10,000 Vinyasas

Teaching Ashtanga

by on Apr.16, 2009, under Yoga

As you may know, I’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga once a week for over a year now. My first teaching experience at the local gym got listed on the schedule as Ashtanga, for some reason (I haven’t inquired why), and it caused me to reflect on the difficulty of introducing this style to beginners. An ancient style of yoga, Ashtanga was originally developed, in my understanding, for teenagers, and this is probably true, since it is a physically demanding, aggressive style that requires quite a bit of flexibility and strength. Hence, the difficulty of introducing it to adults who are new to yoga, and indeed, may not be in the best physical condition to begin with. In the first series (primary series), there are multiple poses and multiple variations of poses, particularly seated forward bends and twists, along with standing balance poses of ferocious difficulty, headstands, backbends and binds, interspersed with vinyasas requiring jumping into seated and jumping back into chaturanga. Some poses require full lotus to fully attain, and really can’t be modified to include a beginner’s more limited range. The other day, I asked my Ashtanga teacher how to teach beginners in the style. His response was that there were, in fact, two different schools of thought. The traditional way was to start at the beginning of primary series, and stop when a pose could not be achieved, work on that one until mastery, and then proceed to the next one. The second approach was to work out a modified set of poses from the primary series and build up strength until more poses could be added. In my opinion, the first method is actually more suited for a traditional yoga environment (a studio or ashram) where, by self-selection, you have a group of highly motivated students who are not going to be discouraged by the repetition and difficulty at the beginning. In teaching at a gym, in contrast, students are not as motivated, overall, to keep trying to attain proficiency in a style which may appear forbiddingly difficult at first. It’s this reasoning which led me to adopt the second approach in teaching my first class. I had seen firsthand the unsuitability of trying to force a fast paced aggressive style on a beginning mixed level class, and I thought I could design a routine which would incorporate the spirit of the primary series while allowing someone who had little or no experience with yoga to be successful. So far, I’ve gotten good feedback on this approach, so I suppose I would call it a qualified success in the environment I’m teaching in.

More yoga notes: I bit off more than I could chew this week, by agreeing to sub for someone the day after I had a trial setting. 99% of the time these settings don’t go anywhere, but this time I ended up having to start the trial and had to get a sub for the class I had agreed to teach. It was quite stressful to deal with both of these situations at the same time, but I did find another sub at the last minute. I’m eager to get more teaching experience now that I have a more demanding power yoga class to teach–the expectations are a little higher. Been hearing better things about the bad yoga teacher, so maybe all the feedback she’s gotten has caused her to change…perhaps I was too quick to judge.
Update (4/18/2009) Was able, for the first time, to achieve PINCHA MAYURASANA (headstand with forearms to floor) at the wall, just for a few seconds, but still…progress. In the mail today also was a check for teaching my first two yoga classes–an entire $46.00. Of course, the money is really kind of irrelevant; I’m doing this for love of yoga, not money.

:, ,

2 Comments for this entry

  • ken

    Ah, this means you need to practice PINCHA MAYURASANA during each Friday class. I think there are two places to “place” pincha: after the first or second navasana OR in place of headstand. Depending on how tired you feel. I think a more flexible approach to introducing advanced postures is recommended if it is not possible to practice ashtanga six days/wk. Peace!

  • carl

    Wise words, thank you Ken. As always, I’m amazed at the amount of yoga knowledge you have. I’m trying to imagine inserting this pose into the navasana sequence, sounds interesting…it would be a major achievement for me to attain proficiency in this pose, and as I write these words, I wonder if “achievement” is really very, well, yogalike. I do think that progress and eventual proficiency in seemingly impossible poses is one of the reasons people continue in yoga–I know it is for me–but I wonder sometimes about the focus on attainment.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!