This site is dedicated to the teaching and research of yoga pioneers Gregor Maehle and Monica Gauci. After over 30 years of yoga practice in the city we decided to take the injunction of many yoga scriptures.
Here is my podcast episode on Peg Mulqueen’s Ashtanga Dispatch:
Amongst others we covered the following subjects:
if yoga wants to help heal societal and personal problems, then it must become a vehicle for dismantling hierarchical structures.
any relationship between teacher and student that is trying to convey some of the messages of the higher chakras, must transform the relationship between teacher and student as well. The model of teachers clinging to power and their own supremacy, has marred religion of the past 10,000 years.
yoga must become a vehicle for dismantling power and authority itself.
Cult psychology and sociology
Set dogmas versus being open to learning
Projecting mysterious powers on the teacher as replicating our relationship to our primary carer in early childhood
The importance of touch- i.e. adjustment-based teaching
The healing quality of touch and the beauty of the Ashtanga system
My fear that we will not be allowed to adjust anymore due to legal and insurance reasons and why that would be real loss
Why there is more to the global Ashtanga-movement than the cultic hierarchy at its centre
As teachers our goal should be that our students will outdo us, rather than instilling in them belief in our greatness
Why communities of equals should replace vertical, spiritual power structures
A thought-provoking article from Guy Donahaye, editor of “Guruji – A Portrait Through the Eyes of his Students”. Guy reflects on whether we are really looking at a spiritual lineage or rather a cleverly marketed family business. In this groundbreaking article a lot of what’s wrong in the Ashtanga culture today is exposed. Thank you!
The Ashtanga Vinyasa system is a great starting point and it’s only an experienced teacher who can really gauge whether that person is or isn’t a good person to modify things.
Perhaps this is where it’s getting lost in translation. We’re trying to adhere to a pretty good form – be it not perfect – but pretty damn good compared to anything else – and so students probably don’t understand that … the system isn’t quite as dictatorial as it seems.
This article is a follow-up on the last one which covered Mula Bandha. There need not be any ambiguity about Uddiyana Bandha at all. There is nothing elusive about it at all.
There are two vastly different types of Uddiyana which are sometimes mixed up. One utilizes suction and the other uses pressure to deform the abdominal cavity. I will here first get the suction-type Uddiyana out of the way and then focus on the pressure-based Uddiyana for the rest of the article.
I have described the suction-based Uddiyana in great detail in my 2013 text Pranayama The Breath of Yoga. This Uddiyana is also mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and it is only to be used during external breath retention (bahya kumbhaka). To make it absolutely clear you will use this Uddiyana only when sitting statically and when not breathing. Because of its link to external kumbhaka this bandha is in the scriptures sometimes called Bahya Uddiyana (external Uddiyana). To perform it one exhales completely, then locks the throat and finally sucks the contents of the abdomen up into the thoracic cavity, giving the abdomen the characteristic scooped-inwards appearance. The purpose of this bandha is to turn upwards the vital down-current (apana vayu) during external breath retention. If this bandha is not applied during external breath retention the mind tends to succumb to tamas, i.e. it will get excessively dull and heavy.
This type of bandha is not suitable during inhaling, exhaling, moving and doing our asana practice. If you would try to perform it while breathing and moving you would excessively tighten your diaphragm, which can bring about anxiety, panic attacks and ultimately depression.
(True) Uddiyana Bandha
I will now describe the form of Uddiyana appropriate for movement, inhalation and exhalation (but not during breath retention) and to differentiate it from the above technique I will call it Uddiyana Bandha and the above technique Bahya Uddiyana. You notice that Bahya Uddiyana does not contain the word “bandha”. Bandha in yoga is defined as a muscular barrier from which a pranic force re-bounces. Bahya Uddiyana then in a narrow technical sense is not a true bandha as it uses a muscular contraction (the contracted throat) to suck a pranic force (the vital down-current) towards it. In this nomenclature Mula Bandha is a classical bandha: apana descents and hits a muscular contraction (the pelvic floor) from which it rebounds.
