Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is Ashtanga Yoga really increasing in popularity?

Warning: This is the latest of a series of recent posts in which I shamelessly piggy-back upon Claudia's posts. Gosh, am I running out of ideas myself? Am I glad I don't do this for a living...

Anyway, I read with great interest Claudia's latest post and accompanying poll on the popularity of Ashtanga yoga. If you haven't already done so, please fulfill your Ashtangic duty and vote. Stand up and be counted! :-)

So the question the poll asks is, "Is Ashtanga Yoga increasing in popularity?" As of right now (1:05 p.m. CDT), 14 people have voted "Yes", 7 have voted "No", and 1 voted "Maybe."

Honestly, I'm rather surprised by the results (I'm one of the seven who voted "No"). But maybe I shouldn't be so suprised. Here's why. Poll questions by their very nature have a certain element of ambiguity built into them, and this one's no exception. When one asks, "Is Ashtanga Yoga increasing in popularity?", one could mean one of at least two different things. One could be asking,

(1) Are more people getting exposed to and coming to know about Ashtanga Yoga (through popular media, celebrities, etc.)?

Or one could be asking,

(2) Are more people starting to practice Ashtanga yoga? (By "starting to practice", I just mean attending an Ashtanga class somewhere somewhat regularly (maybe one or twice a week). I don't mean that people have to commit to a 6-day-a-week mysore practice.)

(1) and (2) are of course related: It may very well be that more people are starting to practice Ashtanga Yoga as a result of getting exposed to and coming to know about Ashtanga Yoga. But the two questions are distinct from each other.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, to dazzle you with my not-inconsiderable powers of intellectual perception and acuity, of course! But jokes aside, I have a hunch that of the 14 people who voted "Yes" so far, some of them have (1) in mind, and others have (2) in mind. Whereas when I voted, I had (2) in mind. My opinion is that, even though more people may be getting exposed to Ashtanga, the number of people who are starting to practice or already practicing hasn't increased, but has stayed more or less the same, or may even be decreasing. I have my own reasons for this opinion, but I don't have the time to go into this here. I need to go prepare for class now. Maybe I'll write more later.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts about this, I'll love to hear from you.    


  1. I posted this incorrectly the first time!!!

    I also voted NO. I find Ashtanga simply too hard at my age (69). I see the general population getting older; hence, a falloff in the number of people doing this rigorous practice. However, I see this aging population moving to a more gentler form of yoga in the future.
    Ralph from DeKalb

  2. Hi Nobel I always enjoy your commentary on my posts, I was surprised by how the poll is going because of what the google chart shows ... Polls have a way of always surprising me personal hunch tells me that more people are being attracted to it, and the popularity is increasing... Would write more but actually now at the doctors office... Must go as well. Thanks for the link and for inviting others to vote

  3. Hello Ralph, thanks for your input. I haven't thought about the connection between the general population getting older and people moving away from Ashtanga, but I suppose this is a plausible hypothesis.

    Hello Claudia, thanks for the feedback and update, and for sharing your thoughts. We'll see how this poll unfolds. Exciting :-)

  4. Interesting questions that you all bring up!

    I'm also very curious how the poll will unfold!

    I was one of the yes votes. I see more Ashtanga classes offered at studios now when I'm traveling to visit family and such than I used to.
    I'm really interested in the trends to practice (or not practice) specifically, Mysore style Ashtanga. While I see what seems like more Ashtanga classes popping up, they are nearly always led primary (or some version of that). I was very interested to read Claudia's recent post on the YogaWorks studio thinking on cancelling Mysore classes. (sorry I didn't get a chance to comment Claudia!)
    It seems that the individual attention and modifications for an individual practice that are possible in a Mysore room would make this practice much more accessable to the folks who think it is "too something" for them.
    I've heard thoughts similar to Ralph's about Ashtanga, but have taught 2 students turning 80 who found the practice manageable and enjoyable when modified for their individual situation...not that 2 students can represent everyone of course :)
    I'm wondering what your thoughts are on the differences in the trends between popularity of led Ashtanga vs Mysore style? I suppose it's too late for another question in the poll. :)

  5. Very interesting, Christine.

    "I see more Ashtanga classes offered at studios now when I'm traveling to visit family and such than I used to... While I see what seems like more Ashtanga classes popping up, they are nearly always led primary (or some version of that)"

    I'm not sure if this is true in the midwest. A fellow yogi here told me that when he went home to visit his folks in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a studio that previously offered led Ashtanga classes now no longer does so; instead, it now offers Anusara classes in their place.

