Steve of The Confluence Countdown posted this incredible discussion of the irony present in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga on January 7, 2013. That happens to be the Monday of the week I went to my first-ever Mysore room.
It’s difficult to imagine a yoga practice being ironic, but Steve hits the nail on the head with these four sentences (please read the entire article here).
Ashtanga’s goal, to put it one way, is to become “perfected”–to see God, to be one with the “unified field” as our Western teachers have come to put it. But it isn’t going to happen, and that fact is fundamental to “the practice,” so much so that we describe what we do as something that can’t be done right, can’t be completed. We just have to keep at it, anyway. Stepping onto the mat is an ironic gesture, in and of itself.
I’m a literary nerd, so I start drooling at the mention of irony. Applying the concept of irony to my Ashtanga practice struck me so hard that I blinked and shook my head like a startled Border Collie, and I had to read those sentences again. Practicing Ashtanga is ironic in all of its definitions. As Steve says, it’s got that “the joke’s on me” sense of irony. We’re practicing without a performance or final event to practice for. Actors rehearse for opening night. Runners train before their race. A salesman practices his pitch before a meeting. But we ashtangis just keep practicing indefinitely.
The practice also has the irony of classic Greek tragedy. The audience (God, the Source, the divine, the universe, etc.) knows something that the character (the practitioner) doesn’t: the perfection the practitioner seeks is entirely unattainable. I can argue with myself on this one, because I know on a logical level that perfection is impossible. But if I truly believed that, would I unroll my mat in the pre-dawn light six days a week to breathe and work until I’m trembling and drenched in sweat?
I doubt it. Some part of me must believe that I’ll find peace or enlightenment or God or whatever through this practice. It’s a beautiful delusion, and if it keeps me dedicated to getting my ass to class every morning, then it works for me.