Mechanics of the bandha
During the classical Uddiyana Bandha (the one used during inhale, exhale and movement) the lower part of the transverse abdominis is contracted and the lower abdomen tucked in slightly. The lower abdominal wall is contracted to drive part of the inhalation up into the thorax and prevent the abdomen from distending. The transverse abdominis muscle runs horizontally across the abdomen and is used to draw the abdominal contents in against the spine. It is crucial that the lower part of this muscle is isolated from its upper part. The upper half extends from the sternum to the navel. This part of the transverse abdominis interdigitates with the diaphragm and its contraction during movement would translate as tension into the diaphragm. Since the diaphragm is attached via a tendon to the pericardium, tension in the diaphragm is felt in the heart. If it reaches a certain magnitude the mind interprets it as fear of annihilation, which may then be felt as a panic attack.
To isolate the two parts of the transverse abdominis sit on the floor and place your thumbs or fingers outside of the rectus abdominis (six-pack-muscle). The rectus runs vertically in front of the spine from the sternum to the pubic bone. Of course, it’s impossible to isolate the upper part of this muscle from the lower part. So, you need to place your fingers on either side of the rectus which is approximately 100mm or 4 inches wide. If you place your fingers 150mm or 6 inches apart on either side of the rectus you are far away from the rectus to feel the transverse abdominis. Drop your fingers now to the horizontal line which would be formed by your belt if you wore one. Now experiment until you do find under your fingers the muscle that tucks in. Important is that you do not try to push out. Pushing out against your fingers does not activate the transverse abdominis, which can only tuck in (draw the abdominal contents in against the spine) by contracting. Once you do have the muscle that tucks in move your fingers higher above the navel (but still outside of the rectus) and make sure that the upper part of the transverse remains relaxed so that we don’t annoy the diaphragm.
Biomechanical effect of rectus abdominis contraction
The importance of this fact is long known to biomechanical researchers. It has been shown that even when lifting a relatively light weight with your arms the transverse abdominis will fire up about half a second beforehand. This reflex exists to protect the lumbar discs. When the transverse abdominis fires (co-contracts) it will tuck the lower abdomen in. Because the hollows in the abdominal cavity are filled with fluids (different to many in the thoracic cavity which are filled with air) the abdominal cavity cannot change its volume. Tucking in the lower abdomen must therefore result in shape-change. Since the circumference of the abdominal cavity gets reduced by transverse abdominis contraction the height of the cavity must increase. This will lead to the lumbar vertebrae being pulled apart, increasing the lumbar intervertebral disc spaces. This means that the contraction of the transverse serves primarily the aim of protecting the vulnerable lumbar discs.
This is a reflex that is inbuilt into our bodies, however with increasingly sedentary life-styles disfunction or weakness of these reflex become more likely. However, especially when performing yogic arm balances, deep back bending or leg-behind-head postures it is essential that the transverse fires appropriately before the low-back is loaded up. Uddiyana Bandha should therefore be trained to proficiency before any of these posture groups are tackled. One should also not wait until the bandha comes on “spontaneously” but one should systematically focus on it during the beginner’s stage, i.e. from the first sun salutation onwards. Once one is used to do one’s yoga without the bandhas retraining oneself is much harder. For this reason, bandha instruction should be part of all beginners courses. It is much easier to focus on transverse abdominis engagement during easy beginners postures than learning it later during the performance of more challenging postures.
Move towards subtlety
Similar to Mula Bandha also Uddiyana Bandha performance should gradually move towards subtlety. A novice will start by firming the abdominal wall below the navel and then, as awareness increases with years of practice, allow Uddiyana Bandha to slide downwards, that is away from the navel and towards the pubic bone. The subtler it becomes, the more influence Uddiyana Bandha will have on the subtle body. Similar to Mula Bandha, we learn to connect Uddiyana Bandha to the breathing cycle. Once the muscle-contraction aspect of the bandha is mastered, visualize your abdomen being hollow and a row of hooks attach to the inside of your lower abdomen. Let the inhalation reach down, hook into the abdominal wall and let that draw the lower abdominal wall in towards the spine. Also, here the upper abdominal wall needs to be excluded.
