November 18, 2010

Should Fiery Pittas Practice Ashtanga Yoga?

I was inspired to write this blog in response to a question a student asked me a couple months back.

Hi David, My name is Emily, I am newly recommitted ashtanga practitioner and pharmacy school student in Salt Lake City. I have been lightly studying Ayurveda and yoga for 6 and 12 years respectively. I am always reading suggestions that pittas should do a cooling practice rather than such a heat inducing practice such as ashtanga. What are your thoughts on this? I have tried many styles of yoga with several teachers, but I am always drawn back to this self-practice.

Thank you for your message Emily.

I think that idea about pitta’s needing to avoid heat inducing practices such as Ashtanga is largely bunk. You’ll have to pardon me but I get a bit worked up on this subject. I really do hope my answer helps you. I don’t think enough people realize what kind of fire, grit and intensity it takes to crack the small self open and access the hidden treasure of fearless freedom within.

There is always someone who will try to contain or cool things, to ‘mellow’ things or ‘balance’ them or bring them to the center where the middle ground is. I personally don’t want the middle ground. I don’t want reason or reasonable. Reasonable arrives and eventually looks and feels like Walmart, Captain Crunch, continuous streams of ads for things that don’t offer us an honest place of really looking at ourselves. I say bring on the fire, let’s burn this stale, safe, known, fearful place to the ground.

Give me spiritual danger, give me the edge, give me something that makes me sweat, makes me breathe, makes me open inside and feel truly alive. Give me enough fire to face my apathy every day. Give me enough fire to burn my petty mind that continuously spins out just the right type of nonsense to hook me into fear, judgment and insecurity. Give me enough fire to care more about what’s inside me than any other thing. The following is an excerpt from a Rumi poem where God tells Moses:

I want burning, burning. Be friends with your burning. Burn up your thinking and your forms of expression! Moses, those who pay attention to ways of behaving and speaking are one sort. Lovers who burn are another.

In order to open spiritually, I believe each of must discover our gifts and strengths and then really use them to the full extent that we are capable of. To me being a pitta type and thus having an endowment of fire means you must use your fire, celebrate and develop your fire and see how far your fire can take you.

Of course you can over do fire and imbalance yourself. For example you could drive yourself in practice, work etc, become hot headed, walk around continually angry or stressed or frustrated, and thus thwart your higher purpose. But also fire might be the very key, the essential element that leads you into creativity.

As Rumi said fire is your friend. Can you explore the extent of your fire and simultaneously learn how to balance it? I am a lover of Ashtanga precisely because that practice takes me beyond my reasonableness, further than my neat, tidy boxed up world into a fiery, fluid, earthy world of possibility and insight.

I use a saying that goes: ‘every system of knowledge is also a system of ignorance’. This statement applies to any system one might adopt for health or soul work; it says each system, no matter how wise or seemingly complete will be erroneous and will not, if followed blindly, lead you to the end of the path.

Both Ayurveda and Ashtanga are amazing systems of knowledge, but both have their ‘blind spot’s or weaknesses. And anyone who uses these systems will also have their own system for using them and thus will bring their own set of strengths and weaknesses. However I’m not saying not to adopt a system just because it is also inherently ignorant. I’m saying think and act for yourself in accordance with what you experience, discover and what you’re drawn towards.

Though experts and ‘common’ wisdom are important sources of guidance, listen to your own feelings, intuition and inner promptings concerning the unfolding of your sacred, inner world. If you keep feeling that there is something significant for you within the Ashtanga system, then I’d listen to that feeling. The trick is to get to know the system and your own tendencies and then work at it passionately with soul and creativity.

Since you are a pitta type and you like Ashtanga, you may choose to practice it in a more yin or receptive way when you feel like it– for instance don’t practice in too hot of a room or in the sun or in the middle of the day. Do less vinyasa between seated postures or hold postures longer. Finishing postures are known as ‘cooling’ so you could spend more time with them. Also it could be helpful to keep your brain passive and relaxed while practicing.

In short, there are many things you can do to decrease fire in practice, learn what works for you day by day. Hari Om! ­­– David

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