The two types of Ashtanga

It may be there are two distinct types of Ashtanga.

It may be there are more.

After reflecting more on the post about making exceptions to Ashtanga’s rules, I’m struck, or stuck, on the possibility of there being two fairly different types of Ashtanga.

And I want to say, up front, I don’t intend to favor one over the other. I’m sure I fall into one, and I may therefore want to be sympathetic to it, but both have their pluses and minuses.

Both, I’d like to think, can fit into a fairly comfortable “Ashtanga tent.”

One I’ll call “Mysore Ashtanga.” It’s what is being taught and spread from Mysore these days, with the authorizations and the packed shala and the early morning practices.

The other I have a harder time naming. So let’s call it, “Shala Ashtanga.” It — and these descriptions are a bit broad — is what it seems from my experience many of the senior students are offering. But I don’t believe the distinction lies in an older vs. newer teacher dynamic.

I think it more lies with the students — and from them differences flow.

That will never be me. Via ashtangayoga.info

It’s also worth noting that both types of Ashtanga are taking place in shalas all over — maybe in most. (I haven’t been to most, so I don’t know.) More experienced teachers can teach both; many younger teachers can, too.

As I wrote in the previous post: “I suspect now the students who go to Mysore — and, ultimately, most of the students who “stick with” Ashtanga — fall into a physical group that more or less can do the difficult and strenuous asanas, and thus a more rigid system works. (Other students who don’t have that physical ability may end up in other asana classes or give up yoga entirely.)”

“Mysore Ashtanga,” I think, has a certain self-selecting process built in. (This Ashtanga may be the kind that keeps up the strongly held idea that Ashtanga was designed for adolescent boys.) There is a level of physical asana mastery that’s almost a prerequisite. That isn’t to say that only people who can bind in Marichy D and stand up from back bends need apply. But most of them, experience has taught me, can get those poses — and the poses in Second Series, and then maybe some of Third — after some practice. (“Practice, practice and all is coming,” right?)

“Shala Ashtanga,” on the other hand, allows for the less physically gifted to practice. There are research poses added. People — and here I’m included — are allowed to work on poses that may be beyond their reach (especially per strict “Mysore Ashtanga” rules) on the basis that those later poses in the sequence can assist with developing the physical ability to perform other poses more successfully. This Ashtanga may give some Second Series poses out because, otherwise, the students would not reach a balance or even hint of benefit from those more “advanced” poses.

“Mysore Ashtanga” is characterized by adjustments. “Shala Ashtanga” is characterized by modifications, even props — a certain personalization of the practice.

This, I think, may be an important distinction. As we found with our posts earlier this month on pain, it can sometimes be tough to agree on the meaning of some words — even some words that wouldn’t seem to demand clearer definition. For Ashtanga, “teaching” is one of these words.

It also may be the distinction that is the most divisive, which isn’t my intention.

I haven’t been to Mysore. I know plenty of people who have, and I’ve talked with people about it. I have a picture of the crowded room, with the teachers/assistants “working the room,” helping students — stories of drop backs are popular — and providing adjustments.

My sense is when people say that a lot of teaching goes on in the room, they mean a lot of adjustments. Adjustments are helpful; and adjustments allow the practice to be primary — for the practice to be the teacher.

But these adjustments — on what I’ll call a mass scale, again not meaning that to sound pejorative — are being done on bodies that, more or less, are strong and supple. I know everyone has their problem poses, their problem areas, but the bodies in Mysore, and in “Mysore Ashtanga” room, are at a base level of competency and similarity.

The people in “Mysore Ashtanga,” I guess I’m trying to say, have the physical ability to let the practice do the teaching. They benefit from some nudges along the way.

In “Shala Ashtanga,” however, the bodies aren’t at that level. Adjustments can help a student get deeper in a pose, but the students need more — more verbal cues, more teaching — to sustain themselves in those poses, or to try to get back to the poses the next practice. Adjustments alone aren’t enough.

And so modifications are added. Research poses are included. Props are used. The teacher has to offer more, where the practice fails.

I’ll try to bring this down to the personal. I would never presume to go to Mysore. Partly it’s ego: I think I once wrote that I might get stopped at Navasana, if I did. It’s more likely I’d be stopped earlier. What fun is that? What bruising of my ego is that? Who would want to be surrounded by all these “great Ashtangis” with one’s limited practice on display?

But also: what benefit would I receive? Unless something was added — to make me feel special, I guess? — I’d go in, do my shortened practice for not a very long time, and leave.