Further benefits of Uddiyana Bandha
If the lower abdominal wall is kept firm and the upper wall is relaxed, the diaphragm moves up and down freely. This produces a strong oscillation of intra-abdominal blood pressure, and it is exactly this mechanism that produces healthy abdominal organs. When the diaphragm moves down and the abdominal wall is held, the pressure in the abdomen rises. When the diaphragm moves up, all the blood is sucked out of the abdomen and blood pressure drops. This strong oscillation of abdominal blood pressure constantly massages the internal organs and leads to strong, healthy tissue. By relaxing the abdominal wall, letting the belly drop out this invigorating massage of the abdominal muscles is prevented.
Differentiation of breathing with Uddiyana Bandha and exclusive abdominal breathing
There is one more thing to clarify. Try the following experiment: Breathe in while keeping the abdominal wall completely relaxed. You will find that the belly expands more and more but the breath never reaches the thorax and clavicular area. This is a denatured and devitalizing way of inhaling. Now keep the lower abdominal wall firm and controlled, and inhale again. You will notice that now you will be able to draw the breath as high up as you choose. If you would contract the entire abdominal wall you would chest-breathe exclusively – a form of breathing that is as denaturized and devitalizing as exclusive abdominal breathing. To prevent this, you need to allow for a slight protrusion of the abdominal wall above, but not below, the navel. The slight protrusion above the navel is feedback from the body that the diaphragm is moving freely up and down. You need to watch out for this sign otherwise you produce something called “paradoxical breathing”, where the entire abdominal wall moves inwards when inhaling.
I hope this article helped to dispel any mystique and elusiveness around Uddiyana Bandha. You will find that it is essential to maintaining your yoga practice and vibrant health especially as you get older.
I have repeatedly been asked to shed some light onto the “elusive
bandhas”. I’m surprised that they are still considered elusive. I have written
about the bandhas extensively in my 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2013 textbooks and had
assumed that this had laid any elusiveness to rest. But rather than recapping
any of those writings I will tackle the problem afresh here, hoping that
students will still read up on those essential passages in my books.
In this article I am focussing on Mula Bandha. Mula Bandha
has three aspects, layers or phases of which the first is introductory, the
second intermediate, the third advanced. To learn the bandhas students should
first focus on the introductory aspect and then move on. The introductory
aspect, layer or phase of the bandha is gross/muscular. The intermediate aspect
is subtle/pranic and the advanced layer is causal/mental, i.e. thought-based.
That means that our work gets subtler as we mature, similar to the progression
through the yogic limbs from asana via pranayama to meditation.
So let’s deal first with the gross or muscular phase of Mula
Bandha: The pelvic floor is primarily formed by the pubococcygeus muscle (or pc
muscle for short), which reaches from the pubic bone to the coccyx. It has the
form of an 8, allowing for the anal orifice in the back and the
urinary/reproductive orifice in the front. You may know the feeling of being at
the movies and having to go to toilet but postponing the visit because you
don’t want to miss the end of the movie. In this case you may contract the
entire pelvic floor or parts of it. Humans and many animals can differentiate
between contracting parts of the pelvic floor. For example, if you are male you
may have encountered situations where you line up at a urinal and you are
required to release the front of the pc muscle to allow for urination but not
the back, which would facilitate defecation. Nothing elusive about that, right?
Just basic house-training that we internalize somewhere during our early
childhood. The same capacity is learned by many mammals and even reptiles which
use urination to mark territory. They will not defecate at the same time as
they mark their territory through urination so they know how to control part of
the pelvic floor while releasing others. Again I mention that to drive home the
fact that it’s not elusive to control the pelvic floor but totally natural.
