Oh what a word! Paradox. Google defined it for me as: “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true” or Yoga in general. Into my tenth year of practicing Ashtanga I have come across the paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga many times. The most recent one being severe pain which could have come from practice. A month or so go (writing this in March of 2017) I had to stop practice and break down because of agony in my right wrist. What! This was supposed to be healing me! What’s going on? It crushed me for the day. Tears and all. I have built a life based around physical activity that needs the support of the wrist near one hundred percent of the time. What was I to do? My practice ruined therefore life has collapsed. My only choice give up, wander into the wilderness, and wait for death. No, no, no. Now you’re just being dramatic. Of course life isn’t over.
I may never know if it was or was not my practice that caused the pain, but I do know that I noticed it during chaturanga and especially urdhva mukha svanasana (up-dog). But, this isn’t a post about wrist pain. It’s about the paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga or the aspects of yoga that seem to contradict themselves. This healing practice that makes bodies ache and joint scream. This practice of non-attachment that gives me withdrawals when I skip more than one day of asana a week. Building up my ego by keeping me slim, fit, and able to lift-up into handstand, but ego bad? Similar thoughts going through your head while you shouldn’t be thinking? Maybe they will be now. Such beauty in the opposites of Yoga. Shiva and Shakti. Yin and Yang. Everything and nothing. Okay not quite opposites, paradoxes.
Without Shiva we have no Shakti. Without everything there can not be nothing. Like all things one cannot be without the other. This pain that practice brought led to analyzation. It led to using the modifications I teach others. It led to a new more aware practice. It led to the conclusion, “You moron you know you felt funny wrist things before this and you did nothing but ignore them. And now look.” These paradoxes of yoga that appear are helpers. They are the questions to be asked and studied. What are you doing when the pain happens? What may be causing it? Why are you not changing it? This is your practice as it works for you. The practice is not an unbendable bar of outer space metal that we have no method for manipulating. Experiment, ask your teacher, read books and try what you read, modify, stop. Know that Yoga is more than movement. It tries to make us go deeper, to find blockages that need a solution or at least contemplation. Thus it gives paradoxes: absurd statements that want investigation or at least acknowledgment. There will be things that do not make sense. Bathe in the glory of human ignorance or question it. Your choice. Your practice.
Looking for contradiction in a practice that preaches goodness is the slippery slope into philosophy. Which can easily be ignored, but can as easily be a quick path into deepening a practice. Ashtanga — Yoga in general — is more than just exercises if you wish it to be or it’s a fine way to better one’s health and life.
This is just the beginning of my journey into the world of paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga and I hope to continue falling down this rabbit hole and have an adventure in whichever wonderland I may find myself. What are some of the paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga that you have found? Write them in the comment section below. One of my favorites is the ego-building of Ashtanga’s asana practice. Gotta keep that in check. Don’t forget to love yourself though. Be well and thank you for reading.
Ashtanga: Breath, move, live.