In a recent interview that was published on Elephant Journal, David Robson answers a few common questions about Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. One of these questions is:
"ii. You need to be physically fit already to practice Ashtanga, fact or fiction?
David: It is a demanding practice and I don’t believe anyone should start by doing the entire primary series. To just do a led class, I think it could be pretty hard for most people and most beginners. Things like age, overall health, strength and flexibility may impact how quickly someone learns the practice, but these factors become insignificant over time. You have to take the time to let your body adapt to the practice and you gradually build up at your own pace. The mysore-style teaching format is really the perfect way for a beginner to learn yoga, as it starts from scratch and develops according to the abilities of the individual. I totally believe that anyone can practice and take benefit from Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga."
I think David's response is short and sweet, and gets to the gist of what Ashtanga is about. But as I was reading his response, something else occurred to me: What about people who come to the practice with chronic medical conditions? I'm thinking of conditions like lupus, asthma, diabetes, certain heart conditions, HIV/AIDS, etc. Personally, I'm confident that a regular Ashtanga practice done at a pace that is appropriate to the condition of the individual would help with these conditions in the long term. However, from my own experience with working with a few such individuals, I have discovered that in such cases, the problem isn't so much a physical problem as a psychological one: The individual concerned may not readily see the value of committing to a practice that takes time to develop and deliver results. This is especially problematic when the individual expects yoga to be a therapy that can specifically and quickly target his or her specific ailment almost like a laser beam, and improve (or at least significantly alleviate) the condition quickly.
But as David mentions, in order for Ashtanga practice to be effective, you have to do it regularly, "take the time to let your body adapt to the practice", and gradually build the practice up at your own pace. In other words, as we Ashtangis all know, the practice is not a quick fix for anything: One has to have patience, and the results will come when they do. But in my limited experience in working with people with chronic conditions, it seems to me that such individuals tend to expect results fairly quickly. And really, who can blame them for that, given the suffering and anguish they have already gone through with other treatment modalities, and given a western medical culture that promises quick fixes and straightforward solutions for practically everything under the sun ("take this drug, and you will be better right away", or "undergo this or that procedure or surgery, and that part of your body will soon be good as new")? I could be wrong about this, but I don't think Ashtanga practice can credibly promise to, say, lower one's blood sugar by x number of points, or fix that heart condition that one has been suffering from for so many years within x number of months. As I said, I could be wrong about this, but I just don't think that Ashtanga's therapeutic effects always manifest themselves in this immediate way.
If I am right about all this, then there seems to be a disconnect between what Ashtanga practice can do, and what individuals who come into the practice with certain chronic conditions expect from the practice. To put it very bluntly, these individuals have expectations that Ashtanga practice may or may not be able to fulfill. And I don't mean this in a bad way: I believe we all have expectations in one form or another going into almost everything in life. It's part of what it is to be human to expect clear-cut results from our investments of time, effort or money. The trouble, as I see it, is that Ashtanga does not deliver on our expectations in a linear, straightforward manner, and I suspect that the last thing that individuals who come into the practice seeking relief from chronic conditions want to hear is that the practice takes time to manifest results.
As of right now, I don't know how to go about bridging this disconnect. Maybe I need to find a way to "sell" the benefits of Ashtanga better, instead of just telling people bluntly that things take time. I don't know.