In yoga we have a technique that deals extra with the rear
part of the pc muscle, called Ashvini Mudra. We could say that Ashvini Mudra
entails the fluttering of the anal sphincter. There is also a technique that
deals with various levels of control of the front of the pc-muscle (urinary
sphincter). This technique is called Vajroli Mudra and was sneered at by many
yogis of the past (including T Krishnamacharya) to avoid debauchery a subject which
I want to just mention fleetingly without engaging in it here much further.
Mula Bandha is non-identical with either of them but exactly in the middle of
both. Biomechanists have measured that the pelvic floor will engage a
split-second before any weight-bearing exercise but also when shouting or
singing very loudly. It is something that every opera singer can confirm. Also
any top-level athletes must have a functioning Mula Bandha. Without it no
extraordinary performance is possible.
nWhile peak-performers will engage Mula Bandha automatically without being primed for most of us it is helpful to be instructed what exactly to do to improve our physical capacities. In the first, anatomical or gross phase we need to learn to control or engage the perineum, which is the part of the pc-muscle where the two loops of the 8 meet. When you do that you feel that you can run faster, jump higher and scream louder and all simply because you become more buoyant. Any force directed out of the body whether it be speech, locomotion or grasping needs something to bounce off from. For example when trying to push a car your legs would push off the ground beneath you. In this vein by engaging the perineum the pelvic floor now acts similar to a trampoline from which any outward directed vector can bounce off. This becomes soon very obvious during jumping through and jumping back, during arm-balances, leg-behind-head postures and drop-backs. All of these are fairly intense yogic exercises during which the outward directed force needs to be able to push against an internal barrier (the bandha) otherwise not much of it reaches the environment/ exterior of the body.
What is essential for the bandha is that it is engaged
before the vector of force that utilizes it as a base, is enacted. If that is
not the case you could actually wet your pants in the attempt of trying to
scream really loud or lifting a heavy weight. If the bandha totally fails we
would call that incontinence. A high level of bandha-success could be called
continence. Notice how this term has a bathroom aspect but also it means
self-control or self-restraint.
In the beginning, let’s say in the first two years depending
on how fast your learning curve is, it is good to focus on this muscular or gross
aspect of Mula Bandha. It means that before you load up the body with any complex
asana (or other exercise) you check that the perineum is engaged. And again,
just in case there is still any level of elusiveness in your mind, contract the
anal sphincter, then the urinary sphincter and then look for the point in the
middle and release both. Repeat simply until you have it. Once you have it, try
to maintain it while holding increasingly difficult asanas. That’s all! Don’t
let them fool you! It’s not rocket science!
Now once you have done that for about a maximum of two years,
you should start migrating to the second tier of Mula Bandha, the subtle/pranic
aspect. Let’s look first at why and then at how. All good things will
eventually turn to poison if only you do or take too much of them. That you should
limit the time and energy spent on pelvic floor contractions becomes most obvious
when you plan to give birth anytime soon. A super-build-up pelvic floor makes
it more difficult for the baby to pass through. Also, in males too much Mula
Bandha can eventually lead to extra visits to the toilet in the night because
it does limit the passage of urine. However, it is mostly the psychological changes
that I want to discuss here. In English we have the beautiful term tight-arse. If you get stuck at the
gross, muscular aspect of Mula Bandha you will eventually become a tight-arse. That is a miserly, un-generous
person that looks at life mainly in terms of acquisition. I’ve seen it happen
often. You may have also noticed that when you say no to somebody, defend your
position and stand your ground you do so by contracting your anal sphincter
when communicating. Try it out! Your expression will be much more congruent when
doing so. Freud noticed this tendency and called the phase during which the
infant learned to say no the anal phase. If you do not graduate to the pranic phase
of Mula Bandha it’s muscular aspect tends to overemphasis the anal aspects of your
personality. But as yogis we want to become appreciative, giving, caring, nurturing,
loving, etc. While we must be able to say no to and reject wrong positions and
actions (raping and pillaging our beautiful Mother Earth, genocide on
indigenous people, exploitation of the disenfranchised, etc) the anal aspect of
the psyche should not be allowed to take over.
