Sunday, January 24, 2016

Is Modern Ashtanga yoga rigid?


Ashtanga yoga how it was and is taught is influenced by the students and the financial situation of the masters.

Krichnamacharya the father of Yoga was very strict. B.K.S. Iyengar said in an interview, that many students (boys) run away from him as he hit them very hard. Iyengar himself, a relative of Krichnamachary had to do a split pose once on stage. He had never done this before. This injured him. Krichnamacharya was paid by the palace. There was no need to please the students.
Yet later, when this stopped and when he had to look for his own clients his teaching changed. His son wrote in great detail about this. The teaching became very individual, but also more friendly. Nobody would have paid him if he hit the students. The students were not only mainly boys anymore, but also people who saw yoga as a method to heal illnesses.

P. Jois, a student and also a relative of Krichnamacharya wanted to spread the art of Ashtanga yoga as a teacher. Over decades he had a handful of students. The first shala was very small. He knew all his students. His teaching was individual. One of his female students asked him how she should teach. He told her to teach how he taught her. One day she practiced primary, the other day second series. Others practiced primary and then second series till the last pose that they were able to perform. Only when half of second series was completed the series were split.
How the students practiced was not written in stone. Primary and second series were taught within a short period of time. P.Jois wanted to teach as much as possible. Within a year the students practiced 2 series. When watching the old movies one can see that the students were scarcely able to do the poses, yet they could move on.

In the meantime Ashtanga yoga became a world movement. The best of the best joined the cult. Many are young. In order to organize this and to give guidelines the rules became very strict. Sharath said in a conference that Ashtanga yoga gets diluted. I understand what he means. Too many teachers have their own ideas. Some change the series, others add props as they come from the Iyengar-style of yoga. Others again add music like the Jivamukti-teachers do. I have experienced this all. This indeed spoils Ashtanga yoga. To act against this is more than understandable.
Sharath wants to keep the series and the teaching as original as possible. This is why he is strict. The teacher who are authorized shall follow these rules.

Yet I don't fit anymore to the mainstream. The reason is my age. I'm 56 years old and I practice Ashtanga yoga since 12 years. With age the body changes. I think that I can still learn most asanas of the series, but I won't learn it re what is called the tradition (yet it is very modern). When I struggle with kapotasana this pose must come earlier and not after having practiced full primary. I must repeat the difficult asanas. I won't learn the asanas if I do them for 5 breaths.
I'm injured now. Right now I sit here with back pain. It's hard to start my practice, but I'll do it. I must omit asanas that hurt. That this is not possible in classic Ashtanga yoga Mysore classes is not understandable. Is Ashtanga  yoga not also about flexibility?
The rigidness of modern teaching injured me. A softer practice shall heal me.

To stop people when they are not able to do an asanas creates a focus on the asanas. But the asanas are just a tool. Ashtanga yoga is also about breathing, concentration, the discipline to practice daily. This is not considered. Studentes are judged only by the form of the asana.
My practice (performance of the asanas) was much better 4 years ago than it is now. What do I learn from this? I draw already one consequence: I do home practices. This allows me to listen to my body and to adjust the practice. I hope to find a place where I can practice perhaps twice a week. I need a place where I can listen to my body, rules come later.

Yesterday I took a lot of clothes to the tailor. They all needed to get altered. The clothes that I buy never fit. Most of the time the sleeves must get shortened. The off-the-shelf clothes don't fit. The clothes must get adjusted.
It's the same when I go to a restaurant. I ask the waiter if it's possible to leave out the cheese when I order a salad, just to give an example.
Of-the-shelf Ashtanga yoga doesn't fit to me neither. The masses have discovered Ashtanga yoga. The average yogini is the target group. Too many students discovered this beautiful style. There is no room for individuality anymore. I regret this.

Discussions are welcome.



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