I just watched a video where an Ashtanga teacher quoted a statistic that was probably true for her students but definitely was not true for mine. Earlier this week, someone else wrote a blog about how no one does shoulder stand anymore, but at the studio I work at, which is 90% Hot Vinyasa and 10% other, almost everyone does shoulder stand. About a month ago, someone wrote on Instagram that Ashtanga was dead when there are Ashtanga programs thriving all over the world. Sharath opened up for June and all the spaces were taken before some people even had a chance to log on. We have this way of assuming that what is right in front of us is truth when that may not be the case.
I will give some examples of generalizations, in the yoga world, that may not necessarily be true.
Just because the majority of your students cannot do Marichi B, it does not mean that the majority of people around the world cannot do Marchi B.
Just because you hurt yourself doing headstand, it does not mean the everyone else will.
Just because you learned to float, it does not mean that everyone can.
Just because a certain alignment is correct for you, it does not mean it is correct for everyone else.
Just because it took you 5 years to learn Karandavasana, doesn’t mean that it will take that long for others.
Assumptions like these can be dangerous, misleading, ego pacifying and they can rob people of their full potential.
As teachers, we have to look at what is in front of us. Yes, we pull on past experiences and study but that has to be tempered with the present moment. We have to actually be able to see the person in front of us and not just make assumptions based on the past, what an “expert” says, what we read in a book or saw on social media.
We also have to be careful of self fulfilling prophecies and how our assumptions shape what happens in our classes. I went to a handstand workshop where the teacher assumed no one was already working on handstands. Many in attendance were way beyond the level she was teaching at. She was not asked back. If we walk into a class with the assumption that, “the average person cannot do this pose”, that shapes our teaching and becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. We look for signs that the students are not ready instead of signs that they are. The worst thing about this is that some people actually become convinced that they cannot do certain poses simply because of their teacher’s word. This is a tragedy but it happens all the time.
Being present can be a hard place to teach from because the ego loves certainty. Our student’s egos love certainty. They want to hear, “yes, if you do everything I say, you will be floating in no time.” No one wants to hear, “we’ll see” or “maybe” or “possibly”. People love hearing, “if you do this alignment, you will never hurt yourself.” And it is easy to say, “look at my students, they are doing jump throughs.” Well, maybe the people who couldn’t just quit or stopped coming. Maybe they didn’t, however, just because it is true for everyone right now, it doesn’t mean it is true for that next person who walks through the door.
What makes an asana perfect? The Yoga Sutras says that a perfect asana is:
Steady and comfortable
It is meditative
It is undisturbed by dualities
Whether or not everyone you know cannot do dropbacks, is not the point. Whatever asana we are practicing, our teachers should be helping us to reach a point where we are steady, comfortable, meditative and undisturbed.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.