Mysore isn’t for Ashtanga practitioners like me, from everything I’ve heard. (I’m happy to hear otherwise.) And I don’t expect it to be. I’m pretty realistic. There are hundreds of students there at any given time. I wouldn’t expect an adjustment in every pose for which I could use an adjustment. A teacher may as well park him/herself in front of me, if that’s the case. And that’s not fair to the teacher or to the other students.

I suppose I have to return to the question of who is teaching each of these Ashtangas, although I’ve noted I don’t want to do so. I think it is probably true that older, more experiences teachers are leading “Shala Ashtanga” but not for any nefarious reasons. They’re just more experienced. They’ve seen many more students like me. Again, Ashtanga (like traveling to Mysore) is a bit self-selecting. And a “Mysore Ashtanga” would be more so. Believe me, I’m sure I’d be hard-pressed to stick with such a practice, with the rules. We’ve all seen new students come to an Ashtanga studio, get the basics — sun salutes, some standing poses — and then they either come back or they don’t.

That’s self-selecting. And I think it means that some teachers — newer ones — don’t cross paths with a lot of students of limited ability. (They may if they teach other types of yoga, or flow classes. There may be an argument in here that Ashtanga teachers should teach other classes in order to broaden their experience with students.)

I know I’ve stymied newer Ashtanga teachers. Or, I should say, my hamstrings have.

That may be ego rising again. Obviously, I’m partial to “Shala Ashtanga” because it allows me — perhaps encourages is a better word — to practice. Maybe there’s some level of cop-out there, but I don’t think I’ve not tried, to put it bluntly. At the same time, I don’t think “Mysore Ashtanga” should limit my experience with the practice.

But I’ll admit that there are aspects to the practice that, because of my limitations, I can’t access. I know there are times when there’s no benefit. But there’s some benefit at other times, and that’s better than none. And maybe there will be more, someday.

I promised I would try not to favor one of these types over the other. I’ll just say that “Shala Ashtanga” allows for more people to practice, to catch a glimpse of what’s possible, of what Ashtanga promises. But I suspect “Mysore Ashtanga” opens the door to those possibilities much wider.

The world isn’t a worse place having both types in it.

Posted by Steve

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theconfluencecountdown

Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

50 thoughts on “The two types of Ashtanga”

  1. I don’t write long and I’ve been away for a bit, so I don’t know where to begin with this. The most important “promise” that Ashtanga has made to me through teachers and writings is that it is for everybody. I do a fair amount of shala visiting, and being one of those people who might never see her own back by sticking her head through her crotch, I am happy to practice next to those who can and not feel like a second class citizen. I may be so very wrong about this, but I feel that this post stirs the pot in kind of that kind of who is a real ashtangi and who is the very devout and doing their very best but is still a wanna be -way. Not that there is anything wrong with stirring pots, as long as the flavor improves.

    1. You’ve been fortunate, then. I’ve not felt welcomed everywhere. You probably send off a much nicer vibe than I do.

      That said, the whole suggestion here is that these two “types” of Ashtanga I’ve encountered — I think understandably, and again not favoring one over the other — can coexist. Online, it seems like people may group into different camps a bit (around issues such as whether one can make “exceptions” to the rules — that seems to be one of those fulcrums on which people argue). All I was trying to do was remind people that there Ashtanga experience might be different from other people’s. And from my experience, it seems to boil down into one of two types, is all.

      S

    2. Good point- there is always going to be someone more flexible/stronger than you and that’s how it is. Who cares really? I mean really, who cares? The whole point is to refine the self not compete with the person next to me…some forms of yoga, ( and I mean that constructively) have turned the whole yoga thing into a circus performance.

  2. Many paths, one Truth, Steve. It’s all good; if it’s the intent of the practitioner to try to breath and just do it regularly and consistently, it’s Ashtanga. The stiff person who can’t get their head to the floor in the Prasaritas is working on the same invisible things (breath, drishti, bandhas – plus patience, awareness, kindness, perseverance…etc.) as the bendy person who can grab their thighs in a deep backbend.

    I suspect the early morning classes packed into the room in Mysore with the self-selecting mobs of bendy people you mention are just the surface of things there, Steve. And, that the “shala” Ashtanga you write about is every bit as demanding.

    The practice happens on a surface that is six inches wide and resides between your ears.

    And the ego can arise anywhere, even when you are practicing alone. We are all working on the same shit.

