Calling the Ashtanga police!

Recently friend of The Confluence Countdown and fellow Ashtangi, Suzy, posted an interview David Swenson did on a local television show in Canada. In the interview, David is answering the usual questions of the “How did you first get interested in yoga?” variety: “How long have you been striking poses?” etc. Things are going swimmingly. “The beauty of yoga,” David is saying, “is that all people of all walks of life can do it.” Then he realizes this video of a demo in Italy is playing for the viewing audience:

“It’s dynamic and people like to see those sorts of tricks…oh, o.k., like that,” he says, as he does his floaty transition from kurmasana to titibasana to handstanding, “Sometimes people get freaked out by seeing that.”

I was thinking about this interview (posted on our Facebook page, so “like” us if you’d like to see it) in relation to Steve’s last post. Any Ashtangi who has watched a David Swenson demonstration knows that it’s not exactly the practice most narrowly defined. There’s a lot of showmanship involved. And tinkering, here and there, with the conventions of the sequence. Sometimes there’s more than just tinkering.

So where are the Ashtanga police? Where, as Steve wonders, is the line? Here’s my two cents.

Although I haven’t been teaching yoga for very long, I have been teaching writing for a long time. Usually, when people I don’t know find out that I teach writing, the first thing they talk to me about is grammar, something like, “Oh, I better watch what I say.” The next most popular response is a story about their horrible high school English teacher. Again, usually involving grammar.

Now, here’s the thing. Writing is not about the rules of grammar. It’s about getting your point across to your reader. If you have to break the rules of grammar to do that, you’re still writing. And you’re doing it well.

But if you’re being effective, that usually means you have a good sense of how to bend the rules, something that comes from experience. Lots of it. Lots of writing practice. Practice, practice, practice. Is this beginning to sound familiar?

So when the Senior Western Students adapt, add, or change the practice, I can see why. I understand the point of it, organically, and it doesn’t seem wrong, unless I apply a dogmatic point of view.

Can I do it? No. I don’t have the chops. David can. He smiles and seems embarrassed by his own abilities, and quickly explains to a stunned local TV personality, Ashtanga is “focused on the breath and the movement…even the most basic movements you focus on your breath…it unites an internal and external aspect of our world.” It brings calmness in even the most “dramatic situations.” Which seems to be what David is really demonstrating in those show-stoppers that make their way around YouTube: through it all, he’s calm, humble, and focused. Move along, Ashtanga police.

Posted by Bobbie



Published by


Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s