Ashtanga Yoga Addiction has hit me: What to do about it?

Dear YF members

I need to write here about my yoga journey and my concerns relating yoga addiction and especially ashtanga yoga.

I started practicing integral yoga 4 years ago 1-2 times a week in led classes and in general terms I always found these classes relaxing. About 7 months ago I bought a book of ashtanga yoga and since I do not have ashtanga classes nearby I started practicing at home the primary series. I was instantly hooked by this system of yoga and start practicing 4 days a week and then 5 days a week. The days I did not practice I felt horrible craving the practice and with a lot of anxiety.

Because I did not like these feelings and I did not want to quit the practice I fall in love with I made some travelling to consult a certified ashtanga teacher. The teacher said that I was doing full primary when I was not supposed to and cut the practice in half saying to practice 6 days a week. I followed his indications but the days I do not practice I feel the horrible anxiety and yoga cravings again. Moreover I am always reading ashtanga yoga blogs, articles and every book I can put my hand on. The ashtanga fever has become an obsession and now it is interfering in my daily life.

I did some research about ayurvedic medicine about the doshas and I found I am a vata-pitta. This made a lot of sense because one my problems which I have been dealing all my life was anxiety leading to a nervous breakdown and severe depression 3 years ago and I have an obsessive and addictive personality.

The nature of the ashtanga series makes the practice very competitive for me. I thought that with time and dedication I would surrender to the practice and my anxiety would be controlled but in fact the more I practice the more anxiety and obsessions I have.

I do not want to personally blame ashtanga yoga but due to my obsessive personality I do not think this is the right yoga for me. I have developed in the past obsessions about other themes, so it is very easy for me to become addicted.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder and now I am suffering from it with the ashtanga theme. I have the obsession part all day with ashtanga yoga (even in bed before sleep I think about ashtanga) and the compulsion part (the practice itself). I recognize that the practice itself calms me down but some time later I become obsessed again.

This is exactly the symptoms of the obsessive compulsive disorder where the compulsion is an attempt to reduce the anxiety. What happens with this disorder is that the success in reducing the anxiety when performing the compulsion is short lived leading to a vicious cycle of more compulsions in an attempt to reduce the anxiety again and consequently to more obsessions and compulsions.

Because I enjoy so much yoga and do not want to quit doing it I think I would go back to integral yoga or even start sivananda yoga. I think these classes are more appropriate to my personality.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading my long post.

If you want to be calmer when not doing asanas, you should meditate for 5-10 minutes everyday. Then you will be able to be calmer even when you dont do asanas. How long it will take for you to settle down your mind I dont know. But there should be gradual improvement that is noticable after maybe some weeks.

While I cannot speak to your specific experience I can share that some practice are not appropriate for some students. This is not a condemnation of the practice (or the person) but simply not the right fit of two things.

When a practice exacerbates a person’s nature, when it piles on to something that already is, when it makes living in the world problematic, then it may not be an appropriate practice for that person.

You may of course do whatever you like but a complete yoga practice is not designed to create craving in the student, nor trigger compulsion, nor bolster anxiety - either int he doing OR in the residue (which means while doing or while not doing).

When we broaden the definition of Yoga beyond the definition of asana then we realize that our assessment of the practice as it relates to our lives HAS to include the time we are not doing posture. So my question then is: [I]How are you practicing when you are not doing poses and why is that not considered “part of your practice”?[/I]

Int he grander scheme of things if a person is going to maintain addiction I’d much prefer they be tethered to Yoga (not asana, per se) than some of the other choices available. But an addiction is an addiction and can be addressed through proper practice rather than enlivened through it.

You have described how your obsessiveness may be triggered by yoga but actually has nothing to do with yoga per se, as you have experienced similar obsessiveness in other areas. You say you have practiced Ashtanga yoga for seven months and now you are debating with yourself if you should change to a different system.

It makes me wonder: Does your obsession, when it hits you, fade after a while, is your compulsion fired by a feeling of newness? Once the novelty wears off do you start looking for something else? My feeling is that what you need is to stick with one yoga routine. You need to make it a life path that you follow in rain and sunshine, in sickness and health. Maybe this is your real challenge, to stay with your practice even after it has stopped being a compulsion. But to develop and deepen your practice you need to have regular contact with a teacher, not just read books and blogs. If seeing an Ashtanga teacher is difficult for you, then that is a strong argument for changing to a different style in my opinion.

And of course as always, Inner Athlete has excellent advice.

(Many times it is unnecessary to say anything after InnerAthlete. So, here’s only a different point-of-view as an extension of his post.)

Relieving brain from fresh thinking when it comes to repetitive actions is mind-body’s natural defense. It also creates a comfort zone and brain remains free to attend to ‘challenges and surprises’.

Yoga practice, like any learning, involves undoing old habits (“unyogic” habits, if you will) and replacing them with yogic habits. In the initial stage on the yoga path, yoga has to be habit-forming, with any driver - studio routine, peer-pressure, even novelty and fashion.

But further on the path, if and when yoga is taken on a truer scale, the need for efforts in the yoga habit-formation is eased away and it becomes a natural yogic way of life. So, may be Eleveno needs to understand the inevitability of yoga-habits. Or perhaps, the efforts are becoming painful as yoga has yet to become a natural response. Thus, one may be feeling obliged to do yoga befitting our achievement-oriented mindset but it is not backed up by self-propelling will. The word ‘addiction’ suggests that.

Thank you for your replyes. The obsessive and impulsive behaviours are revealed on other areas of my life too. In this way if I quit Ashtanga and start another yoga style it is expected that I would get obsessed about it, and especially if I keep doing yoga alone at home.

I know that one of Patanjali’s principles presented in Ashtanga is non attachement. I found it difficult practicing 5-6 days a week with an intense and vigourous practice and not being attached with it.

Ironicaly, the main challenge for me is not the practice itself, but instead, are the days I do not practice and crave it leading to anxiety.

Eventhought I enjoy so much Ashtanga there are certain things that I do not agree with. Maybe every system has its virtues and flaws. One thing that I do not like is the teacher’s pressure for students practicing 6 days a week with the exception of moon days.

Another thing that I do not like is that the nature of the practice is very addictive because what seems an impossible asana at first with a regular and dedicated practice, the asana would come and this make the student to practice most of the days to attain the difficult asanas.

The other thing that I do not like are the words of K. Pattabhi Jois “Practice and all is coming” which became a motto among Ashtanga teachers. Because everybody have anxieties and fears teachers capitalize on it to promote Ashtanga so people practice it on the expectation that their anxieties and fears go away (in fact the marketing industry also use fear as one of most strong motivations for people to act) . This quote makes people think they do not have satisfying lives in the present while acceptting their natural emotions (such as fear and anxiety).

I will keep doing Ashtanga because I enjoy it so much but I will reduce the practice for 4 days a week leaving the weekends free for doing other things and spend time with family.

Tapas and Santosha temper each other.

The eight limbs of traditional Yoga progress from the physical to inner dimensions of human consciousness. The Patanjala Yoga Sutra proposes a holistic and transcendental awareness for this integration. Yama, Niyama, Āsana, Prāṇāyāma and Pratyāhāra provide a strong foundation for the practice of Yoga. For powerful yogic meditation techniques, dhāraṇā, dhyana, and samādhi help in gradual and effortless concentration for achieving complete stillness of the body and mind.
Source - Yoga Meditation - 8 limbs of Yoga