Adventures in Mysore India,  Ashtanga Adaptability,  Conference Notes,  Social Media,  Uncategorized

A.P.P Goes To Mysore: Ashtanga Yoga Pre Social Media

Sharath told us that he was glad that he started practicing Yoga before Social Media because he could concentrate on his practice.  I started practicing before Social Media as well and there are definitely some differences pre and post Social Media. These are some of the things I feel have shifted in the Ashtanga world post social media. I would also love to hear what you feel has changed.

The Pose that Everybody Wants

When I first started Ashtanga, the skill that everyone wanted to know was how to Jump Back and Jump Through. Whenever anyone did a workshop, there was usually a segment on it. I am not talking about the Jump Back and Jump Throughs of today where people go up into Handstand. I am talking about a basic jump back and jump through where your feet did not touch the ground.

Now, people want to learn how to Handstand which is directly related to social media because Handstand is not a big part of the Ashtanga tradition. Typically, one does not start working with Handstand until somewhere around Third Series.  There were people like Lino Miele who did a Handstand during Navasana but that was seen as atypical and not something that the average student aspired too. It is definitely nothing like today where people add floats to almost every transition. Now, Handstands or arm balancing is a frequent part of Ashtanga workshops.

Since I have been in Mysore, not a week goes by that Sharath does not say something in conference or something to a student in the room about overworking the shoulders doing Handstands and floating.   He has also said several times that he is not impressed.  However, to the general public, floating, Handstands and arm balancing look very impressive and they definitely look impressive in slow motion on Instagram. Due to social media, handstands have made their way into the Ashtanga culture even when they kind of don’t belong.

People Coming to Mysore

I did not attend Mysore pre Social Media but I do know that the numbers are swelling. This could be due to the amount of Authorized teachers and traveling workshops. However, it can also be due to the rising popularity of Ashtanga on social media.

Confusion

Sharath is constantly talking about how students get confused about Ashtanga because of social media. I notice two things that cause confusion. The use of Ashtanga hashtags on pictures that have nothing to do with Ashtanga and Ashtanga teachers posting pictures and videos and not clarifying when what they are doing is not part of the Ashtanga tradition.

I use a program called Tweetdeck to keep up with multiple Twitter handles, messages from Twitter, mentions, and trending conversations on Ashtanga.  One of the columns, my deck keeps up with, is #Ashtanga.  Seventy percent of the posts that show up are not Ashtanga. They are usually pictures from Instagram that have been copied to Twitter and hashtaged #Ashtanga and have nothing to do with #Ashtanga.

As a teacher, something I hear more often then I would like is, “well, so and so authorized teacher did it on Facebook/Instagram/YouTube.” “So and so authorized teacher did Pigeon on Facebook so I thought I would add it.” “So and so authorized teacher does Handstands so I want to add them.” “So and so authorized teacher used blocks on Instagram for their jump throughs so I want to add them.” “I saw this cool think that so and so authorized teacher did…. “. The premise is that if an authorized teacher did it, it must be Ashtanga, Sharath  must be okay with it or they must have been taught that my Pattabhi Jois which is not always the case. I am not saying that authorized teachers should not have fun. They should. I am just saying, it can be confusing when it is not made clear that, what is being demonstrated, is not part of the tradition.  Then the local teacher is left explaining that there is no Cat and Cow or Stag Leg Handstand in Ashtanga and dealing with the student’s loss of trust in the Ashtanga method because they don’t know what or who to believe anymore.

Then these poor people show up in Mysore doing all types of stuff and having to explain to Sharath where it came from. You don’t want to be in that place. Trust me.

How People Get Help

Pre social media, if you wanted help, and you were lucky enough to have a teacher, you would ask them. If you were unlucky, you had to travel to a teacher or figure it out. Now, you can look it up on YouTube. YouTube is where I learned how to do Kapotasana. I had been doing it for years but nothing anyone said was landing and it was this insurmountable obstacle. One day I watched someone on YouTube do it and it clicked.  In the age of Social Media, if you have a burning question, you can jump on a Facebook group or message a teacher and ask them.

Community

Many of the people, I have socialized with here in Mysore, I met them on Facebook first. I am an introverted extrovert. I love interacting with people but only in small doses. When I am at home,  after a certain amount of time, I log off of the computer and stop answering my phone.  I only teach so many classes a day. Alone time is necessary. A few of my friends here in Mysore have told me that they start to feel stir crazy when they stay in their room too long. Not me. As long as I go out like once a day, get my dose of sunshine and socialization, I can hang out in the room for the rest of the day.  Without that sense of familiarity that social media has given me with a few of the people in this community, I probably would not have struck up a friendship.