    It’s all relative. I’m teaching a paraplegic student recently (your “Shala” Ashtanga) seated on the floor. With props when she needs them. I’m her prop, sometimes, too. She can’t do the standing series, but she can do much of the seated Primary series. Her suryanamaskar and vinyasa are a seated series of breaths and arm/torso movements (inhale up, exhale down) linked together. I’m working on modifying a closing/inversion series for her, too, based on the Ashtanga closing sequence, adapted to bring the same benefits. She breaths and moves herself into the postures, and works on all of the above invisible things I mentioned, just like any serious practitioner – and she is amazing.

    If anyone has cause to bemoan what her body can do, it’s her…and she freely admits that she does bemoan her situation at times. But she also realizes the lessons of the practice go beyond what her body “looks” like it’s doing, and that it is healing for her to just keep doing it – like everyone who grows to love the practice. Sure, it’s not “Mysore” Ashtanga as you term it. Nevertheless, she is an Ashtanga practitioner – she is learning the Ashtanga vinyasa self practice under the methods that PJ developed, refined and passed down to us.

    Anyone can do Ashtanga yoga, just not lazy people – right?! Would PJ really care about the seeming differences between the amazing students being taught today in Mysore and what’s being taught by older teachers to us average folks, all around the world? I surmise he would have simply been thrilled – no, loved – that we were all doing the practice with such devotion. 🙂

    Which reminds me – according to Nancy Gilgoff, “Practice and all is coming” is apparently a misquote. (I blogged my notes from a recent workshop with her here – http://www.florenceyoga.com/1/post/2013/07/nancy-gilgoff-christine-hoar-2013.html)

    Pattabhi Jois actually said,

    “Do your practice, someday you teach, and all is coming.”

    1. I think we broke down that misquote from Nancy at some point, too. I’m not sure any of the quotes that go around don’t have a number of variations, including the coffee one!

      Obviously, at the root of all this is that almost all of us Ashtanga practitioners are just “wanna-bes.” Before people throw their mats and blocks at me, I mean we’re all works in progress and it is the way of human kind to judge, to group up with like-minded people for protection and comfort, etc. It’s natural that we draw battle lines (my teacher is better than yours!) and maybe think some people are doing Ashtanga correctly, or at least better.

      We get protective of things, too.

      As I said, I’m thinking of a big tent approach here. What you describe sounds a lot like how Guruji taught the very ill and people with disabilities. I suppose — to push this to some absurd level for sake of discussion — that someone who say he wasn’t teaching “Ashtanga” then.

      But no one would have the guts to say that, right?

      S

      1. “P.29
        Q:Would you say that Guruji teaches a standardized form of practice, or is his teaching tailored to the individual?
        A: Both. The initial elements of the practice are suitable for everyone, but how the practice unfolds-at what pace, how intensely, to what level—is tailored to the individual, and that’s the beauty of the Mysore style.

        Q: People think of this practice as being made up of primary, intermediate, and advanced series, and they get obsessed about it being a particular way. But what i’ve experienced in talking especially to the older students, who had a more individual relationship with Guruji because there were so many fewer in the room, is that they were being taught different sequences depending on their needs.
        A:My personal experience was the first option of the two that you described. Primary followed by intermediate and then advanced series. However, I am aware of variations in Guruji’s approach over the years. These earlier students you mentioned shared the room. Guruji’s experience teaching the practice has evolved with his understanding of the students and perhaps his need to accommodate the ever growing numbers. I’ve seen Guruji working individually with people with illness or physical structural limitations in a very persona, healing way. He modifies the practice so it will work as a therapeutic tool for each situation. He fits the practice to the student. There have certainly been variations on the theme of standard practice both Mysore-style and conducted classes and many different approaches over the years to the vinyasa, from simple to elaborate. There has certainly been a noticeable change in method and type of student from Lashmipuram to Gokulam in recent years. I think it’s best not to be obsessed with anything. Particularly believing that you have it right. Everything changes with time.” ~ Dena Kingsberg from the book Guruji

  3. Ashtanga is for everybody. Anybody can do it. Even person on wheel chair. Breath. Drishty. Bhandas. This is Ashtanga. It’s not about how many asanas we can do. This is how I wa taught by My teachers Manju Joise and Nancy Gilgoff. I know a lot of people who go to Mysore for the Atmosphere … If you go there, you know what to expect. In my opinion, you don’t go there to learn new asanas, you go there to learn about yourself… It’s important to have a teacher. My teachers let me fly. We all have our own stories and I believe that anytime we need to respect and love our bodies. The perfect asana does not exist. The perfection comes within us…

