Time to Give up on Asana, Old Man.

by Jul 4, 2012

For a long time now I have never really asked myself why I do my Ashtanga Vinyasa practice 5 or 6 days a week. If anyone asked me I would say because it is who I am and that I enjoy it. As the result of a couple of recent conversations, and these cold Wellington winter mornings I have been thinking about it a bit more. A friend and student of mine recently said to me after I explained that I try to do 2 Intermediate, 2 Advanced A, and 1 Primary Series Practice every week, “aren’t you getting a bit old for that?”

Well I have to admit that some mornings I certainly feel too old for it. Other than enjoying it (mostly), which sounds a little self indulgent, there are several reasons that I continue with this strong physical practice.

The first and perhaps most important is that the teachers I am blessed with expect it of me. Guruji gave me a certain number of asana to practice and I honour that. He passed the mantle on to Sharath and when I was in Mysore last winter both Sharath and Saraswathi expected that I would be practicing Advanced A Series. My teacher here in NZ, Peter Sanson also expects it of me and one of the enduring characteristics of my practice is that I am happy to do as I am told by those with greater experience and knowledge. I bow to their feet.

Secondly, I still feel as if I have much to learn from my Asana practice. Maybe I am a slow learner, but every practice still brings a new subtlety, and new discovery with it. I know people say that Guruji stopped full Asana practice at around the age I am now (mid 50s), but he had more than 30 years of daily practice with his Guru, Krishnamacharya before that. I have had 20 years of practice, 90% of which has been self practice with Victoria. I know I have lots more to learn.

Guruji always said that the most important thing a teacher of Yoga should have is a strong practice. I encourage my students to play at their physical limits and I feel it would be remiss of me not to do the same. There must be this willingness to play at your limits in order to expand them and to free the flow of energy in the body. This is on going. It is amazing how quickly the body will get back into bad habits if you stop practicing. Very quickly the energy blocks you have spent so much time clearing will return.

I have heard the argument that teaching traditional Mysore style classes can be your practice. For me, the energy that is created in me from teaching is quite different to that created in my practice. There is no doubt the two complement each other, but I don’t think one can replace the other. There is much that I learn in my practice that I apply in teaching, and the reverse is also true.

My practice makes me feel alive. I am not in the time of my life and do not have the inclination to withdraw. I have a young family, life is busy. I want to be fully in every moment and my practice brings this to me. Guruji was the most alive person in his 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, that I have ever met. He loved life and was fully part of it. He said that we should not even consider working into meditation practices until we had achieved proficiency in Asana practice to Advanced A level and proficiency in Pranayama. I feel a long way off that yet. Working hard in that direction though.

I believe what Guruji taught me; “Practice, practice, practice, and all is coming”, and I do my best to apply it to my life.

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  1. Katie Pervan

    a lovely read Mike. Thanks for your honesty and inspiration. Very cool.

  2. Diane Holbel

    I, age 73, do the Astanga practice because it works. Maintaining range of motion, balance, circulation, endurance…allowing me to enjoy new career as film extra with its 15-hr work days. Mental and spiritual benefits supercede physical as I’ve experienced through surgeries and chemotherapy six years ago

  3. Mike

    Thank you Diane. That is it exactly. It works on all levels, it works.

  4. jhulanyatra dasi

    Thank you for this sweet post Mike! And thank you Diane for your inspiring story!

    I am only 31 🙂 but it is challenging to have a regular 5-6 day practise a week. You need to get up early (5:20amish…), spent 1-2 hours on the mat and then get on with your day. Also, you have to watch your diet to the tiniest details. Being a full vegetarian (living a yogic lifestyle that is), you need to get your energy, vitamins and nutrients. Otherwise you cannot do the practise not speaking of teaching and other physical work (I am also a massage therapist). You need to buy fresh ingredients, always prepare your food at home, you go to bed early etc.
    Basically, doing yoga, you never become lazy and there is a great self-discipline… as Guruji said: yoga is for anyone but the lazy person…
    So tapping into the yoga thing, from wherever angle you start it, it sorts out everything about your life and yourself. And this is so fascinating about yoga- you do yoga, sincerely and everything else will fall into place sooner or later- depending on how serious we take the process. You become a healthy and happy person all around. Who does not want this? 🙂

  5. Mike

    Thank you for the great comment, Jhulanyatra. Yes, discipline is required. The important thing is to make it fun and make it feel good, then you want to practice, and the discipline is easier to achieve.

  6. jhulanyatra dasi

    Mike… would you be inspired to write something about (Ashtanga) Yoga and the use of props? Also what Guriji thought about it?
    I was exposed to a few Iyengar style and other style classes and I noticed the extensive use of props and in a way it seemed to nurture a great emphasis on ‘things we cannot do’ and ‘issues’ in our body. Of course I see the point of using props especially with elderly people or disabled people of whoever likes to use them.
    But what about this saying that yoga is for everyone?
    And how can you reconcile Ashtanga yoga with this?
    We do not use any props but I often notice that it is very intense for people who have never done yoga before or any form of physical activity.
    Is there such a thing as a restorative Ashtanga yoga class?
    In terms of teaching yoga?
    Just a few thoughts…
    thaaaaaaaaank you Mike!!!! haribol Jyd

  7. Donna

    Massive. Thank you.

  8. Amber

    Oh how I miss you & Victoria & ur wonderful teaching Mike!

  9. Deb

    Thank you Mike, for taking time to express so clearly all the wonderful reasons for continuing practice. I too am in my 50s and I keep learning so much through my practice, this is why I find it endlessly inspiring and compelling. I have learned so much from you and Victoria, you always seem to be able to say just the right thing at the right time to help move my practice forward and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to practice with you both. Similarly, you deserve enormous credit for creating such a wonderful environment in class. I love the energy of the morning classes and the sunday talk through and feel very sad when work keeps me away, there is always a good energy in the room from all of the participants and I find it really helps my practice and focus.

    So I would like to thank both you and Victoria and hope that you will both continue to inspire us all.

    I also really enjoy the opportunity you create to bring other teachers into class, with Peter Sanson’s regular workshops and John Scotts recent class. I love what Peter said, which brought Guruji’s words to life for me, that the thing is to practice every day whenever you can and not worry about how much or when, just do it and everything comes.

    Thank you! 🙂

  10. Mike

    Thank you for the wonderful comments, Deb. You know I will have been practicing Ashtanga for 20 years soon and still feel like I have only just dipped my toe into the deep waters of this amazing practice. So much more to learn…


  11. Mike

    Thanks Amber. Good to hear from you. Trust all is well with you guys.


  12. Deb

    Hi Mike
    I also wanted to say a big thank you to Nick who is also a wonderful and inspiring teacher. I really appreciated the opportunity he gave us to practice together on a Saturday morning. Thanks Nick!

  13. Olivia

    Age is just a number. 🙂