While much more could be said about this subject (and I would
have much pleasure to do so) the length of this article means I must move on
now to the description of how to graduate to a pranic Mula Bandha. During this
phase we slowly move away from the muscular contraction and use the suction of
the breath to lift the perineum upwards. There are various ways of doing this.
One involves to imagine that you literally inhale through the pelvic floor. Do it
and you will feel how this raises the perineum. You can also imagine how the
breath lifts and expands your torso and thus creates a suction that lets the
perineum billow upwards. You can also imagine that the inhalation reaches down,
hooks into the perineum and pulls it up. In these and similar metaphoric descriptions
you will find the same two elements that combine to bring about an effect. The
two elements are breath and thought and notice how the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
states that both always move together. In this phase/ tier of the bandha we are
using the imagination to direct the pranic force (breath). Students often
master this level and you notice that they become able to do things which they
shouldn’t really be able to do. There is a certain lightness and effortlessness
to their practice but if you ask them how they are doing it they often cannot explain
what they are doing.
With this second stage of Mula Bandha you will be able to do
much more while using much less energy. That’s what you want. Don’t waste any unnecessary
energy and effort if something could be achieved much easier. It is fair to say
that stage-2 Mula Bandha takes much longer to perfect than stage-1. Again, learning
curves of students differ vastly but it wouldn’t be wide off the mark to say
that one could easily take a decade or more to become proficient of this tier
of the bandha.
Why then would we need to move on to a third stage if stage already
enables us that much? With stage 3 the trajectory is continued. It uses even
less energy. It is described in Shankara’s Yoga Taravali and Aparokshanubhuti
where is said that eventually Mula Bandha becomes pure thought. No breath at
all is required anymore to create the suction. This is of course very important
when in kumbhaka (breath retention). When no breath movement is there the
holding of Mula Bandha has to eventually mature to the level of pure thought.
Enjoy your exploration of this magnificent bandha and firmly
know that you will master it. Elusive no more.
I often get asked how one can jump through without touching the floor. Of course, technique is important but it is not all there is. You also need to have a basic level of strength and trunk flexion. If that is not there no level of technique will get you through without touching the floor.
To check whether your strength is sufficient enter Lollasana by crossing your ankles and try to lift off the floor. If you can get your feet off the floor you have completed the first condition to jumping through. Hold Lollasana for as long as you can. Add on one breath every day until you can hold it for ten breaths. Then gently begin to swing back and forth without dragging your feet over the floor. Eventually you will be able to increase the amplitude of the swinging movement to such an extent that you can swing through to Dandasana, then pick up the weight and swing back to Chaturanga Dandasana.
But what if you can’t get your feet off the floor in Lollasana at all? In this case you need to place blocks under hands to create enough ground clearance. From there simply extend the time you can hold your feet off the floor until you can hold them up for 10 breaths. It may be helpful to practice this several times a day to build strength fast enough. You may find that there are two separate aspects to getting off the floor. One is shoulder strength which is easy to generate in this posture. The other one is trunk flexion which is chiefly performed by your rectus abdominis. If your rectus is already developed to some extend you may be able to fire it up enough by simply performing Lollasana. If, however, your rectus is completely switched off it can be more feasible to first get it firing by isolating it in trunk curls and hip/leg raises.
Once you can perform swinging back and forth in Lollasana it is time to reduce the height of the blocks. You may be able to source thinner blocks but it may be easier to simply take some thick books (telephone books used to be good but they are on the way out) or even a few thin ones so that you can reduce the height gradually. Once you can remove any blocks/books you are now ready to look at the actual technique to jumping through.
Technique for jumping through
At first you may execute this movement using momentum. With increased proficiency you will be able to jump through with little or no momentum while still clearing the floor. The key to effortless performance here is to connect the breath to the bandhas. As long as we are airborne in the jump, we must continue to inhale, as the inhalation has a lifting and carrying effect. Once the lift-through is complete we initiate the exhalation to lower down.