  4. This last weekend I took 3 classes with Chuck Miller at Ashtanga Yoga Victoria. The premise of the class was “We are all beginners.” Chuck was emphasizing that we shouldn’t loose the beginners mind, come back to alignment, come back to samastitihi in every pose we do. Not physically back to sama (stitihi) but mentally for balance and alignment purposes. There were many advanced students in the course and he brought everyone back to the beginning, to 0, to the breath and where every part of your body is at every stage of the asana. He talked a lot about plowing through the whole practice, reaching for the end of the pose instead of being centered in the begining of each asana and not striving for the end because there is no end. It was interesting watching the more advanced practitioners bend their kneed where they usually have them straight, having their heads off the mat where they usually have them flat on the ground and everyone really focusing hard on their allignment and where their breath is. I noticed that while I pull myself into a lot of asanas trying to do them when I really focused on proper alignment and being conscious I might not get as far into a posture but I was getting more out of the posture. The theme of taking it back to 0, being a beginner was that by focusing on doing it properly and taking a step back to 0 was after a period of time you would automatically use proper allignment and breath and your practice would naturally deepen in a healthy way without injury. He talked a lot about pain and injury and didn’t feel that it needed to be painful or create injuaries and that was missing in the Ashtanga practice. He said a lot and it was very eye opening. He also said that using ahimsa and being loving, kind, compassionate to your body your body would begin to trust you and open up. To do this though he emphasized proper alignment and awareness, sama, carry samastitihi through the whole practice. I remember reading how everything is contained within suryanamaskar and I think that is what Chuck was getting at as we worked on A and B alot in this course and when you do that with good alignment it after a period of time it will flow into the rest of the practice.

    1. I guess what i’m trying to say is in either case what it really comes down to is who is teaching you? Is your practice evolving in a healthy way through the practice of ahimsa? I haven’t been to more than 2 shalas so my experience is one being taught by certified teachers.

  5. I think the whole problem with this discussion is that the “Mysore Ashtanga” mindset has taken over so much. It’s widely believed that if you can’t practice asana xy, you are either

    a) getting no benefit
    b) are not trying hard enough and therefore are to weak for Ashtanga yoga
    c) shoudl be stopped there for years even if that means you’ll never progess past this asana.

    I’d say option b) is probavly the most practiced and most annoying. While Ashtanga certainly challenges the ego on many levels, it also tends to build a certain kind of ego in special people that soon developed the typical “Mysore Ashtanga” arrogance. And I absolutely can’t stand that.

    So I’m just lucky that I may have a “Mysore Ashtanga” body, but also a “Shala Ashtanga” teacher that keeps me from becoming one of those crazy, “Its tradition”, “try harder”, “That’s not Ashtanga” and “Weak!” ashtangis!

    Props to good teachers!

    1. I’ve encountered similar, certainly. I think there is a pretty wide realization that Ashtanga can bring out the worst as well as the best in us.

      This is something, to continue arguing my point for whatever reason, that happens somewhere, sometimes, with some people. I might have been overly sensitive to some of it this weekend, for whatever reason.

      And, yes, props to good teachers!

      S

  6. hmmm. oddly this post didn’t particular touch any of my considerable quantity of nerves… I think it has some real truth and yet when I did a quick inventory I found that with the exception of one teacher out of the five I have spent serious time with, ALL have been more than willing, nay HAPPY to add in blocks n blankets n bolsters etc when needed. Only one was rigid in the way you describe and he indeed was into the Mysore party line and unable to use his own judgement in teaching. So generally, I think the teachers out there are fabulous. Oh and even though we’ve got plenty of Gumbies in class we also have a woman with only one leg and a partial foot doing Second. Anywho, I liked this post! Felt really honest. You’d be welcome in the shala I go to Steve, any ole time.

  7. why do you have to be one or the other? i am comfortable doing it all. i creep the mysore way into shala classes-if the class is small & i’ve been working with them, i challenge them to do it by memory. this is great because they can take the practice to their living rooms. they can remember at least the standing sequence.

    mysore class is generally to get adjusted. good ones have several teachers busy working the room. the big problem in mysore when i went in the early 2000s was that there were far too many students to get taken care of. you paid your money for the honor of practicing in the gokalum shala.

    it was so crowded that i was given a couple postures & than yelled at the next day because they did not remember doing so & i tried to tell them they told me yesterday……but they did not remember. it was a crappy experience & the next several years i spent my months in kovalam instead-where lino miele had enough amazing teachers to help run the room.

    its all astanga. it’s not important to define what kind of astanga it is. it’s ALL good and beneficial. the practice is SO strong even in small doses, it goes a long way for the average human.

