Ekam has over 600 followers on facebook, but none of them will practice with me

Is this the view from your mat?

this morning i practiced alone. this is not an uncommon experience, and i usually very much enjoy it, sometimes i prefer it. my time, my space, my practice. but it does make me wonder- um…where is everybody? Ekam now has about 20-30 regular practitioners, a mailing list of around 300, and over 600 followers on FaceBook. yet on a Saturday or Sunday morning (and occasionally during the week) it’s just me. yes it’s winter, yes it’s cold, but the studio is sunlit and cozy. is there something wrong with everyone? or is there something wrong with me?

during every introduction to ashtanga class i run i don’t sugar-coat it: the ashtanga practice is accessible to everyone, but it is challenging. it demands time, effort, in short, presence. i do add that, on the flip side, once you develop your practice, you take it with you wherever you go- for the rest of your life! you don’t need a teacher, or a studio, or even a mat- you can practice anytime, anywhere. and the benefits are amazing: strength of body, presence of mind, equanimity, the list goes on. ashtanga is a perpetual gift you give to yourself, and the effort is worth it.

so i ask you (seriously, i’m asking all of you) why has Ekam been unable to attract a 10-20 person core group of ashtanga vinyasa self-practitioners (we’re hovering at about 5 right now)? and to define these self-practitioners: people who, 4-6 times/week get up between 5:30-6:30am, shower (saucha! yes, please shower i beg you!), and go to the studio for a 1-1.5 hour practice before going off into their day. self-practice is the traditional model of ashtanga vinyasa yoga, and the only way to ‘level up’ (add more postures to or deepen your practice). it’s practiced this way all over the world, yet here in Johannesburg people overwhelming prefer led classes. don’t think i haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this.

in Ashtanga, NY, one of the interviewees likens ashtangis to a school of fish. for some reason we are drawn together into a big bundle to practice, we breathe together, move together, and then we disperse. or as one ekam practitioner says: ‘ashtangis are physically intimate, but mentally detached’. in some shalas where i’ve practiced (NYC and Mysore for example) we’re packed in like sardines, literally sweating on each other. yet we’re all so focused we wouldn’t recognize our fellow ashtangis on the street after practice. of course, being properly dressed might have something to do with us being unrecognizable. i’m more familiar with other practitioner’s tattoos than their faces, but that’s another story.

self-practice is an individual experience, and some prefer it that way, practicing alone. that is how i started my ashtanga practice, and i still spend a lot of time on my mat in an empty room and don’t mind it at all. but i want to know what will draw us all together as a practicing community. not so my class sizes are bigger (and warmer), or for monetary gain, or because when i practice alone i tend to have somewhat unattractive emotional breakdowns. but because, somehow, the practice seems so much deeper in a space shared with others, all practicing individually but with mutual intent. in yoga this is called a satsang, a gathering of like-minded people with the intent of uncovering the truth, or perhaps one’s own true nature. we remain individuals on our own journey, but together we are reminded we’re not alone.

so how do you attract new ashtangis to the traditional practice structure? how do you make memorizing the sequence and doing it on your own (under the watchful eye of an instructor) attractive? how do you convince someone that, whether you’re in a led class or self-practicing, you still have to face yourself on your mat every day in constant search of your own truth?

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6 comments

  1. Hi,

    I read your post. I wish Ekam was closer to home.

    I loved the studio – I loved the introduction, I loved you too!

    Getting to practice in the morning is kinda challenging for a single mom with 4 children. It would be even if you were next door.
    But i am a fan on FB and will stay a fan
    And I wish you all the best with your studio.
    Muck love
    Astrid

  2. i hear that a lot! i’m trying to figure out how to make ekam more accessible to moms so all suggestions are welcome- they’re probably the ones that need it the most anyway 🙂 in mysore it’s great to see all the mom (and dad) practitioners, many bring their kids with them for the month(s) that they’re there and they have the support of the shala and lots of extra hands for help. we need to have more of that here!

  3. Ekam is far from home for me, which is why I generally come once of twice a week (twice at most). I’m also not a morning person, so I’m generally only up before 7am if I’ve got a race on.

    Just so you don’t feel alone… I’ve got 100-odd club members. At club evenings, once a month, maybe 10 max (on a really busy night) will be club members (last club evening we had 12 people and of these five, including myself, were members – better ratio than usual). We’ve got a small core of people (about 8-10 of us – the club’s dominant discipline) who come to most of the orienteering events (must be about 50 or more registered now) and at a running race where I encourage people to come, there will maybe be 6 of us (I have 60 licensed runners).

    I have a monthly full moon run, on the Friday night closest to full moon. Busiest night was in about March when some runners from Edenvale joined us. There are usually only three or four of us. We do pizza afterwards. Nice and social.

    My dance class… currently have two to four people in the advanced class on a Monday night; maybe six in the earlier class. Will improve in summer where earlier class should have about 14.

    ‘Tis the season for low numbers.

    The other thing as well is that when people tighten their belts, they do it with classes. With yoga as one of five sporting disciplines that I regularly do in a week (plus events on weekends), I cannot commit either time nor expense to more than two classes a week. I decided to do a 10-class card for June and July, which means five classes a month and, in theory, I should be doing self-practise to make up the balance.

    Must say though, I do love coming to Ekam. I love the warmth of the studio and the practice and how wonderful I always feel afterwards and on my run the next day. But you definitely won’t catch me there on any morning 😉

  4. I’m right there with you! I currently run the only traditional, 6-day per week Mysore program in my state, and it’s like pulling teeth to get folks to commit.

    I have the same core group of folks. Actually, I have around 20 who come regularly. If all of them came every day, we would have a full room….but some of them are 2 or 3 day per week people, some have jobs that require them there at 7:00am…(I have offered to open there room at 5 if I knew people would actually show up…!) it’s always something though.

    As I always tell students, there is always an obstacle. This has to be a priority. I know plenty of people who say “I would love to go to Mysore but….” There is always an excuse. I am a single parent of a toddler, run a daily mysore program, as well as a household and other private, corporate, and group yoga classes, and I struggle financially….and I have somehow made a trip to mysore each year for the past handful of years. It’s that important. More important than Christmas with my family. More important than 3 months of income I could be earning back home. Without time spent with a teacher each year I loose my inspiration and eventually get burnt out.

    I tell people that practice has to be equally important. It makes you a better parent, worker, partner…,,why wouldn’t you practice daily?

    Best of luck. My program is in its third year and I never have a day with less than 3 or 4 people. Some days it’s more, but rarely is it ever one or two or zero these days. I try to see any growth as positive!

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