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My practice, your practice, our practices: The individuality of Ashtanga

May 23, 2012
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Of Ashtanga’s many great strengths as an asana practice, its contradictory-seeming individuality always strikes me as one of its most fundamental.

My practice is my practice. Your practice is your practice. Perhaps once a week, during a Led Primary, our practices will come close together. But always, they are their own.

Via swathmore.edu

The contradiction, of course, is that the practice sequence is the same. But it remains different for each practitioner.

The individuality, it seems to me, is also true among the best Ashtanga teachers. Those who attended the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence saw this first hand. There was a solid level of agreement among the five teachers, but maybe 5% to 10% where they had reasonable variations.

We’ve talked in the past about some of the reasons why this might be true.

I was struck by this again when reading one of David Swenson’s “Thoughts” at his webpage (I’m always hoping there are new ones). This one is about shoulder pain, which I’m experiencing a little this week.

Here’s part of his answer:

Pain is a warning sign from the body and should be listened to. Without seeing your practice directly I am unable to give specific advice. Shoulder soreness can come from a variety of things. Chataranga Danadasana and the transition from there to Upward Facing Dog is a likely place as well as Downward Dog. … The main thing is to find out what position is aggravating the shoulders and change it. You may also need to give the shoulders a rest and soften your practice until you figure out how to approach it without straining that area. Again I cannot know specifically what the cause may be without seeing you in person so I hope that this general information is of some use.

What struck me was not only David’s smart disclaimer about not being able to answer for certain, but also how he suggests slight tweaks or “answers” to the potential problem.

If the person asking the question followed David’s advice and figured out where the pain or soreness was happening and then responded to that, an individual practice would be the result. Perhaps Chataranga would be slow or somehow measured. Maybe Downward Dog would be light on the arms and heavy on the feet.

But it would still be Ashtanga.

This flexibility, this individuality, is what resonates with me in the practice. And to round out the contradictions in this post, I’ve found the opposite is true of most vinyasa classes: Yes, the poses are different, but the implementation — the how to do the asanas — seems to be more universal. At least in my experience.

Posted by Steve

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