To learn this movement, it should be divided into two clearly distinguishable separate phases. Phase 1 is hopping forward into an arm balance with the shoulders over the wrists and the hips and folded legs lifted high. Phase 2 consists of letting the torso and legs slowly swing through the arms, using the shoulders as an axis. As you swing through, suck the feet up into the abdomen and the knees into the chest to clear the floor. With the last of the inhalation, straighten the legs into Dandasana, still suspended in the air. With the exhalation, slowly lower down. Performing the movement in this way will establish a firm connection between breath and bandhas. It will also strengthen the abdomen and the low back, preparing for the challenging backbends and leg-behind-head postures in the later sequences.
Role of the Inhalation
The inhalation has a natural upward lifting function; the exhalation has a grounding and rooting function. Imagine the autumn wind playing with leaves and effortlessly lifting them off the floor. The same power is used in the vinyasa movement. The inhalation inspires the lift, with the shoulder and arm muscles providing the structural support. This is only possible with Mula and Uddiyana Bandha engaged. The inhalation reaches down, hooks into the bandhas and lifts the body up like an elevator. Movement must follow the breath. If the breath is connected to the bandhas, it will move the body effortlessly and one will feel light and rejuvenated after the practice. If the bandhas are not firmly established, one might feel drained and exhausted after practice because energy has been lost. Feel how the inhalation reaches down and attaches itself to the engaged pelvic floor and lower abdominal wall. Continue to inhale, creating a suction that lifts your trunk off the floor. Support this lift with the frame and action of your arms and shoulders.
One of my biggest frustrations with being associated with Ashtanga Yoga is that other yogis perceive that my asana practice and thereby the asana I teach must adhere to what is known as the ‘traditional’ form (I place tradition here in inverted comas to refer to the popular Jois tradition and not the traditional Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga, which is actually what I do practice and teach!). And many have a negative impression of this ‘tradition’. This negativity stems from Ashtanga’s reputation of being dogmatic, inflexible and hard core. Actually, that’s not a criticism of the practice itself but of the attitude of many Ashtanga Yoga teachers. I practice and teach in a way that adapts the asana practice to the individual’s needs using safe, sound biomechanics and a compassionate approach.
Gregor neatly categorises students into four groups and of course individual students may need to transition between these groups depending on their energy level, injury, age, etc.
Category one has the ideal body for Ashtanga Yoga and can always learn and practice the postures as in the orthodox sequence. Category two has to sometimes switch to therapeutic sequences or alter the series to some extent. Category three has such limitations (for example extremely tight hip joints that prevent half-lotus postures) that the sequences have to be permanently altered but can still be recognised as Ashtanga-inspired. The fourth category of students has such physical limitations that they need to practice a purpose-built therapeutic sequence that may not even be close to Ashtanga Yoga.
Important here is the ability and freedom to modify the asana practice to suit the individual rather than forcing an individual to fit the form. This applies to individual asana, sequences and entire practices. I would treat each of these categories of practitioner differently, catering to that individual’s ability with an aim to holistically nurture that person whilst they explore their possibilities and develop their potential, safely. In my Self Practice classes anyone who has a self-practice is welcome, from advanced series practitioners to those who are doing a practice that is very limited in movement. Everyone deserves to practice, whatever their capability.
However, if you reward students with the next asana, the next series and a teaching and certification system based on physical advancement in asana you can predict that they will become asana-ambitious. The inherent message in this system is that they’re not good enough until they are ‘advanced’. Advanced asana is not a reflection of the perfection, beauty, and divinity that is our true nature. And in the Ashtanga Yoga system there is also no method taught that teaches students how to realise that (more on that in future parts). This system has consequently led to the myth that one is/becomes a great yogi by performing advanced asana. And that belief has led to sometimes irreparable injury and suffering on more than only physical levels. This also constitutes spiritual abuse.
