This question is inspired by the most recent wave of criticisms of Okin Carmegorg. This is another reason to love blogstorms. Despite the hurt feelings, ruffled feathers, lost positions on others' blogrolls, and outstanding displays of assholism, one has to admit that blogstorms can serve at least one positive function: They can bring certain issues to the forefront of discussion, issues that may not otherwise receive so much attention in the blogosphere, for better or for worse.
This most recent blogstorm has brought to the forefront a few issues. Here are a few: The appropriateness of teaching advanced Ashtanga postures (and offering Ashtanga instruction in general) via Youtube videos, the appropriateness of wearing short shorts and tube tops while teaching and practicing, the appropriate of "shameless" self-promotion.
But one relatively new issue has arisen in this most recent blogstorm: The appropriateness of Ashtanga teachers giving new postures at workshops or conferences to practitioners whom they do not have a day-to-day teacher-student relationship with. To be sure, the issue itself is not new: I'm quite sure people have discussed this at one time or another in the blogosphere. But this recent blogstorm has brought this issue up in a way that casts it in sharp relief, not least because the blogger who stirred up the blogstorm used this issue as one of her sticking points with Okin. In her opinion, this practice is premised upon an intimate teacher-student relationship, and a teacher teaching a workshop, lacking such a relationship with the practitioner, is never in a position to assess whether the student is at the stage in his or her practice where she is ready for the posture in question. The blogger even goes so far as to suggest that Okin's motivation for giving postures at workshops is to "piss on" practitioners and take ownership of their practice. In other words, the suggestion is that the giving of postures (at least in Okin's case) may be an insidious way for her to attempt to assert control over practitioners.
Disclaimer: I have been accused in the past of blindsiding people by quoting things that they write, and using them in a way that paints them in a less-than-favorable light. Well, I don't personally consider this blindsiding, since I think it is understood and widely accepted that if one is willing to publish something in the blogosphere, one should also be ready to be held accountable for whatever one chooses to hit the "publish" button on. Moreover, I also try my best to represent what I quote in a way that accurately reflects the writer's intentions. In any case, if one thinks that I speak wrongly about him or her, one is welcome to dispute my claims by commenting. I mean, isn't that what comments are for?
But back to what I was just saying. Well, I really don't quite know what to make of this suggestion that the giving of postures may be an insidious way of asserting control over others. As somebody who has been on the receiving end of such a gesture (or, to use the blogger's own words, as somebody who had been "pissed on"), I personally do not feel that Okin's giving of postures is motivated by anything negative or insidious. As I have related in past posts (see, for example, this post), at one of her workshops, Okin offered to give me Karandavasana, but I declined at the time, citing knee issues. I felt at that time (and still feel) that her decision was motivated by her own honest assessment of where I was in the practice and my abilities. Of course, I disagreed with her assessment, and she respected that.
Which brings me to what I think is a very important point: The teacher-student relationship in the practice is a two-way street. The teacher does her best to teach from her experience, and from her assessment of where the student is at in the practice, making suggestions and/or giving or taking away postures as she deems necessary. The student, for her part, needs to understand that the teacher is making these judgments and assessments from where she is. And from where she is, she cannot be expected to have an omniscience, God's-eye-view of the student's practice. The student has to compare the teacher's assessments and recommendations with the feedback that she is getting from her own body and mind, and decide for herself whether or not to follow the teacher's suggestions. If the student does not do this, she risks becoming an uncritical automaton and worse, hurting herself.
I can't help feeling that in all this back-and-forth between the so-called traditional, "old-school" way of practicing Ashtanga, where the student is supposed to listen to and surrender to the teacher's every injunction, and the so-called "New Wave", where teachers supposedly give away asanas liberally, this one simple fact of the teacher-student relationship has been overlooked: In order for the teacher-student relationship to be truly freeing and mutually empowering, the student has to take responsibility for her own practice, and not simply abdicate this responsibility to the hands of a teacher whom she assumes "always knows what is best for me."
So perhaps, may I humbly suggest, the issue isn't so much whether or not it is right for teachers to give postures at workshops or conferences, but whether practitioners are willing to step up to the plate, so to speak, and take more responsibility for their own practice.
But all this is, of course, merely my own take on this whole issue. I'll love to hear what you have to say.