Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ashtanga yoga and the classic method how it's taught

"I'm so afraid that I'm not able to do all these asanas." This told me the woman who had placed her mat next to me during the Ashtanga workshop the last weekend. Almost the same song I heard from the yogini on my right side.

Ashtanga yoga has the reputation: It's difficult. Hardcore yoga. Beginners fear to make themselves ridiculous when going to a class.

Ashtanga yoga is a method.
How to learn it is also a method. But unfortunately most people don't learn it regarding the classic method, but via led classes.

The classic method how people were taught and how I've seen it in India in THE shala:
An aspirant was shown the surya namaskaras and the first poses. He was taught only so many poses he /she was able to handle somehow. The next day he/she practiced again those poses. Saraswathi gave adjustments (hands on adjustments), minimum for the pose which was the last one, because this was the one the yogi/yogini struggled the most. If the asanas were understood and could be practiced the next pose or poses were shown. The student needn't be able to perform a pose perfectly but he/she had to know how it goes. Students advanced rather fast. They were not stopped for an eternity at a pose.
Every week was a led class offered and students were supposed to come. Those who weren't taught all the asanas of a series, stopped practicing at their last given asana. Then they waited till the closing sequence, which they practiced then again with all the others.

How most people learn Asthanga in the western world:
Today people learn Ashtanga yoga often via a led class. When they are lucky they get one or two adjustments. There are other yogis in the class, too who want attention and correction. Many poses are never shown correctly. Poses are done not correctly often for years.
I give you an example: In marichyasana A I placed my foot of the bended leg  very close to my stretched leg. After years I was told that the outer side of my foot is in line with the body. Slowly I started understanding the pose. It prepares even for "leg behind the head pose" (eka pada sirsasana), it opens the hips.

Teacher know the diffuculties to guide 30 people through a led class and half of them are bloody beginners. Often only half of the first series is offered (till navasana). Never more. Or the teacher makes breaks, which interrupts the flow, but which is surely necessary.

This all said I try to find a last sentence:  Ashtanga is better than its reputation.
If learned correctly it's still demanding, but it's no more frightening.
If learned correctly (from an experienced teacher) mistakes are avoided and with this injuries in the long run.

Adjustments in Ashtanga yoga are mainly hands-on adjustments. It's ideal learning for mainly kinestetic people (like me). It can be supporting to watch videos for the more visual ones. There are also teacher who love to talk, they are for the more audible people. :)

Time to step on my mat.
Self-study is important and part of the learning. Show responsibility for your own practice........


PS: The first series I learned in led classes and via books (after navasana). To be precise, it was the book by David Swenson.
Since  some time I'm so lucky to learn the series according to the classic method, one asana after the other in a Mysore class. Each new pose is shown to me, I get hands on adjustments. Ah, I'm such a child of fortune.

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Flo said...

I really like the traditional/Classical way: "If the asanas were understood and could be practiced the next pose or poses were shown. The student needn't be able to perform a pose perfectly but he/she had to know how it goes."
That makes sense to me. :) But, I know everyone is different. I know the principles of marichyasana d. I can almost bind on my own, but I have a good bit to move out of the way (belly fat) and core strength I am working on in order to hold myself in the right position. I know I will get there.

I enjoyed your post. Enjoy your day.

Ursula said...

Hi Flo....:),
Marichyasana D is challenging, but doable. Yes, body fat makes it more difficult, but not impossible.

Have fun. If everything were easy, we wouldn't be interested in it.