    1. I suppose I feel like my point is being lost — the risk of being in virtual conversations. I agree we should be seeking a wide tent for what Ashtanga “is,” but it is difficult not to encounter smaller definitions. I am just trying to state them so we all can see them as plainly as possible and then agree, “Yes, it’s all good. Back to practice.”

      Just trying to define it in order to suggest a way of collective understanding, so we can move forward.

      S

  8. this is copied verbatim from David Garrigues facebook wall:

    Many people have been misinformed about who can do this practice. Nearly anyone, regardless of their circumstances, can learn Ashtanga safely with care and intelligence. And if you are already practicing you can develop a practice that will nourish and support you for life.
    Sri K Pattabhi Jois believed the Ashtanga practice could serve anyone and everyone. He exuded a love and passion for the method. Through his teachings he ignited the spiritual growth of all kinds of people from all different stages of life. These people did not fit into a single category. If you came to him the only circumstance that mattered was your willingness to learn. He would individualize and adapt his teaching to suit your particular circumstances. Ashtanga Yoga is a treasure, a potent path that leads to Self knowledge. As interest in Yoga increases and more people take up practice, it is essential to interpret and adapt the method to include a wider audience so that more people can join in and be part of this beautiful practice.

  9. I just happened to see a Jois Yoga Facebook event: August Intro to Ashtanga —

    $99 – Includes: Unlimited Yoga Classes during the course and for one month following, plus our book “Introduction to the Fundamentals of Ashtanga Yoga”

    Enrollment is limited, pre-registration highly recommended

    This 4 week course is appropriate for students new to Jois Ashtanga Yoga Shala. You will be guided through a sequence of yoga postures, learning the fundamental aspects of Ashtanga Yoga. The format of the class remains the same each time, repeating what you did in the previous lesson and slowly adding new postures with each class. This is a technique that requires a minimum commitment of two days per week. For students new to Jois, the course fee includes unlimited access to all other classes for the duration of the course.

    S

  10. I sometimes feel that I’m “not doing it right” because I’ve been given a few postures in 2nd, even though there are gateway postures in first which I cannot do the full expression of. This is because I also lift weights, and with a certain amount of muscle, somethings become either impossible or dangerous for the body. Am I less traditional? I don’t know. I’ve sort of stopped caring about Mari D. If you can do Mari D and bind in Supta, but you’re mind is focused on what’s for dinner, is that a more advanced practice than someone who stays with the gaze and the breath and works at their limit with a sense of shamatha? It’s something I’ve been asking myself. When I decided I didn’t care about getting asana and I would focus on flow, my practice changed dramatically, though it prob looks like it might have gotten weaker on the outside. Yet this was the time I was given 2nd. I think that with shala style Ashtanga you are working with one teacher over a long period of time, and that allows the practice to grow in a very different way than getting yelled at in Mysore because they can’t even remember they gave you the posture (thats some major bullshit, sorry, but it is)

    1. All good points. While I’ve noted in an above comment that I’ve felt less than welcome in some studios, I’ve also had a lot of positive feedback (whatever that means, right!!) about the good energy of practicing near me, how focused I am, etc. So in those senses, yes — I think we all agree that’s what matters.

      But, then again, our baser natures take over and we fixate on asanas, alone.

      I’ll admit though that I am getting hungry for dinner now. 🙂

      S

  11. Thinking about this a little more maybe it has something to do with signing a commercial lease and needing bodies to pay the bills? It seems that Guruji had different pressures than someone putting everything on the line to start a business. Maybe a lot of these changes have more to do with economics than keeping true to the practice?

    1. Ah, the business of yoga. I love and hate this topic, even as I love and hate myself.

      I’m trying to determine which side you’re coming down on here, as I can see either of these “types” of Ashtanga being the more “commercial.” The “Mysore” style might allow for more students, if it is something that mirrors the busy shala in Mysore. But the “Shala” style, as I’m describing it, is perhaps more open to more students, not just the ones who can bind in Marichy D.

