"In all things there are the essentials and the non-essentials.
In all matters there are ends and beginnings.
One who knows the order of these things
Gains proximity to the Way."
Confucius, The Great Learning (my translation)
I would like to share with you something exciting that is happening, and to seek some advice from those of you experienced teachers out here in the cybershala.
This week, I started my own little Ashtanga community here in Moorhead, Minnesota. On Wednesday and yesterday (Friday) evening, I got together with a couple of friends and started teaching them Ashtanga. Neither of them have any prior experience with Ashtanga (one of them attended a few Sivananda classes in India for a couple of weeks), and I am teaching them in the traditional mysore style, one posture at a time. I did not have the benefit of learning Ashtanga this way myself, and would like to help others have the benefit of such an experience. I'm really excited about this new beginning.
All we did on Wednesday and yesterday evening were 5 Surya As and 5 Surya Bs. That took more than half an hour. Because they were new to yoga, I had to do the postures with them, so that they have a visual to follow. And one of my friends (let's call him D) is quite out of shape, and we had to stop after every couple of Suryas for a couple of minutes so he could catch his breath. All in all, both of them really enjoy doing Ashtanga, and we plan on continuing to do this a couple of times a week. I will also be encouraging them more and more to practice at home by themselves as well: I held off on stressing this aspect of the yoga journey, because I didn't want to intimidate them with too much too soon :-)
D is not very flexible. When he goes into Dwi position in Surya A, for example, he has to bend his knees so much that his butt is touching his heels, and he is basically in a squatting position rather than in a standing forward bend. Here's the dilemma: I can choose to either (1) Get him to use blocks placed at the highest setting, and rest his hands on the blocks so that he can straighten his knees more and get more into his hamstrings, or (2) Get him to bend his knees to whatever degree he needs to in order to get his hands in contact with the mat, in order to facilitate the subsequent transition into chaturanga.
I chose (2), as I decided that it is probably more important to get into the flow of Surya A than worry too much about accessing the hamstrings. Moreover, I figured that with time, his hamstrings and leg muscles should open up enough for him to eventually straighten his knees more. Besides, one problem with using blocks is that since the blocks are set at the highest setting (because of his level of flexibility), they will have to be moved to the side before he can transition into chaturanga, which disrupts the flow of Surya A. He also does not have sufficient upper-body strength at the moment to do the standard chaturanga (which means he needs to bring his knees to the ground first); I feel that having blocks in this situation will only complicate the picture. Which is why I chose (2).
So what's the problem? Well, maybe there is no problem at all: Maybe I'm just not used to seeing somebody with so limited flexibility as to need to go all the way into a squat in Dwi position. Maybe (2) is the best option, given the way things are now. But I'll like to solicit the opinion of those of you who have experience teaching Ashtanga, especially those of you who have experience teaching less flexible people. What would you do? Any feedback you can offer is greatly appreciated.