I wonder if there is any relation between a 6-day practice and addiction (if the practice can somehow turn into another way of purging the body for the people with eating disorders, or another addiction for those with addictive personalities)… What do you think? I’d love to hear some comment on this. I love my practice (5 days a week) but I do not want to turn it into an obsession or addiction, or a way to prove something, either to myself or to anyone else…

Thank you for your question.

I can’t speak from personal experience about how the practice can be useful to those who are overcoming or coping with addiction. However, there are several very qualified teachers who can.

I would recommend visiting the Ashtanga Parampara website and perusing the interviews. You could then reach out to specific teachers/practitioners who have had this experience. They might be happy to share with you.

What I can say, though, is that it is almost impossible to simply stop a bad or unwanted habit. The same goes for negative or unwanted thoughts and emotions as well.

What we can do, however, is replace negative thoughts, emotions, habits and behaviours with positive and productive ones. In the practice of doing something more positive, we can slowly reduce and mitigate the effects of the negative until we ultimately replace existing predispositions, patterns and samskaras. It takes a lot of effort and diligence to make this kind of change.

Ashtanga yoga practice is such a useful tool because it is a practical, nuts-and-bolts means of examining and reconditioning ourselves. Looked at in a particular light, ashtanga yoga is a new habit creation laboratory where we seek to forge a better version of ourselves.

This may be one reason that those with past addictions have found the practice beneficial.

That said, yoga practice exists in our imperfect world. Despite all of the positive benefits that can accrue to those of us who practice, and despite the best intentions, under certain circumstances, it can be just another arena where our egos assert themselves and our predispositions and other crap can run wild.

Every method of practice is imperfect and has its blind spot. Ashtanga yoga’s blind spot is the tendency for many to get lost trying to perfect and master asanas.

How then do we prevent yoga practice from devolving into an activity that causes obsessive or addictive behaviour?

First, we need to make sure we have a good teacher who understands that the practice is just the means or vehicle for us to create more balance, peace and equanimity in our lives. One’s yoga practice is primarily a tool for mindfullness, self-analysis and self-awareness. A bad teacher who emphasizes the performance of asanas as the ends in and of themselves will not be doing his/her students any good whatsoever.

A good teacher will help a student cultivate a greater self-awareness using the asanas and teach in a manner where the other limbs of ashtanga yoga can be experienced using the asanas.

Each of us must also remain vigilant and aware of why we are practicing and what we get from practice beyond performing asanas. If you are worried about not wanting daily practice to turn into an obsession or addiction, or a way to prove something, don’t lose the forest for the trees. This understanding is ultimately a difficult practice in and of itself. Think of positive ways that yoga practice helps you that would still be there if you never perfected or learned another asana. Perspective is the most important thing.

I have already written about The Obsessing Ashtangi, which looks at the problem of students overworking in a desire to perfect asanas and advance. It may lend some insight as well.

Thanks again. Hope this helps some.

Namaste, Paul