Madonna and Sting spend nearly two hours a day at it. So what's the big deal about astanga yoga and what's its connection to
Tantric sex? Words: Gabe Stewart
ANYONE APPROACHING AS'l’ANGA vinyasa yoga as merely the cool, hip workout for the millennium is in for one helluva shock. Unlike lyengar yoga (the black leotarded community centre yoga of the 70s), the more dynamic astanga yoga gets a real sweat ﬂowing.
Astanga teachers don’t have an awful lot in common with no-pain-no-gain Jane Fonda, although their mystical-sounding ‘where there is no effort there is no benefit’ equates pretty much with ‘make it burn’. It’s also true that, very quickly, astanga beginners find their suppleness and strength improves: the end result is a light, strong physical body.
But don’t you have to dig the spiritualin to buy the body beautiful? Well, yes and no. According to senior astanga teacher John Crawford Scott, the physical and spiritual elements are irrevocably linked. However, Hamish Hendry — of Edinburgh’s Yoga Centre, the only purpose-built astanga studio in Britain — has a more subtle viewpoint. ‘If you’re looking for it, you’ll find it,’ he counters, ‘but we’re not pushing it. Those who come looking for a fashion accessory tend to drop out.’
Hardly surprising, considering Astanga practice takes one-and-a-half to two hours a day. six days a week. That’s some fashion accessory. When rock musician Sting first started astanga seven years ago, finding that
much time was a real problem. He rather doubted his teacher, who assured him that if he practised his yoga thoroughly in the morning, he would have more energy during the day. Now on the days Sting does his practice, he says he gets more done and his mind is more composed.
Madonna’s own daily practice starts off with a Sanskrit chant, which was the inspiration behind the beats—enhanced Sanskrit track SlumIi/Aslzlangi. She told The List in a recent interview that the track was a combination of different prayers from the 13th century.
"l’he Reader’s Digest version would be “it’s a prayer for humility and strength and achieving happiness and bliss through pure consciousness",’ she said. ‘Astanga’s taught me to be a lot more flexible, and I don’t mean just physically, I mean emotionally. I’ve learned to be not only easy on myself but also on other people in terms of my expectations and it gives me certain centredness and serenity that I don’t think I had before.’
Sting shares this observation. He was initially attracted by the sheer macho physicality of a tough difficult challenge. Now, however. he’s just beginning to tap into the spirituality, which he describes as a
terrifying vastness of eternity within himself. He used to think the idea of life starting at 40 was crap, but at 44, he’s able to do things with his body that he wouldn’t even have thought of doing when he was a teenager. Apart from the much-publicised joy he and his wife
Trudie have experienced from the esoteric
teachings of Tantric love and sex. the intention is. apparently, to grow old gracefully and ’to become completely ﬂuid’.
Scots needing encouragement to lead a ‘completely fluid’ lifestyle should head for the unassuming, inauspicious entrance to Edinburgh’s year-old Yoga Centre. The custom-built astanga studio’s underfloor heating dispels those 1970s associations with draughty church halls.
The surviving co-founder of the modern astanga movement is Pattabhi Jois, based in Mysore. Now in his 80s, .lois has only awarded a total of ten teaching certificates to practitioners who reach the advanced theory level. London-based John Crawford Scott is the only certificated teacher in Britain, and he recommends The Yoga Centre, not least because the staff have been taught by Jois himself. The centre offers classes at all three
’Astanga's taught me to be a lot more flexible, and I don’t mean just physically, I mean emotionally. It gives me certain centredness and serenity that I don’t think I had before.’
levels, plus one-to-one tuition and Thai massage.
Astanga’s staying power properties are well documented, but does it have the stamina to be more than just a fashionable ﬂash-in-the- pan? Crawford Scott says interest in yoga is cyclical, it will wane and rise again, adding, encouragingly, ‘Well, eventually, everyone does get on the path to enlightenment you know. Sooner, or later.’
The Yoga Centre is at 16 Canning Street. Edinburgh. 0131 221 9112.
Madonna and Sting take their position on astanga yoga
16-30 Apr 1998 THE UST 99