The un-yogic hierarchy of asana achievement in the Ashtanga system is what drives students to incessantly strive to go deeper and deeper into postures, which does not necessarily equate to greater benefit. It is, however, greater wear and thereby potential repair of joints, which is one of the known factors in the development of osteoarthritis. In regards to flexibility too much of a good thing often transmutes into a bad thing. For example, back bends are very therapeutic, however, the extreme of reaching back to hold your ankles requires lengthening the long ligament on the front of your spine to such a degree that you may destabilise your spine. It is not uncommon for yogis to displace the vertebrae at the peak of the curve in their low back (L3) from practicing extreme backbends or being over-zealously adjusted in the same. Previously, without questioning, I have been there and done that myself. Now I see that this is what makes yoga look like a circus.
Also, there are aspects of the practice that are not congruent with its current audience. For example, Ashtanga Vinyasa would have been designed for a population who had open hips. This means that other postures where the knees are less vulnerable may be better to commence hip opening than the half lotus postures. And Badhakonasana might be an important posture to include although it comes after many more advanced postures. In this way the teacher needs to intelligently apply asana that makes the practice accessible to the student rather than going through the motions to uphold a ‘tradition’ that is not applicable and does not serve the person in front of them. Yes, this does require that the teacher has a good level of experience and is why those some practitioners who could achieve postures with little effort often cannot teach them to those less capable.
Traditional teachers will argue that they wish to stay ‘true to the form’, however, this has often involved (presumably unintentionally) breaking the student to fit that tight, narrow box. I have experienced this personally as a student; seen students struggle and abuse themselves as a teacher; and witnessed the destruction of this imposition on numerous occasions as a therapist. The traditional adjustments given by Pattabhi Jois (and unfortunately adopted by many of his students seemingly by osmosis and certainly not by informed consideration) were often forceful and too often injurious. The last thing any teacher wishes is to harm another. It certainly is not necessary. As a teacher one must look to the needs of the student and not to upholding a purity that exists in our ideology, especially when that ideology is to the detriment of the individual before us.
It concerns me that as teachers we may be unawares encouraging a culture of physical and/or spiritual abuse by teaching students to continually strive for more: more flexibility, more strength, more postures, more sequences. We become a consumer of asana, flexibility and greater physical prowess just as we are consuming everything else on our Earth! I often ask students: ‘What are you practising?’ Ambition? Striving? Discontentment? Or exploration? Awareness? Appreciation? Contentment? Teaching is an act of service and needs to serve the student. As a teacher I attempt to read my students’ needs and to meet them where they’re at. That doesn’t mean not exploring their potential but to explore without an imposed set agenda. And I consciously dispel the ridiculous belief that they are any less a yogi for which asana they can or cannot do. We each need to treat ourselves like we treat those we love most and with full respect for this miraculous, sacred site that we inhabit.
Yoga is an introspective practice, which gives us the opportunity to practice interoception, i.e. being receptive to our internal environment, being able to listen and respond to our body and our innermost voice. This protects us physically and guides us spiritually. True asana means being embodied versus using our mind to conquer our body. That’s torture. That is abuse. Give yourself permission to practice honestly, a practice that nourishes your whole being, without self-coercion or the pressure to fit any outcome or even an out-dated version of yourself. Practice with love for yourself and your body. This is an opportunity for the tradition to be enhanced by new understanding. The essence of yoga is not in any order of postures but in an attitude of respect and love, service and humility and freedom that brings liberation from our conditioning, not one that adds to it!
For those of you who prefer to read in French here is a French translation of the article.
You may have already come across this podcast but I’m a bit behind posting as I’m currently on a teaching tour across Europe and South America. With this latest podcast I seem to have again sparked controversy. Some ultra-orthodox and hard-line Ashtanga websites apparently have taken it down after it got posted. You might here find out why.
Although I’m still a bit surprised that some yogis don’t want to engage in critical dialogue.
Loss of biodiversity threatens our survival as much as climate change (if not more). We must protect all life on Earth and particularly wildlife or face our own extinction. This planet is not ours to own. We must share it with all life forms or pay the consequences. Ahimsa (non-harming) does not just extend to other humans but to all forms of life. Abundance does not come from out-competing others but from right action (dharma), which is respecting the rights of others.