I see it as part of my role as a teacher of ashtanga yoga to change the reputation it has gained of being ‘the hard yoga’.
We get so many students that arrive into the shala (who have done lots of yoga before) who say they are a bit nervous about trying out Mysore-style ashtanga yoga. A lot of the time they have done ashtanga yoga before but only led classes. That’s when I know that I am going to have to work hard to change their opinion of the practice.
Starting with led classes is the absolute hardest possible way to start with ashtanga yoga. A new student goes along to the class and goes through all, or at least half, of the primary series on the first day! It would be like joining a boxing club and being expected to fight for 12 rounds on day one. The main impression new students will get from that is that ashtanga yoga is really hard.
Then, when they first hear about Mysore-style (or ‘self-practice’), they think “Ok, that’s already hard, and now I have to memorise the sequence too!?” You can see why that would be a little intimidating for a new student.
I want to put this on the record once and for all…
Ashtanga yoga was NEVER intended to be taught that way.
It takes most people years to learn the whole of the primary series. And many never even get all the way to the end of that. That’s absolutely fine.
The idea of the traditional Mysore-style method is that each student can start (and continue) at their own pace with the practice. The postures are taught one by one, at a sensible pace, so that the student can build up strength, flexibility, stamina and concentration over a long period of time. In that way, not only is it so much easier for a student to build up towards doing the primary series but it actually feels good along the way, and it’s a lot safer for the body.
Almost all of us have the desire to learn more and more postures but it doesn’t take very long in this practice to get out of our depth. Sometimes it’s fun to try a few of the later postures, beyond what we have learned. If, though, we were to suddenly decide that we were gong to do that every day we would end up sore, injured and worn out pretty quickly.
Ashtanga yoga, learnt and practised in the way it was intended, is a beautiful practice that can give us so many incredible benefits.
It saddens me to see that people are intimidated by the practice because of the way it has been taught to them in the past.
How many more students would come to ashtanga yoga and gain its benefits if they didn’t have misconceptions about what it really is?
Spread the word!