      I believe the story goes that Guruji advocated for “slow growing” of a studio being good. He also understood the value of external prana, aka money. 🙂

      S

      1. I’m not coming down on any side but i’m a purest in music and yoga. That being said when you take the risk to get out there and open your own business you have to conform/compete to survive. I guess if teachers opened a shala out of their own home and had a day job like Guruji did they wouldn’t have the financial pressures to conform or compete in the market place. I don’t think that Guruji was in direct competition with shalas down the street. It would be interesting to hear more about this from long time practitioners and shala owners. What really opened my eyes to all of this is when Jois Yoga opened up near Tim Miller. I have never been to either place and I don’t know any of these people but it still sent a shock wave up my spine. I’m often happy practicing at home to the videos of Guruji calling out the series. The mixing of money and spirituality is an interesting subject.

      2. OK, I am confused here – in your post, are you comparing Mysore style (i.e. “self” practice Ashtanga) with Led Class (“Shala”) style??

        Because I thought you were making a distinction between the practice as it is taught today in Mysore, India (i.e. your “Mysore” style) and how it’s taught by the “older” teachers throughout the world. (i.e. your “Shala” style).

        There seems to be some confusion in the comments otherwise. Mysore style Ashtanga yoga as taught by my Western teachers is…..Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga. When they teach a Led class, they teach a Led class.

        Sharath does nothing different, really. He teachers Mysore style, self-led Ashtanga during the week, and Led Classes on Fridays, right?

        But, if this post arose because you’ve been dissed in a studio for not being bendy “enough” – well, like I said above, the practice happens in a six inch wide place that resides between your ears. Choose to not be offended, and chalk it up to experience (as in, “this teacher needs more experience” – because I do think that arrogance or condescension in a teacher ultimately comes from fear of being judged themselves, fear of not measuring up in the eyes of the students, and you do see this sometimes in newer, younger teachers.)

      3. I’ve run a studio that started out with mostly Led Ashtanga classes. It’s now mostly Mysore classes. It’s a stronger studio now, in many ways – I do get more “external prana” than I did when I first opened in 2009, but also, I know my students on a much more personal level than I did when I was teaching mostly Led classes. The practitioners are more consistent and dedicated. We enjoy each other and share an experience together each day.

        It’s become a community.

        Would it be more lucrative to blast music and teach hour-long or 90 minute “yoga” classes, with motivational shout outs that massage student’s egos, with an intent to create a bunch of homogeneous hardbodies? Probably, but I wouldn’t know my students as well, I wouldn’t have the same variety and mix of wonderful, different people practicing with me, either. At the risk of sounding sappy, teaching is about making connections and helping people – loving all my students, non-bendy and bendy alike. 🙂

  12. ” He would individualize and adapt his teaching to suit your particular circumstances.”

    Excellent post. Like this comment by Michael above, which is consistent with something Tim Miller said in a recent workshop. He said that he adapts poses to students, not students to poses. Tim is, I think, the foremost proponent of the more relaxed approach to ashtanga, the “shala” ashtanga. While he teaches the correct pose, he tells students to do their best. If they need props, they get props. He said he has students who have been getting the same adjustments for 20 years. It’s all ashtanga, and people who are old, injured, and less physically gifted can practice. After all, it is called “practice”, isn’t it, not “perfection”?

  13. Also, Tim is a proponent of students moving on to second even if they are not fully proficient in dropping/standing up. He believes that many of the 2d series poses can help students develop their 1st series poses–like, for instance, backbends. He commented that the rule in Mysore about dropping back & standing up is a way of weeding out students, a necessity when there are 300 people in the room. Specifically, he used the phrase “getting rid of people.”

  14. I have been practicing half primary for three years and am fine with that as I believe patience is a serious virtue. Until I went to Mysore last January I was happily unaware of any judgments around what pose one was up to. But even there Sharath was kind and patient – he joked that I should stay six months, and the assistants were pretty helpful. I suppose my point is, I think I experienced that individual shala approach in Mysore.

  15. Just a quick comment to say that the practice in Mysore is not necessarily designed to be practiced all the time. Sharath was always clear we find our own teachers back home and learn from them, coming back to Mysore as a sort of ‘top up’. Basically the two forms of Ashtanga are striving for different things. There is a reason now it is only possible to practice in Mysore for three months at a time. Also while yes there are the crazy flexible, lithe amazing practitioners in Mysore who seem to do everything effortlessly, there are also many doing half primary – and yes different body types, ages and abilities. When I went to Mysore two years ago I was stopped at Marichyasana D. Five months later I was doing full primary and dropbacks. Many people who do full intermediate at home come to Mysore and have to do primary series (at least for the first week) this is part of the learning process (and ego-restraint) in Mysore. Yes the teaching is different because you are in a room with a crowd rather than 10 other people. But this is also it’s beauty. Practicing side-by-side with people doing awe-inspiring Ashtanga sends your practice to a different level. Not all teaching is verbal. That said I did get a lot of attention from Sharath, he guided me through the rest of the primary series, asana by asana and he always called me by my name. But what I remember and cherish the most from my five months practicing in the Mysore shala was the beautiful powerful energy of the room, and it is that which cannot be captured or translated, and it is that which people go back for.

