Does Ashtanga evolve or is it set firmly in stone?

We highlighted part 1 of this back in April, so it seems only fair, not to mention conclusive and consistent, to point you toward part II of Matthew Sweeney’s exploration of the origins of Ashtanga and whether the practice is supposed to change.

Here’s the link, and just the littlest of excerpts:

It is currently traditional not to alter any of the Ashtanga sequences. Even though Guruji and Sharath did and do allow occasional variations the general rule is no one else should. The sequences are not to be changed. This includes doing any other kind of practice outside of your regular Ashtanga routine. If you practice Ashtanga, the “tradition” is that you are not supposed to do any other method, whether it be another Hatha Yoga style such as Iyengar or such things as meditation practice. So if you are doing any kind of variation, in or out of the practice, in effect you are not being traditional.

I think this stems from the “belief” that the sequences have never changed and thus they should never change in future: they are perfectly complete as they are; they are coming from God, and thus pure and unalterable. This starts to sound like the common assumptions of many religions – a rigid belief rather than a spiritual truth.

He also touches on what just might be the most compelling question for many, if not most, Ashtanga practitioners: The whole being held at a certain pose question. I’ll say I like his perspective on it:

In Intermediate I would hold a student for longer on a posture that is difficult than in Primary. The reason for this is simple – at an intermediate or advanced level of practice it starts becoming black or white. Either you have developed the right foundation for doing the more difficult postures or you haven’t. For example, if you have developed flexibility in back bending and strength in the jumps effectively, then you will be ready to do most if not all of the Intermediate series. If you have not developed those – in the Primary Series, or through other means, then you are not yet ready to move through the Intermediate Series.

He even keeps it current and touches on the whole question of whether yoga is religious.

Posted by Steve



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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “Does Ashtanga evolve or is it set firmly in stone?”

  1. Here is an interesting question…how do Asthanga practitioners feel about people using “Ashtanga/whatever” or “Ashtanga inspired” to describe their practice? It seems the power yoga people have taken many liberties with the style. Clearly these people are not certified in Ashtanga yoga. I go on and on about people using Iyengar in my blog. Just curious.

    1. Why call something what it’s not? Create a new name and promote it. It reminds me of how critics compare one artist to another to give an audience bearings, something to relate to. I once went to a Frank Zappa concert in the early 80’s when Joes Garage came out. He came out onstage with a huge band, walked up to the microphone and announced he would be playing new songs nobody ever heard before. We all came wanting to hear Joes Garage but the concert was great anyways. If the teacher is good the experience will be good but why use a name to promote the class when it’s something completely different. I think most people use the name Ashtanga to give the class credibility something for people to latch onto because they’ve heard of it. If you are going to rearrange the postures in your own image give it your own original name. Matthew Sweeney is a good example of this he has different practices called different things. Off the top of my head Jivamukti, Bikram, Iyengar etc all have their own names for their own creations. There’s 12 notes on a keyboard but when you re arrange them you write your own song. Maybe Vinyasa Krama are the 12 notes and the rest are songs?

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