There’s something Tim Miller said to me once at a training that’s stuck with me ever since: It’s much easier to adapt the posture for the body than it is to adapt the body for the posture. Although people might think this is unusual in Ashtanga, I’ve seen Tim pass out blankets and grab straps for his students, and props were always welcome in his room, and the same is true for other teachers I’ve worked with - David Garrigues recently said that everyone in his Mysore group had implicitly agreed to use blankets for shoulder stand just by signing up for his class. Richard and Mary use blankets, blocks, and straps in their teaching regularly.
So why is it that Ashtanga continues to have a reputation as being inaccessible? And how can that reputation be changed to reflect the practice that I know and love, the style that I teach?
I started thinking a while ago about this question - how can Ashtanga be made more accessible to more people? How can we make the perception of Ashtanga less intimidating and more inviting? I’ve heard potential students say they don’t even want to try Ashtanga because they’ve heard that it’s hard or that people get hurt. After my own experience with Ashtanga and all I’ve gained from it, I just find this heartbreaking.
As a teacher, I know it’s my job to reach a variety of different people, and that means it’s my job to make the practice accessible to them. Let’s be honest - Primary Series is a high bar. You can’t expect someone who has spent the last ten years sitting at a desk to come into the Ashtanga room and be able to do Primary Series, get every bind, and do it on vinyasa count right off the bat. Some will, sure. But many more will not be able to. Some won’t even be able to do down dog. But that’s fine. That has to be fine. That has to be expected.
For Ashtanga to appeal to a larger number of people, it has to be more accessible. Maybe this means allowing for passes on certain postures or vinyasas, allowing more modifications, and encouraging use of props. Maybe it means re-envisioning the posture and letting go of ideas of what it’s “supposed” to look like. Because the truth is there is no “supposed to” in what these postures look like - each individual body is supposed to look different.
The fact is, the primary focus of an Ashtanga practice isn’t even intended to be on the body. We should be focused on embodying the energetic essence of a pose and extracting what the posture is trying to accomplish without busting a knee. This doesn’t mean that the teachings will be watered down - it means that the teachers are going to be able to reach more people.
So, how do we make Ashtanga more accessible? How do we change our own perception to accomplish this?
To me, Ashtanga has always been about people - not poses. That means that I look at the person in front of me, and teach to that singular person. If a teacher is dogmatic in their approach, they’re not only doing a disservice to the the student, but they’re doing a disservice to yoga. If more people are able to practice, there will be a ripple effect. The more barriers we are able to remove, the better.
Ashtanga for All is a straightforward mission. It doesn’t mean for all who look a certain way, who are capable of certain things, who have a certain schedule or lifestyle or body. All means All. It’s something I believe in, and I think it’s something we can get a whole new generation of students to believe in. The power of Ashtanga for All is the power of believing in yourself - and that’s something I think we all need sometimes.
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