Saturday, May 28, 2011

Feedback needed about a yoga moral dilemma

Well, this is not exactly serious enough to merit "moral dilemma", but I thought if I titled the post this way, you will be more likely to read it (yes, I'm so evil...). Am I right? :-)

So here's the so-called moral dilemma. I'm not losing sleep over this, but it has been bugging me from time to time over the last couple of days. This is what happened. In the last couple of months, I have been toying with the idea of starting to teach yoga again. I used to teach at a local yoga studio in Florida when I was in grad school, but after I got my PhD in 2009 and started a "real" job, I decided to stop teaching yoga and focus on my own practice. The reasons for this decision are many and very involved, and would take another post to really go into, so I'll skip them here.

Anyway, recently, I finally decided to come out of my self-imposed "yoga shell" and start teaching yoga again. On Tuesday, I met with C, the owner of a local yoga studio (the same studio that I wrote about in this post) to talk about possibly teaching an Ashtanga class once a week at her studio.

[Big Disclaimer: You probably already know this if you read this blog regularly, but I'm going to say this again anyway. I am not an authorized teacher, nor have I ever been to Mysore. I have decided to teach anyway, because I really feel that in my part of this country, many people can get to know and benefit from this practice who may otherwise never know about this practice. So, despite my lack of credentials (and probably, ability), I have decided to step up to the plate and share what I know with whoever wants to try this practice. If you want to throw electronic eggs or stones at me, go right ahead. I will endure...]

Wow, I have written four paragraphs, and I still haven't told you what my dilemma is? I apologize; I don't mean to squander your cyber-attention in this way. I'll get to it right now. So C and I were talking about what to name my class. She told me that over the years, there have been a few teachers who have taught Ashtanga classes in the area, but only a few people showed up to these classes. However, when these teachers changed the name of their classes from "Ashtanga" to "Vinyasa Flow", the number of people attending these classes suddenly shot up. C doesn't really know why this happened; she thinks that maybe there is a lack of education in this area about what Ashtanga is, and maybe people only hear about Ashtanga's bad reputation (the injuries, the super-physically-intense nature of the practice, etc., etc.), and so decided to stay away from any class that has the word "Ashtanga" in its name.

I listened, and nodded in understanding. And then she dropped an unexpected bombshell. She asked me most sweetly, "So, I'm sure you would be okay with not calling your class "Ashtanga" at the start, wouldn't you? Maybe sometime in the fall, when you are more established, you can run a six-week series of classes called "Intro to Ashtanga" or something along these lines. I think this would give people a smoother way to adjust to Ashtanga."

To my surprise (and horror), I actually said yes to her proposal. And I said it without thinking, almost as a reflex (there is a part of me that really hates myself for being such a yes-person. But maybe you can forgive me: After all, as you can see, I was caught off-guard.).

So where's the dilemma? Well, there's a part of me that feels that not calling my class an Ashtanga class when this is really what it is amounts on some level to a betrayal of both what I stand for and the practice itself. Sure, one may say that a name's just a name. But I believe that what we choose to call ourselves is a very powerful reflection of what we stand for and what we dare to do and believe in in this world. Besides, if there really is a lack of education here about what Ashtanga is about, wouldn't not calling something Ashtanga when it is just add to this lack of education?  Moreover, I seriously don't care if just one or two people come to my class, so long as they are interested in giving the practice a try. But of course, C doesn't see it this way...

But there's also a part of me that says that in business, we sometimes have to compromise in order to get a foothold and move forward in getting what we want. And besides, C has been around in this area much longer than I have, and may very well know many things about the temperament and attitudes of the locals that I am ignorant of. So her proposal may turn out to be a wise one.

In any case, I just emailed C my class description. In it, I am very explicit that my class is going to be based on the Ashtanga Vinyasa Method and the Tristana system. In this way, I try to remain true to what the class will be about (I intend to teach Ashtanga the traditional way, posture by posture).

Maybe I'm overreacting to all this, I don't know. Any thoughts on this?   


  1. This is very interesting.

    1. Yes, I did click on this post because I was curious about your moral dilemma.

    2. I own a yoga studio, and am considering hiring an Ashtanga instructor to teach a led primary class. I am struggling to name the class, because I don't want to scare people off by labeling it "Ashtanga," but at the same time don't want people to show up for this class if I label it "Vinyasa Power" and end up being turned off. I'm afraid if the latter occurs, they will assume all "Vinyasa Power" classes are the same, and skip those as well.

    3. I believe the instructor I'm thinking of hiring (depending on his availability) teaches a class that was once called "Vinyasa Power" or "Vinyasa Flow" but is now titled "Ashtanga." The class itself hasn't changed, because it was always a led primary. I think the motives were to draw people into the class and, once a following had been established, the class could be named accurately. I wouldn't say there was any misleading, since at the start of class he would tell people exactly what he was going to teach.

