Friday, October 14, 2016

How to teach Ashtanga yoga for the masses



Prem Carlisi, one of the very first students of Patthabi Jois was interviewed. It clears up a lot of things that are happening these days in the Ashtanga yoga community.
(To get to the interview, click on Prem Carlisi.)

For some time my theory is that this rigidness in the so-called 'traditional' Ashtanga yoga classes is caused, because more and more people want to practice this style of yoga. Individual teaching is no more possible. The interview assured this.

How to teach the masses is the question? 

1. It was new to me that the led classes were such an attempt to teach more and more people at the same time.

2. I knew from the book Guruji that a bit more than a decade ago the Ashtanga yoga students remained in a pose for 8 breaths. I learned from the interview that a pose was even held for 10 breaths.
I thought the number of breaths has changed because the practices were too long for the busy students with jobs and family. But of course the faster the students are through a series the faster new students can be whipped through a series. The reasons to breathe only 5 times are not caused for didactic reasons, but for economic reasons.
At my age (57) it is necessary to stay longer in a pose than only a few seconds (5 breaths) if I want to learn a pose, if I want to relax when in a pose. It takes more time than only 5 breaths till an asana shows an effect. To get into the pose for 5 breaths and to get out of the pose has almost zero effect. You have done it, that's it. Quick, quick, next students are waiting already............At home I work on holding the challenging poses longer.

3. If everybody has to do the same, it's easy to control it.
Who can remember hundreds of students and what individual exercises were given the last time?

4. Another issue are the teacher: The masses need teacher. Too many people pilgrimaged to India who have never tried an Ashtanga yoga class before. So Sharath decided that only those students are accepted in India in Gokulam if they can prove that they practiced 3 months with an authorized teacher. This is a bottleneck. Are there enough authorized Ashtanga yoga teacher around the globe? Yet I think this action was necessary. It helps to get the more series students to India and to reserve a place for them.
Years ago we already discussed the issue that too many students want to go to Mysore. A friend had the idea that only those who want to become a yoga teacher should be accepted. I didn't agree with this suggestion. I never wanted to become a yoga teacher, but I never want to miss the time that I spent in Gokulam with Saraswathi. I consider myself as a series student of Ashtanga yoga.
I see it coming already. One day only Ashtanga yoga teacher are welcomed in the shala in Gokulam.

I loved to read how Prem is handling newcomers. First they have to watch one day and then they have to enroll for one month.
How are newcomers managed outside India? Newcomers know nothing. This is OK. The teacher usually have to focus 80% of the time to those people who drop in often only once. In the meanwhile an assistant is adjusting the advanced yoginis. Why has nobody the idea that assistants shall teach the newcomers and those students who practice less than one year while the more advanced teacher can dedicate the precious time to the more advanced yoginis?
There remains a lot to reflect.

If one wants to become an authorized yoga teacher (from India authorized, I don't talk about these 200-hours yoga teacher trainings), it's good to be male, one must be able to perform the asanas of the second series, and one must travel to India every year to see Sharath.
To point A: There are only 17 authorized yoginis 2016 even though the female practitioners make 80% to my estimate. In India I saw more yogis than in the Ashtanga yoga classes in the Western world yet also in Gokulam the men are in the minority, but make more than 90% of the authorized teacher. Why?
To point B: If you are young and flexible and strong, it's very likely to get authorized. But my experience is that those who have difficulties to perform asanas are more likely to understand the poses than those who are flexible by nature. Those stiff and weak aspirants might even be the better teacher therefore. Karandavasana might be the pose why more men get authorized than women. It requires a lot of strength in the arms to perform this pose. Men are usually stronger than women.
To point C: Sharath wants to know the teacher and I understand this. He wants to keep up the lineage. Yet the conditions have changed a lot. Ashtanga yoga today is no more the Ashtanga yoga a decade ago. To keep the Ashtanga yoga community together is indeed a very challenging job.

5. I've never heard that anybody learned anything about didactic (how to learn an asana) in the Ashtanga yoga community before getting authorized. During the years everybody got adjustments, surely. But that's it. It would be too time-consuming to teach the proper adjustment in addition. This has consequences.

I want to give an example. I practiced also with the Sivananda community more than a decade ago. I was taught the headstand in one session.

Those who have seen the movie 'The breathing Gods' have also seen how B.K.S. Iyengar taught an absolute newcomer to yoga headstand in only one session.

In the Ashtanga yoga community, it can take years to learn this pose. If the student is lucky he finds an online video. In classes I see 80% of the yoginis with wrong arm position when they are performing this pose. Because of this some (the women) are not able to hold the pose and the other group (the men) can hold the pose because they use strength. Only few have the right alignment. The wrong alignment can always cause injuries especially if exercised daily.
In the meantime a lot of very good practitioners share their knowledge online. This compensates a lot. A big thank you to all the yoginis who share their videos online for the world community for free even.

Often P. Jois is quoted. Once he must have said that everybody can do yoga, only the lazy ones cannot do yoga. This might be true. But if you follow the rigid Ashtanga yoga program of today it's likely that you get injured or that you are stopped at a very early asana. Only primary is not a balanced practice. It's focused on forward bending. And to do Urdhva dhanurasana, this intensive back bending asana after more than an hour of  forward bending asanas is awful.

Home practices will be part of my yoga journey. It allows me to adjust the practice to my needs. I admit I have to work on my discipline. This is the very first challenge, Every single day.


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