Thursday, May 12, 2016

"You stop here."

"You stop here."

50% of the teaching in Ashtanga yoga is covered with this sentence.

A new student joins a Mysore class. It's obvious not a very beginner if he/she starts his/her practise. I'm curious and from time to time I have a look. A fracture of a second is often enough to see if someone has understood the poses. The teacher is curious, too. Sooner or later more difficult poses come in the series, like the twist. And then I hear: "You stop here."  It follows the other 50% of the teaching, but later more about this.

Being stopped creates energy. Who wants to be stopped? It comes with the message, you are not able to do this pose. It's most of the time not experienced as a feed-back, but as a critic.

Everybody who gets the calling to teach is allowed to teach. There are no restrictions. This is also why it varies a lot when and why people are stopped. My last teacher stopped me at kapotasana. In another Mysore class I practiced third series already.

I want to emphasize that I don't blame a teacher. What I describe is how Ashtanga yoga shall be taught.

By now I've mainly described what happens. I have not yet judged this teaching method.
It has advantages and disadvantages:

The advantage:
For me it's a pointer that says that it would be good to study this 'last' pose a bit more. It can be an honest feed back.
The longer one practices Ashtanga yoga the more one shall be able to keep moving alone.  If I know the method I can teach myself and this makes me independent. To be independent can be very useful. Sometimes there is no yoga school close by. Many students have no time to attend classes, but they have time to practise at home. I only wanted to mention a few reasons why it's good to be able to practise alone.
Finally yoga is something for oneself. Practicing yoga is a very individual path. It's work on oneself.

The disadvantage:
- Students of Ashtanga yoga are stopped because the outer form of the asana is not as it is supposed to be. This is in my opinion very superficial. Our bodies are so different. An example: A student with short arms has more difficulties to bind when doing the twists than those with long arms. The student with shorter arms might be much deeper in the pose, but this is overlooked. The question is: Can he/she reach the wrist. If not the student gets stopped. (This is what I saw in classes over the last 12 years.)
The breath, the dristi are overlooked. The discipline to step daily on the mat is not a criteria either. The outer form is the criteria if a student can move on to the next pose.

- Whatever I read about goal setting, I read how important it is to set a deadline. The next important point is to have a plan.
In the Ashtanga yoga community the knowledge about goal setting is unknown. Once you are stopped you are stopped. I was always stopped for years with no end in sight.
My reaction:
Of course one has to obey a teacher, to discuss things is not part of the teaching. The teachers are authoritarian. My consequence: I practiced at home 'secretly' more poses. This was a good decision as it is so much easier to learn urdhva dhanurasana when this pose is prepared by poses of second series. As soon as it was possible I moved to another teacher.
I was stopped again 2 years ago at kapotasana. Now I'm injured. My SI joint is not working as it is supposed to be and I have back pain. I stopped for a few months and I've lost almost all poses I was able to do for a decade.
Another proved knowledge is that it makes no sense to repeat the same exercises again and again if a person is stuck. A variety of exercises supports the goal. It also makes no sense to practise the difficult asanas after 2 and a half hours. This is nonsense to practise that long. This prepares for injuries. In the meantime I sense even some aggression if people are stopped for an eternity only because the pose doesn't look perfectly.
This injury forces me to move to another path. I must listen to my body. The process becomes again more exciting. I must omit asanas and so on.
To be stopped at one pose has often the consequence that yoginis are obsessed to reach only that pose. 'What is your last pose?' is a question that is often heard in the community. It creates competition.

Some poses build on each other. Yes. But in 99% it's useful to move on after a certain time. I learned supta kurmasana (1st series) because I was allowed to practise second series. Eka pada sirsasana is easier than supta kurmasana. To take one leg behind the head is challenging enough.
Why is it not allowed to reflect on the teaching and to discuss it? It's a huge tabu. Every improvement or suggestion even if it only touches the own practise is more or less not allowed. The reason: It's against the tradition.
Yet if the tradition is not useful one must change it. The fans of tradition not only in Ashtanga yoga are often those people who fear change. They are not flexible. This contradicts in my opinion what makes a yogini. Being flexible.

The masses shall be taught. The masses need strict rules. Otherwise one fears that the Ashtanga yoga style gets diluted. I can understand this point. Nevertheless if the teaching leads to injuries one must change it.

Why are not more people injured?
80 are beginners. Only few of them practise daily. After a few years they stop.
Who likes it to talk about injuries?

The other 50% of the teaching in Ashtanga yoga are the adjustments.
Usually one gets an adjustment when doing the last allowed pose. If there is time one gets an adjustment when doing back bending. Yet this varies from teacher to teacher.

- The Ashtanga yoga teacher have no formal education in anatomy or adjustments. They learn the adjustments because they have experienced them, too. Some teacher are good. Yet I got injured once when I was adjusted in kapotasana. I couldn't lift my arms anymore and I was not amused at all.

Let's asume that the adjustments are great.
The next shortcoming in this teaching is that it is not enough to get an adjustment for 5 breaths if one wants to learn karandavasana i.e, or kapotasana.
Strength training could be necessary for instance. One must analyse why I pose is not doable and act accordingly......

The very simple teaching that consists of mainly 2 parts 'being stopped and getting adjustments at few poses' is in my opinion not enough. It's not effective and it's even dangerous. The goal of this teaching is to serve the masses, mainly beginner of yoga. The individual is nothing. Age, walk of life, body postures, everything gets neglected.
I repeat it: I got injured. I love simplicitiy, but the classic Ashtanga yoga teaching is too simple.

Led classes is the third column: 
This deserves an own post. In the meantime I avoid led classes.

A discussion is very welcomed.

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