That Ashtanga requires a certain degree of bravery probably is no major revelation to any of you.
But it can be nice to be reminded every now and then of how non-Ashtangis view the practice, just to keep things in perspective. (One version of this came from Bobbie’s great physical therapist, who described what she did as making her an “amateur athlete.”)
Toronto’s newspaper, the Globe and Mail — one of Canada’s biggest — published an article on Sunday that provides a great “outsider” view of the practice. While it isn’t too in depth (it’s just one column), it strikes me as avoiding the superficial and attempting to portray what the writer discovered when she went to the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto. Yes, David Robson’s shala. A little taste:
After I slowly slide open the door to the small studio, two things are immediately apparent. One, there’s no new-agey music. There is, however, a lot of deep breathing. And two, it’s more than a little sweaty in here. The temperature – which typically hovers around 30 – is largely self-generated.
Unlike most group classes, Mr. Robson and his team of instructors know most of the 120 students who come through each morning – as well as their injuries – and spend as much time as necessary guiding newbies through their poses. I’ve never had this much individual instruction in a group setting before. It’s almost like having my own guru.
Mr. Robson starts me off with sun salutations. I do five repetitions of salutation A, followed by five repetitions of salutation B. After talking me through each pose, he encourages me to attempt them from memory – a central component of Mysore. (This enhances the meditative effect of the practice, he says, because if your mind starts wandering elsewhere – say, to the shirtless Beckham-type in front of you – you’ll quickly come to a halt.) We move on to three sitting poses before it’s time for shavasana.
Robson — who I have heard great things about, although I’ve never met him — comes across as very much in the lineage I suspect we all will recognize. A few highlights from what he says:
“I quickly realized that if I wanted to teach Ashtanga right, it had to be Mysore-style,” says Mr. Robson, who became enamoured with the method a decade ago after travelling to the Indian city of the same name. He admits it can be intimidating to walk into the studio for the first time during its drop-in hours – “You’ve got to be a certain level of brave to come here,” he says – but maintains that the level of one-on-one instruction makes it ideal for beginners.
“It’s at your own pace, you don’t have to keep up with anybody,” says Mr. Robson. “If you need to stay longer on a certain pose, you need to stay longer.” Case in point: he was once stuck on the “reclined upward foot diamond pose,” which involves rolling your body upward whilst holding your foot with the opposite hand – for more than two years.
Would I try Mysore on a more frequent basis? I’m intrigued, but can’t imagine committing to six days a week. “That’s the ideal, but anything is better than nothing,” says Mr. Robson. “It’s just whether or not you want to change that much.”
I think we all know what he’s talking about when he says “change that much,” right? Those early bedtimes and ridiculous wake-ups. The restricted diet. The Saturday oil baths. Not to mention the real changes going on inside.
All in all, a solid portrait of one of the West’s major Ashtanga studios — and there aren’t many of those.
Posted by Steve