  16. I have to agree with Alyson. I was in Mysore two winters ago and was stopped at Marichy C every single solitary day for the entire month. And every single solitary day Sharath sat down in front of me with a big, generous smile and pulled my stiff body into that last pose (with great physical effort on his part, I might add). “Mysore isn’t for Ashtanga practitioners like me, from everything I’ve heard.” I don’t know who you’ve been talking to that’s been to Mysore but their experience was not mine. The only way to really know what happens there is to GO. And really, does it matter where you get stopped? I plan on going back this winter and it is highly likely I’ll be stopped every day in the exact same place for a month. It doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything the first time and it certainly doesn’t mean I won’t learn anything this time.

  17. Again – I think this is a really great post – it is a “pot stirrer” for sure, whether intentional or not. There is much in your post and in the comments that I agree with – not just in terms of how I feel, but also, in terms of my own experience.
    One thing that is touched on, and it is the salient point I think – a lot depends on the teacher. They are the transmitter, not just of the method – the actual physical asanas, and showing you the “how to”, but also of what I can only call “the attitude”. This is what I think often drives what you have described as the “Shala Ashtanga” / “Mysore Ashtanga”
    What I do know however , again from my own journey in this Ashtanga path is that ultimately the learning, the growth, the progress is not in the physical progression to the next most difficult asana – but in my attitude to how I make that progress.
    At the same time – as a person whose hips are NEVER gonna allow me to get my knees flat in BaddhaKonasana, I really really really get frustrated if I take a workshop or a class with a new teacher – who puts on that “oh you are not trying hard enough” face, or who stops me at that point because I cant get to the place where THEY want me to get to because of how THEY think the pose should look. I get on the mat everyday and I do my best.
    I have never been to Mysore – a combination of finances, taking the time off work, and also the knowledge that its just to sample being at the source, more than it is about connecting with a teacher means that its a Luxury trip rather than one where I know I will make progress either asana wise or in the quiet practices.
    I love practicing Ashtanga yoga – I mostly practice by myself, occasionally I will spend a week in the local shala if money & work commitments allow – just to have the energy of other people around me for a change.
    My own teacher is Certified, but I only get a chance to connect with him once per year or so – and each time we meet I come away feeling that bit more enriched and inspired, even if there is no “new poses”. Because its about the attitude. Through him I have learned that I need to not beat myself up so much if “I cant do”, and rather work with where I am and enjoy the process. He teaches from a place of love and nurturing – like I said its about the ATTITUDE.
    I have also learned that somedays its ok to just do standing, or just do a sun salutation. Real Life impedes and impacts, and Priorities shift as we go through life – and Yoga – whatever the practice – is a tool to help me live my life better. Sometimes I’m in deep. Some days I’m just maintaining. And that is cool too 🙂

    1. Terrific additions, thanks.

      Bobbie and I were talking about this post last night and whether it is a “pot stirrer.” My intent was for it not to be, but as she pointed out — the topic sort of is, inherently. I’m appreciating all the thoughtful responses. Again, the intent here is to push all our thinking (a little) about how we define Ashtanga and whether we are a bit too quick to proscribe it.

      I’m sure I am and do. As I think I said in a comment, that’s just human nature.

      S

  18. While I do believe there is a place for all types of asana practice I do want to comment on the obvious catch-up on “limitations” (and I say “obvious” only because the word was used several times in this piece)…

    Facing ones limitations- physical, mental or emotional – and accepting them, is also a part of the “Mysore practice.” It’s not only those with “more physical ability” that take to the “Mysore practice” but also those that desire to dig in, work on themselves, face the limitations they have, sit inside of them, cry, kick and scream and get on with life. Having limitations is a fact of life and it not only comes in the physical aspects of it. What do we do when we face limitations in other areas of our lives? Well, if we’re honest, we will admit to them and work on them- “Mysore Ashtanga” is no different. It’s not magic, people don’t walk into the Mysore room and bind in Marichy D and stand up from backbends on command- for a lot of people it takes times, sweat and tears. It takes facing their limitations, accepting them and then having faith that the practice will help them through.