I love that social media allows me to continue my friendships after I leave Mysore. I probably have at least 30 new Facebook friends since I started my trip. Some are people I have hung out with. Some are just friendly faces from early morning lines in front of the Shala or tables I have shared at cafe’s. It is wonderful to bond with people who have shared this experience.

There was a period of time where I practiced by myself at home and I felt like a man  in the dessert with no water. I was craving someone to share my experience with. I was starting to lose motivation. My practices sucked because I would force myself to do them and I really did not feel like it. Social media provided a way to connect with other people having similar experiences.

Getting the Word Out

Pre social media, getting the word out about Ashtanga articles, DVD’s and workshops had a lot to do with who you knew. There were websites and newsletters but the average person was not getting the same reach they get from social media. The majority of this blogs traffic, come from social media. Very little comes from organic search.  I would go as far as to say that this blog exists because of Facebook.

Teachers no longer have to solely depend on the yoga studio flyers to fill workshops. They can now reach out to the world through social media. I know of people who have taken workshops in different countries simply because they saw it on social media.

Social media has also birthed the Ashtanga celebrity culture. When I first started practicing, there were only a few household names and those people had been teaching or practicing for decades. Now if you are cute, can do fancy poses, have a relatable platform, and are good with marketing, you can be a household name in months.

What ways do you feel that social media has changed Ashtanga? Leave a comment below.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

3 Comments

  • Kristy

    Hi Shanna,
    You have stated this well. I too sense the mix of frustration and gratitude for the social media platform. I too started practicing in a time when Facebook was still young and there was no such thing as Instagram. Kino was the only name I associated with social media. I consistently feel frustrated by Instagram yogi’s who promote the culture of asana. I understand – there is little else to “see” if not the asana poses themselves? And don’t those back bends look amazing?
    I do have this sense that people who are not blessed to learn the practice from a teacher are deeply confused. I see this on Ashtanga Facebook pages where people express frustrations at not perfecting a pose, or frustrated that they have been practicing primary for (gasp) 8 months and have not ‘progressed’. They do not understand the nature or the intention of the practice – it becomes a confused space and I argue that the effect is people moving farther away from the practice itself as a function of obscuring it. Paradoxically, the closer one works towards ‘achievement’, the less likely they will truly obtain what they seek. That said, there will be a few people who will have the seed planted and will seek refuge in a teacher; who will search for the deeper meaning of yoga.
    However, what light does this shine? I have a choice to turn off my Insta-account and not participate in that aspect of our world. My practice is mine – I know what it means to me and why I do it, so who cares what others are doing? If I had not seen the person on Instagram doing a fancy backbend and calling it Ashtanga, it wouldn’t exist. They might be risking their body to injury and adding to the statistics that yoga is dangerous, but I don’t need to care. I have my practice. Those people will exist whether I’m frustrated with what I see or not. Mostly, how can I use my frustration (or feelings of envy or desire to have a pose “look” that way) as a mirror in my practice?
    On the positive side, thanks to digital communications, I receive thoughtful and insightful blogs like yours to my in-box. I hear the podcasts and inspirational musings of Peg Mulqueen, and from time to time, as a home practitioner, I need to be reminded of the correct sequence of a set of poses and because of social media, I know whose web pages to go to or what utube video’s to look up.
    So, social media needs to be used in balance and from my perspective the best way to find that balance is to have practiced first from a teacher.
    It’s an interesting time for Astanga yoga. There is such much information available and it is up to us to discern what is beneficial or not. In this crazy-making world it would be nice if yoga could be uncomplicated as it is meant to be, not instagrammed or Facebooked, but a true refuge to the inner body. So, we will keep practicing, keep our intentions wholesome and it will all change again, eventually.
    PS: I love reading your experiences in Mysore 🙂 I was there in 2008/2009 and it was getting packed back then too. The “scene” somewhat turned me off from returning but my practice changed dramatically as a function of the energy that is contained in that space. I hold my time there close to me daily – still; cultivating that energy as best I can – especially when practice is a slog and I feel lonely for community.
    Great dialog!

  • Sal

    Overall, I have found it to be incredibly discouraging. People who post asana online tend to have already achieved the shapes, and will often talk about getting there…but rarely show the process of that. (Granted, no pics were likely taken of the struggles)

    Hardly ever mentioned as well (or shown) is the way each body differs in proportion and size, and how that affects each posture.

    I have since unfollowed many, preferring to keep my head down and with in -person teachers I trust. Including myself.

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