Adventures in Mysore India,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized

Is The Fullness of KPJAYI Due To Spiritual Tourism?

KPJAYI, the school for Ashtanga Yoga in India,  is at capacity. So many people are applying to study with Sharath, that people who normally go every year, can’t even get in.

The first thing that popped in my mind was, are more people practicing Ashtanga or are more people going to Mysore? They are not the same thing.  This conversation is not scientific, by any means, but it seems that if more people are going to Mysore to practice with Sharath, the swell in numbers should also apply to Ashtanga classes all over the world as well. But is it?

I notice this phenomenon in my area.  Recently, a famous big name Ashtangi came into town. I didn’t count, but there had to be at least 100-150 people packed into a hotel conference room. Maybe even more. The Ashtanga community,in my town, is really small so I am on a first name basis with most of the ashtangis in the city. Out of 150 people, probably about 5 practiced Ashtanga daily and about 10 or 20 dabbled. There were probably at least 20 or 30 people from out of town. I am also a part of the Vinyasa yoga community here too and I certainly don’t know everyone, but I know a few. The rest of the people practiced vinyasa, but  not Ashtanga. I feel safe saying that the majority of the people there did not practice Ashtanga.

You would think that after this person left town, that at least a few of the 100 or so people who lived here, would find an Ashtanga program to attend. That did not happen. As far as I know, not one of the teachers, who teach Ashtanga, gained new serious, CONSISTENT students as a result of that workshop. The dabblers come back for a few weeks, but then they leave and dabble somewhere else. This happens with every Ashtanga workshop that comes here.

I wonder, if this is happening in Mysore? Are people, who primarily  practice other styles of yoga, but dabble enough in Ashtanga enough to fumble through Primary, going to Mysore? Are these people really interested in going deeper into Ashtanga or is it spiritual tourism? Are people going to get deeper into Ashtanga or so they can say they had the experience? Are they going to get deeper into Ashtanga or because their favorite Instagram Ashtanga teacher goes and it seems like a cool thing to do? Is it just spiritual tourism or is there really a strong interest in becoming a student of the method?

parsvatonasana1042

In some ways this can be great. Hopefully some of the tourist will be in love and stick with it. This does not happen in my neck of the woods but Sharath is definitely cut from a different cloth.  Ashtanga teacher ,Mark Robberds, has a beautiful way of looking at it. He posted this recently on his Instagram,

 

Looking back it was a really special time. The reason I’m telling this story is because a big change has happened in Mysore and those days seem to be over. It has become more popular than ever before and many friends have missed out on a spot a couple of years in a row now. It’s an interesting transition and I really wonder how Sharath is going to manage it. In a related story the other day I was watching the World Surf League and one of the “veterans” (he’s only 36) is retiring, saying that he is giving up his spot for the younger crew. In a funny kind of way I also feel the same… I always thought I’d be going to Mysore till I was a ripe old age, but now with this problem of not enough spots I can see myself happy to let the young crew come through – all those 20 something year old guys that I know are ripe for the adventure and the experience of going to India for the first time, ready to go deeper in their search. It’s a kind of rite of passage that I think every Ashtangi should experience. Change is the only constant…we’ll have to wait and see what the future brings. 

 

I agree that everyone should get the opportunity to study with Sharath. Indeed, I plan to apply in a few years myself. There is a part of me that knows that everything is unfolding perfectly.  There is also a part of me that is sad for the people who are really serious about Ashtanga that have to give up their spots to tourists.

Ushtrasana or Camel Pose (3)122

Another thought, that arises inside of me, pertains to the opportunists. There are so many people who take a workshop or a two week training on something and than start teaching what they learned ,not as a person who is a beginner and wants to share, but as if they are an expert. If these people are charismatic, they thrive. They are so convincing, that only those who have known them for years, know the truth. That person who travels the world teaching handstands and hollowbacks, just learned how to do warrior one a few years ago. You know, because you were there. I wonder if these people will go to Mysore for 6 weeks, label themselves an expert, and teach an incomplete picture of the practice?

Again. These are just thoughts. Possibly just a story my ego has constructed. I would love to hear your thoughts or your egos thoughts….LOL. Please weigh in.

 

 

 

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.

5 Comments

  • PEPE

    Another thought about why everyone goes now to Mysore could be: they want to be authorized, and probably like you well pointed out, they do not practice consistently nor regularly in any authorized shala, maybe a few of them dabble every now and then, some of them might just go back to practice more often weeks before their trip to Mysore. Maybe the rest of the year they practice vinyasa, or don’t practice at all, or practice whenever they feel like at home

  • Sonia

    I have a daily home Ashtanga practice and would definitely register for a workshop for an opportunity to study under a teacher I respect and feel a connection to. Just because you don’t seem to “know” those who attend doesn’t mean their practice is not authentic. With this technology age it is possible to study under a teacher from afar and then attend their workshops when visiting a local venue. Much like Sri k Patabhi Jois was the teacher of many Ashtangis who would travel to Mysore once a year to practice with him and or now do the same to practice under Sharath. I get what your saying in your article but I don’t believe it is as black and white.

  • Rebecca

    Sh, but if warrior I came after 15 years of medical training, for example, in orthopedics…and that person travels teaching an anatomy based practice…are they beginners or people with multiple perspective? If you keep people safe AND share something of value AND are clear about exactly who and what you are so people can decide to learn from you or not, then all gravy baby.

  • RebeccaD

    I get this totally. I do wonder if people who don’t necessarily live in the tradition of ashtanga or even have a solid yoga practice are simply looking. Looking for something much deeper, truer, more authentic than they can find in their home towns. There is a real problem, at least in my country, with a lack of teachers who have any depth to their understanding of ashtanga. Lots of people have general teaching certificates and have enough knowledge to keep your joints from physically hurting but that’s about it. Its just cutting shapes on a mat. It’s very soulless and disappointing. People are on the hunt for the real deal.

  • barbara

    I think it’s really a fine line… I see very serious ashtanguis selling yoga commodities like pants, or lots of objects, and them also instagraming asana poses as yoga… this is lot of confusing to me… in a way I see a great thing, everybody is moving their bodies, but the deep look that ashtanga needed is missing, and as much it becomes an institution to handle with all the people, trying to legitimate and making itself authentic, more it becomes superficial, like the obsessions about the five breaths in the asana and stuff like this… also I think it is a perverse effect of the exotization of India made by westerns, and also by indians as a nacionalist politics. bad english, sorry.

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