    I did enjoy this piece very much and the insight you offered but wanted to offer my own thoughts on “limitations” in “Mysore Ashtanga”. The idea of limitations can be so rigid … limitations can be broken.

    Thanks for the read!
    H~

    1. I went back to see if I used that word that much. I guess I did. It’s certainly not something that doesn’t shift or move — my limitations are very different (less limited?) than they were four or five years ago.

      But if I can’t touch my poses and get really flat or compact in a basic forward fold, I know there are some physical (and maybe deeper) benefits that I can’t access that others can. But facing that realization is something I get from the practice that the bendier folks don’t. If that makes sense.

      This all is a broad strike of thinking, of course. Like the practice of Ashtanga, one perspective doesn’t fit all. (But I suppose not being sure everyone agrees with that is one reason I’m wondering about types of Ashtanga.)

      S

  19. I believe detailed understanding of anatomy and physiology of practice is important here and misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Astanga Yoga (and postural Yoga generally) are common. For example, deep back bends, such as Urdhva Dhanurasana, were not included in the primary series as codified by Krishnamacharya in his book Yogasanagalu (1941). I believe this was for good reason. Deep back bends are risky. They tend to produce stress fractures to the pars interarticularis, the part of vertebra between the inferior and superior articular processes of the facet joint. This is called spondylolysis and practitioners of other physical disciplines such as gymnastics, ballet, and cricket fast bowling also tend to develop the same condition, often at a comparatively young age.

    Does anyone have a reference for the purpose of each of the astanga series? That is, that the primary series was “for life”, the 2nd for teaching, and the 3rd for demonstration? If so can you please post the reference for me?

    There are no images I can find of either Krishnamacharya or Patabhi Jois doing Urdhva Dhanurasana, but there are many of B.K.S Iyengar doing it and other even deeper back bends.

    Mark Singleton (2010; 192) indicated in chapter nine of his book Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice that part of Krishnamacharya’s duty was to “…put his students … through their paces and showing off their ability to stretch and bend their bodies into the most impressive and astonishing postures”. This almost certainly included the deep back bends featured in the third series.

    This suggests that deep back bends were an aesthetic display of excess strength and flexibility and that they weren’t meant “for life”. If the dozens of photographs of Krishnamacharya (and Patabhi Jois) are any evidence, deep back bends weren’t part of the regular practice of either of these masters either.

    It seems that Urdhva Dhanurasana became part of the primary series under the influence of Westerners some time in the mid 1970s. Does any one have any references to when and why this pose was slotted into the primary series? If so, can you please post them?

    What about the rest of the primary series? In my experience it mostly contains forward bends, which if performed intelligently are safe and even beneficial in maintaining spinal health.

    The primary series (and the other series too) also contains the vinyasa or linking sequence, which, if performed as Patabhi Jois said with an inhalation during the lolasana phase, obliges a practitioner to perform what my teacher, Simon Borg-Olivier, called “Tha-mula Bhanda”, which, in my opinion is arguably the most ‘alchemical’ component of Astanga Yoga. Tha-mula Bhanda involves activation of the rectus abdominis muscle with a relative relaxation of the other abdominal muscles, which allows the respiratory diaphragm to move its full excursion. This allows for spinal stabilization and trunk strength with the profound relaxation of diaphragmatic breathing (for more information see my facebook page page https://www.facebook.com/YogaChiGungPilates and look for the “Tha-Mula Bhanda an Asana Master Key” video post)

    Possibly because lolasana is difficult for beginners to master, all traces of it seem to have been omitted from other schools of postural Yoga. Simon Borg-Olivier, who trained with Patabhi Jois, recommends doing easier ‘plank’ like poses that provide the benefits of Tha-mula Bhanda and Lolasana without the strength requirements of the full posture / vinyasa sequence.

    It seems to me that most non Astanga forms of postural Yoga have failed to grasp the value of Astanga’s vinyasa sequence including Tha-mula Bhanda and have turned yoga into more a stretching and strengthening class that increases the tone / tension of the thoraco-lumbar erector spinae often to painful levels.

    So yes I believe there are two types of Astanga Yoga at least, but insight and attention to the details of practice really matter regardless of which type you practice or teach.

    Namaste,

    Ben Gaffney

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