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Teeth Brushing for The Soul: Cultivating Detachment Through Ashtanga Yoga Practice

Posted by on Feb 2, 2016 in Ashtanga Yoga, Yoga in Nicaragua, Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Teacher Training

detachment in yoga

Sometimes it is hard to let go of ambition and silence the inner critic in our daily yoga practice? How can we actually understand and learn detachment in our yoga practice? Looking at it from the action of brushing your teeth  might be helpful to tap into the feeling of non attachment on and off the mat.

Let’s talk about oral hygiene. We all know brushing your teeth is important. Giving your chompers a good cleaning is probably a regular part of your daily routine. When was the last time, though, that you really thought about brushing your teeth? During those two minutes each morning, do you meticulously assess your technique to insure you’re working towards achieving your oral hygiene goals? Or do you just … brush?

For most of us, the answer is the latter. We don’t invest a lot of emotional or mental energy into our teeth brushing time. We just do it. This doesn’t mean we don’t do a good job. Taking care of your teeth deserves more than a haphazard, ten-second swish of toothpaste. It may be a routine, second-nature task, but that doesn’t mean we don’t take the time to do it right. Not only that, but we do it every day, twice a day, and intend to do so for the rest of our lives. There is no finish line on teeth brushing, no endgame to achieve. The effort and attention we invest as we gaze in the medicine cabinet mirror is for the sake of the activity itself.

“Always perform with detachment any action you must do,” Krishna tells Arjuna (and us) in the Bhagavad-Gita, “performing action with detachment, one achieves supreme good.”

“Always perform with detachment any action you must do,” Krishna tells Arjuna (and us) in the Bhagavad-Gita, “performing action with detachment, one achieves supreme good.” This learning to perform action without attachment is karma yoga, or the Yoga of Action, and Krishna considers it a higher path than an ascetic life removed from the world. It is this karma yoga that we unconsciously create through our basic oral hygiene routines. It is the Yoga of Teeth Brushing, the perfect combination of action and detachment.

As good as it is for our pearly whites, however, this dental care yoga doesn’t tend to carry over into everyday action. There are other daily activities we conduct without much thought or serious emotional investment, but they tend to lack the attention and integrity that goes into teeth brushing. Even those that require some consideration typically lack intentionality. We may be detached, but we’re not consciously practicing the art of “performing action with detachment” Krishna recommends. Ashtanga yoga gives us the opportunity to do just that.

Like brushing your teeth, Ashtanga yoga is repetitive. Unlike many other styles of yoga practice, Ashtanga relies on repetition of the same sequence every day, slowly growing that sequence over time. There is no finish line. Just like we’ll brush our teeth every morning indefinitely, we roll out our mats each morning for yoga practice. While at the beginning we may treat the practice in a goal-oriented way, over months and years of regular practice the futility of aiming for some imaginary finish line becomes clear. You cannot win Ashtanga yoga. You can only practice it, day in and day out. Just like brushing your teeth.

Yet we do it anyway. Every time we do the “action” of our asana practice, we cultivate a little more the habit of action without attachment. Unlike teeth brushing, yoga practice is done with intention and consciousness. As a result, this detachment becomes a practice, one that can trickle down into how we perform the actions of our lives off the mat.

In a way, it’s a little like teeth brushing for the soul.

Want to learn more about the ancient practice of Ashtanga Yoga? It’s Yoga Nica offer Ashtanga yoga teacher trainings on the beautiful Pacific Coast in Nicaragua. Next yoga teacher training in April, 2016. 

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