Kill the Buddha on the Ashtanga Road
A question was posed to me recently—Why Ashtanga? Why any asana? What the benefits? Aren’t there better stretches? Why follow the series at all?
I think that’s actually a healthy part of every serious yoga student’s investigation of any method of practice to go down the rabbit hole of soul searching and reflecting on the true intent and impact of any practice, pose, thought or deed. I don’t think there are definite answers to the deepest questions about the practice, or about life. You, as the student, will have to find the answers that work for you, your body and your quest. And, what’s more, I also believe that the practice changes and evolves to meet you where you are, or at least it can change and evolve if you’re willing to follow the intelligence of your body, mind and soul.
If we get stuck in a dogma, of any type, then we’re stuck. Maybe we need to be stuck for a little while before we move on? Stuckness can be a good teacher too. There is an old story from the Buddha that says that if you meet the Buddha on the road, you should kill him. Before anyone accuses me of inciting violence, let me be clear that the story is a metaphor. The Buddha that you meet on the road is a relic of absolutism that will prevent you from the spontaneous act of true awakening. Once you meet stuckness in any paradigm of thought, the relentless spiritual practitioner is advised to discard that framework and start fresh.
A question I advise every yoga practitioner to pose on a daily basis is—what is yoga? If yoga is just about using shapes to stretch or strengthen, then your intention sets the stage for what you are likely to get from the practice. But if you set your intention to use the tool of asana to awaken a higher level of consciousness within yourself, then the practice can be truly liberating.
I like stretching and bending and lifting and twisting. Yoga for me has always been a spiritual journey. I am here to awaken in a grand cosmic sense. I want to be fully alive, whole and total in my spirit. Whether I’m practicing traditional Ashtanga with my teacher in India, or moving through a yin practice, or firing it up for handstands, or whether I’m meditating, journaling, praying, walking, smelling a flower, cutting a mango, or walking at the beach, my intention is to step on to the path of my highest potential and spark the magical fire of liberation.
I have no argument with anyone who wants to modify the series of Ashtanga. I have no argument with anyone who wants to keep the series pure. I have no argument with anyone who is doing the investigative work of practice. Whatever tool you use that best serves your awakening, I am all for. I see my role as a teacher not as so much as having all the answers, instead I see my role as a teacher more like holding space to support your investigation and ultimately your awakening.
Maybe the Buddha on the road died long ago and we are just realizing it now?