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Trying to Keep Yoga Simple – by Ross Stambaugh

This post was written by Ross Stambaugh aka Ashtanga Yoga Ross.

I’ve written below  three little sayings that have helped me keep my yoga practice together for 20+ years.  As I age into this practice the nuances of the asanas become the lesser of the focus and the routine of the asanas take root. For me,  it’s about the daily pace and planning that makes yoga relevant to me. It’s how I spend the other 22 hours after I practice that give life such a potent meaning.

 Here they are:

1.  “Yoga is living your life at 200%!”

Tucked away about a 15 minute scooter ride from the main shala in Goluklum [Mysore, India] is a little room, down an alley, past a little local Shiva temple, in the back of a non-descript house, you can walk through a garage into the office of one Professor Narashima.  

He’s a small man in a worn white dhoti, white tshirt, no shoes, with a thin white thread across his chest. His glasses are worn low on his nose as he slowly types at his keyboard.  Books are stacked from floor to ceiling.  You can enter and sit down on the tile floor.  Grab a small pillow to sit on.  Maybe a dozen other people are there. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. You’ll be waiting a while.  The pace is Indian, so it’s casual. 

Professor takes his spot on his little soffa and starts chanting the sutras.  The chanting is by no means angelic.  It’s actually off pitch and with the mixture of accents and nationalities, it sounds terrible.  But what it lacks in talent, it makes up with enthusiasm.  After chanting, the professor takes questions from the students.  This is my favorite part.

“Professor? “, one student asked, “What is yoga?”

He says: “Yoga is living your life at 200%!”  Wow!  So simple!

“One must live it 100% internaily and 100% externally. “

The balance is the tough part.  Can you move seamlessly from one to the other? Can you put into play what’s needed to make both frictionless?  I try everyday. And I’ll keep trying. 

It’s that simple. 

2. “Yoga is skill in action”.  (Bhagavad Gita)

 I bought a VHS tape that Richard Freeman put out in the 1990’s. It was playing in a window of a hippie’s head shop in Cincinnati, Ohio. I watched in awe as he lifted up to a handstand while his legs were in lotus position.  It was jaw dropping!   I took it home and started my yoga practice that very day.  I wore the tape out after six months.  

I continued a daily practice and I saw that as my skills grew, more skills were needed to continue. The postures would never be reachable by a perfectionist. So I did the next best thing.  I started being grateful for the skills I already had!  

Skill here is anything that brings benefit anyway you can expedite it.  It’s worth your time to hone those skills to the best of your ability.  That goes for spiritual skill as well.  When benefits show themselves, that’s yoga! The skill can be as mundane as spreading butter on toast, or as extraordinary as brain surgery.  If it helps improve your life, it’s yoga! 

It’s that simple.

3. “The yoga sutras are for shade tree philosophers, not pontificating academics”.  

The sutras of Patanjali should be taught from the ground up at its most basic level.  Yoga is from the experience not from a book. See, you can’t out think yoga.  Many academics try with fancy wordplay and references to describe what yoga is or more times, what it isn’t. This only confuses their audience so they have to continue to talk; and talk and talk and talk. This separates the scholar from his peers.  

So my take on the sutras are that they are simply discussed under a tree with friends wondering: “What’s it all about?” It remains a rhetorical ping-pong game of discussion. 

It’s that simple.

But as we know, simple ain’t easy.   

About Ross Stambaugh – Authorized Level 2 Ashtanga Yoga Teacher

Ross is an authorized teacher who learned Ashtanga yoga directly under the teachings of Saraswati Jois in Mysore, India. He makes annual trips to India to continue his studies and has assisted Saraswati on multiple occasions. His aim is to preserve the traditional Ashtanga method by maintaining a daily practice and teaching his students with the same integrity and patience that was taught to him by his teachers. Ross teaches Ashtanga Yoga Workshops internationally, and welcomes a chance to work with you and your yoga practice.

Ross is a 20+ year veteran of the Ashtanga lineage. Apart from having a daily Ashtanga yoga practice, Ross has been a collegiate swimmer, judoka, and mountain climber. He is a public school teacher and holds a post-master’s degree in education. He enjoys walking his dogs, Kali and Brie and is an avid motorcyclist.

Find him on Instagram at @ashtanga.yoga.ross

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