Top memory experts say step one of remembering something is care. Most people claim to be bad at remembering names, phone numbers and where they are parked. However, if someone offered you a million dollars to remember their name for a month, could you? Of course! That would be no issue. So why did I forget the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga opening and closing mantra after doing it at least 500 times? Because I stopped caring!
Ashtanga’s Group Identity
Chanting is a powerful way to establish a group identity. On a primal level, ancient armies would perform chants before battles for motivation, and at the end to the mourn the dead. I watch kids in my high school classes chant the pledge of allegiance every single day. Fans of modern professional sports teams all have a litany of chants. University students (a group shrouded in group identity) chant up to ten different chants at football and basketball games. Even our world leaders engage in chants of their own countries name.
How are the opening and closing mantras any different? Chanting at the start and end of class is a dopamine hit, an injection that draws you further away from yourself and true purpose. Instead, we dump energy into a group identity-based in an illusionary hierarchy. Watch how people say the mantra. They are trying to escape! Connecting to a more profound and higher self does not require closing your eyes and chanting in a language you don’t know before stretching.
Don’t Talk About My Mantra Bro
The mantra is such a big deal to people in Ashtanga that a sense of peer pressure is created around saying it with others around. I’ve never said the mantra in my home practice, however, not saying it in that group setting feels awkward.
Why is the mantra such a big deal? Authority is why. Most of the Ashtanga community is stuck under the spell of gurus and authority. We need to give our power away because confronting your own inner shadow is the hardest work you will ever do. It is much easier to throw it onto an authority figure, and have the work done for you. Watch how people talk about Pattabhi and Sharath Jois, their eyes glaze over into a hypnotic state, and each person uses the same phrases and vernacular while speaking about them. That is weird! A group under the mind control of an authoritative figure or system shows those behaviors.
This didn’t stop even after the sexual assault allegations against Pattabhi Jois. Those allegations helped, but this problem shone clear as day before that. Now everyone is doing the same thing with Sharath Jois.
What does Ashtanga want from you? The same sequence of poses is to be done in the same way five or six days of the week without variation. You need “authorization” to teach our system. No pranayama until you reach the third series, and meditation is useless unless you’re a high-level yogi. Progression revolves around how bendy your body gets. Harsh adjustments are frequent. Follow the honor code, or you get kicked off the list!!!
Ashtanga and Freedom
Doing the same Ashtanga sequences over and over again is bad for your body. What about strength and endurance? Without a balance of power (Ashtanga contains no leg or pulling strength,) mobility and endurance no body and brain are optimized. Authorization is a signature. Ink on paper. A sure way to become imbalanced is to not take pranayama and meditation less serious than asana. Flexibility beyond a basic level has little do with spiritual development. Adjustments trigger a fight or flight response, which is why you feel high after strong adjustments. Triggering fight or flight responses is one of the most detrimental things to your health. Thinking a list will help your career or show people you know what you’re talking about is a form of scarcity from step one.
We are hurting our bodies, brain, and souls for a group identity! All of this starts with the chant.
Let yourself be free, if you love mantra chant a new one that helps you connect with your heart orientated path in yoga. Follow your feelings, and create your own variations on the Ashtanga sequence. During practice start to dance, listen to music, laugh, drink coffee, read between poses, play with your dog, catch up on a tv show, do silly handstands, listen to podcasts, write your goals, envision a better you and forget the opening and closing mantras because you’re having so much fun.