Just enjoy yourself – no such thing as Ashtanga Yoga
Manju Jois, son of the late Pattabhi Jois – founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, had some very interesting points to make about modern day yoga this week during a 5 day workshop here in Cornwall. He claimed, with a chuckle but an underlying tone of seriousness, that he is “still trying to clean up the mess that westerners have created”. He is referring to the current yoga world, with it’s myriad forms and styles, Instagram yoga celebrities, books, leggings and other products, all seeming to enhance the yoga experience.
For a start, Manju claims the name Ashtanga Yoga is just a label that westerners have applied to the style taught by his father, Pattabhi Jois. It is still Hatha Yoga, as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and was never meant to have been labelled as anything else, just as B.K.S. Iyengar never meant for his ‘style’ to have his name attached to it.
Ashtanga yoga has gained a name for itself as a very strict form of yoga practice, where the yogi must dedicate her or himself to 6 days a week, preferably at 6am, not progressing to the next pose in the series until each one is mastered. “Nonsense!”, exclaims Manju, ‘just enjoy yourself’ he declares. Other than resting on Moon Days, it doesn’t matter what days you do or don’t practise or how many times in a week – it doesn’t even matter if you don’t stick to the series or move on before achieving a particular pose. When asked in the first of our Q & A sessions what we should do if we can’t do a pose, he replies, “Just go on to the next one! Screw that pose and move on to the next one!”
The Ashtanga Primary series is a therapeutic sequence of poses, he went on to explain, but there are certain poses within the second, Intermediate series, that can help facilitate some of the more advanced first series poses. For example, Bharadvajasana and Ardha Matseyendrasana can help with the infamous Marichyasana D. In the very first workshop, Manju led us through the first half of the Primary series followed by the first half of Intermediate – much to everyone’s surprise, but offering a well-rounded practice.
Manju has a passion for chanting the Vedic mantras as part of the yoga practice and wants to impart the equal importance of chanting to asana practice, which is lost by so many of us in the West. Manju’s fear is that yoga has become nothing more than physical exercise – comparable to aerobics because of the way it is taught – diluted and changed from the traditional source. “Keep it the same and you cannot go wrong”, he says referring to the many teachers who are claiming to be teaching in their own style. Continue the tradition and teach what your teacher taught you, and avoid the Ego by striving to invent new things and stand out, is his solution.
Manju is clearly a dedicated yogi and messenger of his father’s, but his answer to so many questions is – stick to the tradition, and just enjoy yourself.