    Also, the studio near my place here in Moorhead, Minnesota used to offer a led primary class, but they changed the class to vinyasa flow. From what I heard, it's because (a) people find Ashtanga too hard, (b) people were too weirded-out by the opening invocation. But this is small-town upper midwest, so maybe it's to be expected :-)

    Also, in Milwaukee, where I lived for a year, there was one ashtanga shala (my teacher's), but every other yoga studio was either an Iyengar-inspired studio or a mixed-styles studio that does not have even led Ashtanga classes. When I asked one of these studio owners about this, she told me that Ashtanga is too aggressive. And a couple of years ago, I met somebody in Indianapolis who told me that Ashtanga is basically for 15 year-old boys.

    So, based on all this anecdotal evidence (which, I admit, does not make for a good sample size), I get this hunch that Ashtanga's popularity is not increasing, but may be decreasing. But maybe this is just in the midwest (and maybe even only in one part of the midwest).

    I agree that the individual attention and modifications should make this practice more accessible for more people. Indeed, many of the students at my teacher's shala in Milwaukee were middle-aged women who were not ex-dancers/gymnasts/what-have-you, and who only started Ashtanga when they stumbled upon the shala. And they go to mysore classes at least three or four times a week.

    The trouble is that people have to get in the door, so to speak, in order to appreciate this beautiful thing about mysore practice. By and large, I perceive that Ashtanga still has this reputation among the broader yoga public as being this aggressive rigorous style that is only for athletic/type A types or 15 year-old boys.

  6. That's certainly the stereotype (15 year olds, etc), but in Indianapolis I'm seeing regular classes of 10 and for a while we were up to 17, for my led most-of-Primary, and that's a massive class size, so I too (after you posted this, but nonetheless) was one of the yes votes. My new students leave sore, but they come back, and I've been opening each class with a way to mellow out the intensity, and then I do the opening chant, and we do closing chant, complete with the closing surya A, classical style. People like it. So far (knocking on some wood, crossing fingers, etc).

  7. the poll doesn't accept my vote, but the thing is, it needs to elaborate on the issue of where? in the US? in another country? if so, which country?

  8. Patrick, I'm really happy to hear that your led-most-of-Primary class is doing so well. Come to think of it, you teach at CITYoga, right? I think it was at CITYoga (at Nicki Doane's workshop) where I met the person who told me that Ashtanga is for 15-year-olds.

    Gosh, you have so much energy, it's amazing. How do you manage teaching college, having a kid and family, and teaching a led class? I have sometimes been tempted to offer my services to my local yoga studio, but the thought of teaching a led class over and above teaching five classes in school and maintaining a daily practice just psyches me out :-)

  9. Arturo, I'm sorry the poll didn't accept your vote. Yes, I think a poll that is more location-specific would be very useful. Maybe you would like to conduct such a poll on your blog? :-)

  10. Nobel,

    Yes, that would make sense since Nicki is in her "post-Ashtanga" phase (I wonder if she could spot me as an Ashtangi just based on watching me move in her workshop? Hm).

    And yes, CITYoga indeed :D

    About energy and family, the focus comes with having "to do" versus worrying about/stressing about. Stressing takes a lot of energy and time, and being a parent simply forces you "to do" rather than "to think," there's no time to spare. And when the early stress of parenting starts to wear off (which has SORT of happened), then suddenly you have all this energy from the routine and nowhere to put it.

    So yes, four classes a semester, one kid, the yoga, and two yoga classes I teach per week. It's pretty back-to-back most weeks but I've gotten used to it. Can't wait til my 50s when I'll apparently have time to write that novel (um, kidding? not sure yet :D :D :D).

  11. Patrick,
    yes, I think Nicki has been in her "post-Ashtanga" phase since when I first met her (2006). She's my first major teacher (as in, somebody I studied with for a consistently for a sustained period of time). During the summer of 2007, I went to this three-week asana intensive that she and Eddie (her husband) did on Maui. For a time, I tried to go to her workshops whenever I could (for example, her workshop at CITYoga in December 2009). At that time, I was in my "pre-Ashtanga" phase. I wonder how it would be like to go and take a workshop with her now that I'm in the "Ashtanga phase" :-)

    Yes, stressing does take a lot of time. I need to do more and think less.

    I hope you write your novel. I'll love to read it.