Friday, August 24, 2012

Concerning Authorization



So, this is a delicate topic.  How to write objectively?  I'll start at the beginning...  The first I heard of authorization to teach Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois was from my mentor/teacher/friend Greg Nardi.  Back then it was still just Ashtanga yoga to me, the preferred of the two styles of yoga I had first tried. (The other was Bikram Yoga; I had done a little of both back home in Key West.) Miami Life Center (hereafter referred to as mlc) had recently opened and I was full-time devoted athlete in a somewhat obscure Olympic sport.  At the time I was supporting myself in the restaurant business and wanted desperately to get out.  Teaching yoga seemed like a good fit, and I preferred Ashtanga, so after having taken a few classes I asked Greg about how to become a teacher.  When he explained that in our thing (please forgive the gratuitous mafia movie reference) the only way it could happen is that I would have to schlep over to India not once, but several times at least, my response was understandable-- "Fuck that, I'm going to sign up for the 200 hour teacher training at the 23rd street yoga shala." Which I did, but almost immediately upon completion of my teacher training I felt a lack in my knowledge.  I felt Vinyasa yoga, as it is known, contained intrinsic flaws as a system so I returned to mlc.  While I continued to teach in the Vinyasa style my own practice became exclusively Ashtanga.  The India thing kept me in awe, sometimes a resentful awe, as I was breaking my back first in restaurants and then as a fledgling yoga teacher and barely keeping my head above water.  I wanted to go deeper, to earn a recognition for my knowledge and training that "meant something," for lack of a better way to put it.  But to drop four or five grand on such a trip was simply unthinkable.  I never thought I would be able to go myself, and by extension, I thought I could never have as strong a practice or as deep an understanding as those who had been.  To be Authorized, or rarer still, Certified, would remain an unobtainable sine qua non.

Fast forward to now.  As I write these words I am waiting in Bangalore International Airport to go home from my third trip to Mysore, India.  In addition to my time with Sharath, I have been extensively trained by teachers of international renown.  I teach yoga full-time for a living and am solvent in doing so.  My asana practice is somewhat strong.  I have a grasp of, and a keen interest in, yogic philosophy.  But I am still not authorized.  Didn't happen this trip.  I was pretty fucking bummed when Sharath didn't call me into his office after my last practice this morning.  Although this disappointment is something of a taboo, I confess this freely and openly.  We're supposed to go to India to learn from Sharath for its own sake, not to be chasing a certificate.  Sharath has made it perfectly clear on many occasions that he has no interest in or patience for students who come to Mysore merely to get authorized.  Despite this fact, it's a certificate of which we all make a big deal anyway. What a mental mine field to be presented a goal towards which to work but that you're not supposed to want or expect. When you work for something even though you know you're not supposed to expect to get it, you still feel let down when your work doesn't pan out.  Then you feel disappointed for feeling let down because you remember you weren't supposed to expect it in the first place.  The snake eats its own tail.  Talk about vrittis.  With the love and support of my wife Nubia and my teachers Kino and Tim I was able to snap myself out of it, thank God.

The mystery surrounding Authorization is an extension of one of the most damning misconceptions about Ashtanga yoga.  That being that there are absolute standards.  It can be hard, at times, not to play the "why does Johnny have pose C when I'm stuck on pose A and I'm stronger and more flexible than he is" game.  I think it's natural and probably never goes away, completely.  Furthermore, the notion that one must have an asana "perfected" before learning the next is simply not true.  It's absurd, in fact.  And so, by extension, the notion that if one has been Authorized his or her practice must be at some lofty, nearly superhuman level also persists.  Well, if you're Authorized it could mean you have a lovely asana practice, but not necessarily.  I've come to believe it means you have shown Sharath, or Guruji if you're old-school, hardcore dedication to the lineage by making the sacrifices (time, money, etc.) to come to India multiple times.  Nothing more, nothing less.  But what could be more essential?  We're all aware of the paradigm of the guy who has an amazing asana practice but remains an asshole.  Conversely there's the ultra stiff guy who is an obedient, dedicated student who treats everybody with kindness and compassion. Why shouldn't this extend out to the decision to authorize, or not authorize?  One's ability to carry on and convey the message of our lineage should be assessed by Sharath and Sharath alone.  To bring back the mafia analogy, chain of command is very important our thing.  Sharath seems pretty deeply intuitive to me.  I resolve to trust his judgement in these matters, and to keep returning to Mysore, authorization or no.

4 comments:

  1. Great post, Patrick. I really like your honesty and sense of humor about the whole authorization thing. I just wrote a post about your post on my blog: http://yogadragonden.blogspot.com/2012/08/authorization-and-ashtanga-mafia.html

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  2. I second that, felt the ride as I was reading your post... love the trusting part at the end too.

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  3. yeah, who cares about the certification/authorization. just get on your mat and search inside yourself, search for god, search for self.
    agree with you about Sharat's intuition. keep practicing and all is coming :-)
    great post, thanks for sharing,
    -Mike

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