    4. I think a Vinyasa Flow/Power class can end up being a primary series sequence. It just doesn't work the other way around (Ashtanga can't be a sequence of poses you rearrange on your own).

    I think by introducing your new class as C proposed will still allow you to educate people about Ashtanga, and that it won't be misleading.

  2. Nobel, I understand thedilema, I also think it is fine, whatever brings people to the class is good, and you say in the description what it will be based on although I am sure ashtanga is all you would teach because that is where your heart is at, and that is what you know - I am kind of with point 3 of Elisa80, and people will come to this amazing practice! you go!

  3. What's in a name after all ; ) How about just Vinyasa Yoga? Even Vinyasa Flow, it's exactly what you'll be teaching after all. Good luck, sounds like a great plan!

  4. Enjoy teaching Nobel! I always enjoyed your class when you taught here in G-ville...I'm glad you're going the traditional route now! It's been very rewarding for me to teach in that way.

  5. Good luck and well done!! Just remember the story of Beryl Bender Birch and go forth in the yoga world!

  6. Hello elisa80, thank you for clicking on this post :-), and thank you for sharing your perspective as a studio owner. I like what you said about the fact that one can call a class a Vinyasa Flow/Power class, and teach it as led primary (but not the other way around). I really appreciate this perspective. Gives me a new light in which to see C's proposal.

    Claudia and Esther, thank you for your support and encouragement! Yes, "what's in a name after all"? I see now that the important thing is to get people to Ashtanga, one way or the way, whatever one chooses to call it.

  7. Hello Christine, yes, my days in my "yoga shell" have allowed me to appreciate the beauty and power of the traditional route. Maybe (just maybe; I'm not promising anything) I will see you in G-ville later in the summer...

    Thanks yoginicory! I am very honored that you are comparing me to Beryl Bender Birch :-)

  8. I agree that if calling it Vinyasa Yoga or some such thing will attract more people to the class, go for it. Your goal seems clear, which is to share your love of the traditional practice, and with that goal in mind you can drop little nuggets about Ashtanga during the class so that people learn by DOING rather than by what they might have heard about Ashtanga in the past.

    And just to put my two cents in about whether you "should" or "should not" be teaching pre-Mysore or pre-authorization: I'm with you. You are bringing yoga to an area where perhaps there isn't a whole lot of it going on, and you obviously have a dedicated practice and pure intentions. I have no doubt that you're a great teacher.

    I'm looking forward to meeting you next week at YH!


  9. What you and others have said is true Nobel. But looking at it the other way round - you probably won't get anyone who actually wants to learn (or practice) Ashtanga coming to the class ... I guess it all depends on your (or the shala-owner's) perspective.

    Do you think you'll be telling the students that what they're learning is really Ashtanga vinyasa yoga?

    It sounds a bit like I'm being judgemental - I'm not meaning to, sigh! It just seems odd to me that someone would rather go to a Vinyasa Yoga class than an Ashtanga class! I actually go to a lunchtime vinyasa class at Uni (where I work) most weeks, but I'd drop it like a shot if there were any ashtanga classes! But of course I'm biased (big grin) I hope you end up with a whole classful of new Ashtangi enthusiasts, even if they didn't know that's what they were to start off with!!

  10. Yoga for Everyone

    Instructor: Nobel

    Class description: Students will learn a flowing, meditative sequence designed to detoxify the body. Poses will be introduced in a progression appropriate for each student individually, so this class is suitable for people of every age and fitness level. In the words of K. Pattabhi Jois: "Old man, stiff man, weak man, sick man, they can all take practice but only a lazy man can't take practice."

  11. Hey Ellie, thanks for your input on this, and for your encouragement about teaching pre-Mysore or pre-authorization. I agree with you that it is probably more important in the end that people learn from doing, and not be swayed by whatever preconceptions they might have had about Ashtanga in the past.

    Yes, I really look forward to seeing you at YH :-)

  12. susiegb, yes, like you, I am also biased, and have a really hard time seeing why someone would rather go to a Vinyasa Yoga class than an Ashtanga class :-) After all (and I am probably biased again), why do the derivative/off-shoot form of something when you can get the real stuff? But as they say, it takes all kinds, and if by naming something "Vinyasa", I can get more people to experience the Ashtanga practice, then perhaps this is what needs to be done :-)

  13. Thanks for your suggestion, Dhr Bibberknie. I especially like the idea of including the quote from Guruji :-)

  14. it would not matter if you called it lullu's mom's yoga. the shala owner has a good business sense.