Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ashtanga yoga and how it's taught in India

For Paz:

Ashtanga yoga is also special how it is taught:

1. I refer in this post to what I've seen in India in the shala in Gokulam.
Usually students practice according the Mysore style. This means that a yogini knows the series and she is practicing re her own rhythm.
If someone is totally new, the poses are shown, but only as many as she can remember and as she is possible to perform. The closing sequence might first exist of doing the last poses only (padmasana) and relaxation pose. In the first class it can be that someone is shown the sun salutations and the first pose. After 2 days the next pose might be shown. "Shown" might be already the wrong word because the student is helped physically into the pose. But more about this later.
The huge advantage of this method to learn asana after asana is that every student got help in every pose.

Most people outside of India learn primary in a led class. The teacher cannot take care of everybody and it can be that some poses have never been shown individually. The result: I see yoginis in classes who don't know how virabadhrasana or other poses have to be performed even though they practice Ashtanga yoga for 5 or more years.

In India they offer a led class once a week, too. The yoginis practice till the pose they were shown in a Mysore class, then they stop and go to the back of the room and watch the others. They continue the practice when the closing sequence starts.  In India it's warm so the body doesn't get stiff so fast.

The huge advantage of this method is, that every pose is shown and the practice is built up slowly. That way the student has not the feeling that she is overwhelmed and that Ashtanga yoga is too difficult.

In classes I see sometimes yoginis with cheat sheets. They cannot remember the order of the asanas even though they practice second series already. Why? They attended only led classes or they progressed too fast. If they were taught Ashtanga yoga the traditional way they knew the next pose.

2. Another important speciality of how Ashtanga yoga is taught is the hands-on adjustments. Not so many words and explanations are exchanged. The student gets adjusted with the hands. For kinesthetic people this is ideal. For more auditive people it might be more difficult to understand what to do. So it is for people whose preferred sense is the eyes. They need to see something in order to understand. I've observed yoginis who have issues with hands-on adjustments. Then it might be that they feel better when performing another style of yoga.
In my view teacher should know this. I've been in classes where the teacher has given long explanations. Some praise the student. I was told already: Oh, this was great how you did it. Wonderful....and so on. Discussions start. This is not Ashtanga yoga. The teacher shall not interrupt the flow. As less words as possible.....this is it. We focus on the breath and the flow in Ashtanga yoga.

In order to demonstrate that the hands-on adjustments make a difference, I'd like to compare some styles:
Bikram: It's for auditive people. One has to listen to the teacher, who pushes the people through a series of asanas. No hands on adjustments, but verbal motivation.
Anasura yoga: It's for visual people. The teacher shows what to do, the yoginis have to copy it. Then again. The teacher shows the next pose, and the yoginis might admire it, then they can copy it.
Jivamukti yoga: All the senses are bombarded. Music is on. One gets hands on adjustments and explanations. Often even a neck massage is given with a lotion that smells well and flatters the nose. I've seen teacher who showed the poses. One is always led verbally through a class. This is nowadays too much for me, to be honest. Where is the focus, I wonder?

Ashtanga yoga is taught in a way that allows the yogini to practice alone. This is one of the huge advantages.

What to do if no shala is in sight that offers Mysore classes?
I'd build up the series slowly. One asana, then the next. A criteria if one shall move on to the next one can be if one can remember the order of the asanas. Perfection doesn't exist, but an asana shall not be considered so difficult that one likes to omit it.
Instead of hands-on adjustments one can watch videos or read in books if one studies alone. This might be a compromise, but why not. I try to understand the poses via all my senses: I read about poses, I watch videos. In class I prefer hands-on adjustments, comme il faut.

3. In Gokulam props are not seen, neither straps, nor blocks. It's a no no in Ashtanga yoga. I do use props, but I want to get rid of them as fast as possible.

The teaching concept is in my view not for the sake of it. It makes sense. If one practices alone it can be good advice to practice as close to the ideal as possible.


Unknown said...

I know in my heart how much I appreciate the time and the love you devoted to my wellness and joy as an ashtanga beginner, writing this post.
Thank you, dear.

Ursula said...

My pleasure!

How something is taught influences if one likes something or not.