. Very upsetting way to start a Monday ... ... are we soon to see yoga pants with JOIS written across the butt like those JUICY couture pants? I guess you just can't trust your heirs.

Part of what draws me to Ashtanga is the lack of commercialization. A big part actually. It seems like one of the few honest practices, but the Jois Family is partnered in this, what does that mean for the future?

Thanks for letting us know, and I'm glad your teachers were non plused about it. I'm sure mine will be too.

Anonymous said...

I could go on and on about how I feel about it, but I will just make fun of them instead:


Seriously? You've got dosh to buy yoga shalas all over the world but can't afford a spell checker?

Or maybe I'm missing, who knows, something ironic or fashionable, or whatever. After all, I'm not a teacher-certified (ooops that would mean, not authorized or certified by Guruji or Sharath, right?) Ashtanga practicioner.

And to top it all, I'll be cowardly anonymous because the Ashtanga world is a small one!

fivefootwo said...

I'll just comment on the muffins. Those are some very good looking muffins!

Liz said...

ahh.... I have to say, I love this: “This is separate from the practice”

We can choose to be upset or we can choose to focus on the good. It's so cheesy I can barely stand it, and I love a good rant, but in the end your teachers are right. Unfortunately, it's easy for people who love the practice to shrug it off and hope it goes away, because we know the power of the practice, Jois pants or not, but what about those who love to find fault in the style of yoga? It's like they were tossed a bone. If we're mocking it, you know it's bad!

I hope it falls flat too, it's just too icky. Whoever talked the Jois family into this scheme should be ashamed. Maybe Sharath has been hiding in his office all along, designing the perfect yoga pants to make our butts look great, but I doubt it. Someone is behind this. Someone CHEESY!!!

Boodiba said...

The big question is who is going to buy this stuff?

And... on launch day will Sharath be decked out head to toe in his Jois?

Kaivalya said...

I checked my calendar. It was almost exactly a month ago that I started! That's not bad for a little summer project! I'm hoping that I might be able to stand up in another month.

"one of the few honest practices" <- I feel the same. For me, Astanga carried an honesty and authenticity that many other styles lack.

lol…I didn't even notice that typos! Apparently, the poorly written marketing copy was also poorly proofread!

I share your frustration. I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude, but this could have a huge impact on my 'five year plan'.

Kaivalya said...

The muffins are truly great! In fact, I'm getting a patent soon and then I'm going to open a chain of 'Boutique Muffin Shops' and design my own line of 'muffin' t-shirts.

And then I'll buy a Bentley.

Just KIDDING! ;-)

Yeah, I just loved my teachers for that. On some level, I knew it already, but I needed to hear it from them.

I agree that this isn't going to damage the practice at it's core, but it does leave Astanga open to ridicule and misunderstanding (you only need to read the latest series of articles from the NYT to realize how much the media LOVES to jump on stuff like this).

I smell 'cheese' too! Something stinks about this whole thing.

Arturo said...

dear Kai, i'm sort of out of the loop. are you referring to the opening of the shala in Encinitas?

Kaivalya said...

It's a bit bigger than just a 'shala opening', Arturo. It's a 'rebranding strategy' (to use marketing speak).

daydreamingmel said...

My biggest worry is that all the cheesarama (I'm saying nothing about the non-Jois family members on that founders page....) might somehow "spoil" Mysore. It seems a silly thing to say when I've never been (and maybe I am romanticising the place) but the lure of the mother-ship is at least a part of what's so compelling about this practice for me, and I can't imagine what it will feel like if that gets sullied. On the clothing line - do we feel the same way about other authorised/certified teachers who "design" (or rather put their name to) clothing ranges and put out books/DVDs/expensive teacher training programs? I think we might be guilty of a bit of double-think here (it's OK for them but not OK for the Jois family) - I'm not saying I agree, it's just a thought. And I know many dedicated ashtangis who scramble for the tour tshirts when Sharath is in town and wear them proudly - is this all that different?

Kaivalya said...

I share your worry about Mysore being affected by the changes. I really, really hope not. But, that said, the experience of studying in Mysore has changed a lot over the past 30 years! I guess change is inevitable. We just hope for positive changes that expand and support the practice.

I don't take issue with DVDs or workshops created by certified/authorised teachers. These resources support the practice and bring it to more people (not everyone lives in a city with many shalas to choose from). However, I know not everyone feels this way - many are very uncomfortable with workshops and 'teacher trainings.'

T-shirts are not a big deal. AYRI has been selling them for years and my understanding is that the money goes into a trust. I haven't heard of any 'clothing ranges' by authorised/certified teachers, but I guess that's where I would draw the line.

I think a huge part of my discomfort with this is really just the fact that Guruji is gone and his face/name is now being co-opted to promote something that's entirely outside of the practice of Astanga itself.

Maybe it feels 'icky' to some of us because it seems disrespectful to his memory.

Boodiba said...

To me it just seems greedy, along with the expansion in shalas. They have SO MUCH MONEY. Meanwhile, it's really, really hard for most Astanga teachers to make a living. Does the family really need to profit on absolutely every angle of the thing? That's what I wonder.

Arturo said...

dunno, but i suspect that it's not so much Sharath and Saraswati that are doing this as much as Manju. Manju may be more "americanized" in terms of marketing, having lived so many years in the US. he probably asked permission of his sister and nephew to move forward with this. the wording of the statements talks about collaboration with Mysore.

Arturo said...

...since i'm still thinking about it the next day... there really isn't anything basically wrong if the family wants to create jois yoga, as similar to iyengar yoga being a form of hatha yoga. Guruji never copyrighted the term ashtanga although he may have contributed to naming it or actually named it. now it's a name in the public domain. but jois yoga could be copyrighted since they are creating it now. there may be some sound reasoning behind that.