I recently made the decision to let go of the label, Ashtangi. I realized that by putting that label on myself that I felt the pressure to live up to this perfect representation of the physical practice. When I did not do all the poses perfectly, I felt that I had failed. I felt a tremendous since of guilt when I changed the sequence up a bit during my home practice and when I did not get to my mat as much as I wanted to that week. When students would ask me how many times a week did I practice Ashtanga, I would feel bad if I didn't say the traditional 5-6 days a week. For some reason people think I have been to Mysore and seem a bit disappointed when I tell them this is not the case.
The label also had others expecting perfection from me as well. I would push myself during public practice because I knew people were watching to see if I was nailing my poses & they would often comment afterwards about my practice. I practice Second series in a city where many people do not. People were looking to me to get an idea of what it was supposed to look like. Being a person that was given that series, also made people feel that my Primary must be perfect when that is absolutely not the case.
If someone who does not wear the label of Ashtangi does a difficult pose, they get hand slaps and praise. For me, it was, "that was cool but your legs should be straighter" . In order for me to get an "atta boy", I had to be doing Cirque Du Soliel type ish. People would ask me to do demonstrations of poses on cold muscles which I always declined.
As a practitioner of yoga, I am fully aware that others expectations and labels should not factor into my life, however, as a teacher, yoga is my business as well so it puts me in a place where people are looking for things from me. Also, the strength of the word "Ashtangi" and my strong identification with it, made it an issue for me. By not using the label, my practice and mind has been lightened. Just like we use yoga as a tool for finding enlightenment, not using the label was a tool for me to stop associating with the negative feelings I was creating mentally through wearing it. This is the paradox of labeling. It helps us to identify people, things, concepts and resources but it comes with a hefty dose of expectations as well.
I am an equal opportunity practitioner. For many years, I have been borrowing from all traditions and doing what works for me in the present moment. I teach about 5 different styles of yoga which means that I also have to practice 5 styles as well. There are only 7 days in a week and I take one day off so you would see how being a traditional Ashtanga practitioner wouldn't work anyway. I asked myself this question, If Charlotte opened up a traditional Ashtanga studio with a certified/authorized teacher right next door to my house, would I switch back to the 6 day a week Ashtanga practice I had 5 years ago? The answer was no. While Ashtanga is my first love and the practice that sings to my heart the most, I enjoy the other styles far to much to leave them by the wayside at this moment. Yet another reason to stop wearing the label.
I am a practitioner of Ashtanga but not an Ashtangi. I let go of the weight that my mind has associated with it. I let go of the expectations others have put on me because I associated with it. I will keep the love and devotion I have for the lineage and the wisdom of the practice itself. I will continue to practice Ashtanga as much as I can and find joy, peace and health from its philosophies and principals.
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