Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On Unauthorized and Uncertified Hometown Ashtanga Teachers; Yoga in the Dragon's Den enters the Terrible Twos

I just read this recent post by Shanna Small, titled "Ode to the Unauthorized, Uncertified Hometown Ashtanga Teacher". In a refreshingly straightforward and candid voice that makes me smile at many points, Shanna tells us why she believes that there is a place in the Ashtanga world for Ashtanga teachers who are neither authorized nor certified by KPJAYI. Shanna writes:

"Technically, you are not supposed to teach without the blessing of the Jois family. There are many good reasons for that which I will not go into for this blog. However, Have you seen the authorized/certified teacher list? None of those people live in Nutbush Tennessee,Elba Alabama or Charlotte North Carolina. If you are fortunate enough to have the money, time and babysitters available to travel, that is awesome. However, the average person does not.   

This brings us to the old argument that got many people kicked out of Sunday School . Is it possible for a person to be a Christian & know Jesus if they are never exposed to Christianity & can these people get into heaven? I am not saying that Ashtanga is the way to heaven, but if it is, & we all sit around and wait for a certified/authorized teacher to bless us with their presence, most of the world would wind up in the fiery pit."

What is the moral of Shanna's story thus far? Well, one conclusion we can draw from Shanna's story might be that if you happen to live in Nutbush Tennesse, Elba Alabama or Charlotte North Carolina (or Moorhead, Minnesota, for that matter), you would do well to get your ass ASAP to Mysore to study at the KPJAYI, so that the lack of authorized/certified teachers in these places will soon be rectified!

But I suspect I'm missing the point here (and deliberately so :-)). Shanna's point, as you can see, is that since there are only so many authorized and certified teachers around (and they tend to congregate in large urban centers, for some reason), people who live in smaller cities will not benefit from their presence and instruction. Rather than have all these people wait to do Ashtanga in their next lifetimes (and burn in some fiery pit in the meantime :-)), it would be far better for teachers who are not (yet?) authorized or certified to step up to the plate, so to speak, and offer the gift of Ashtanga to all these people who would otherwise never encounter it. Shanna expresses this point very eloquently when she writes:

"How are people to learn about Ashtanga and experience its benefits if they don't have access to it? Unauthorized teachers exist because there is a hole. There are areas where people want it and there is no one to teach it. It is not about fame, glory and money. Those who come in it for that quickly drop off because the dedication needed to practice Ashtanga doesn't appeal to the average yoga student. Those teachers who venture out to teach traditional Ashtanga are in it for love. 

I am a hometown yogi teaching without the Jois family blessing.  Like many, I fell in love with the practice & it changed me. People came to me wanting to know what I was doing different in my life. When I told them Ashtanga,they wanted to learn it so I taught them thus lighting the fire for many. Without the  hometown Ashtanga teacher, Ashtanga would not have spread the way it did & many people would never have realized its benefits."

But some people might say, "Look, I don't live close to a shala or to an authorized or certified teacher. But I already have my own Ashtanga home practice, and I love practicing at home; it does wonders for me. Why should I care about whether people around me do or do not do Ashtanga, so long as I myself do it and keep the flame alive?" Shanna has some, uh, not-so-nice things to say about these people (do "these people" include me, I wonder?):

"It is always funny to see the Ashtanga snobs come out of their caves when the authorized/certified teachers come into town. What they don't realize is that without the hometown teachers, these people wouldn't be here. There wouldn't be a demand. The hometown teachers created the buzz and lit the candle that drew the workshop attendees to the light. These are the creators and change makers.

But what impact does the Ashtanga snob have on the world? The person who refuses to share their practices or energy with others because of righteousness and superiority? They say they make this choice because they are true to the tradition, but how does their behavior actually help the tradition?"

Hmm... these are very strong and thoughtful words here. As you might know if you have been reading this blog for a while, I tried to make a foray into teaching Ashtanga for a while last year, but things didn't quite work out (see this post). Shanna's words here give me more food for thought in this area. Personally, I don't feel ready or in a good position to teach Ashtanga right now, mainly because of things in my personal and work life. But perhaps, from the viewpoint of Ashtanga, teaching others isn't just something that one chooses to do at one's leisure; perhaps, as Shanna points out here, there is a bigger reason and bigger purpose to be served by teaching others and leading them to the light of Ashtanga yoga. Well, I can't say much more now, because with many important matters (like this one), there comes a point where words become superfluous, even meaningless; you either do it or don't do it, that's all. But I'll keep all this in mind.    

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But let's move to some less weighty matters for now. Exactly two years ago on this day, I wrote my first post on this blog: Which means that Yoga in the Dragon's Den is now two years old! Happy Birthday, Yoga in the Dragon's Den! Many thanks to all of you for reading this blog and keeping it alive with your presence :-)

But this also means that this blog might be entering a difficult period of its existence: The Terrible Twos! So this may be a good time and place to issue a warning:

[Image taken from here]

Well, there isn't that much more I can say right now. We'll just have to wait and see what terrible things come out of this blog in the coming year...  

16 comments:

  1. Happy bday to your blog and keep it up. I think the "Twos" get a bad rap and it is a really a pretty fun time. Perhaps the same will be true of your toddler-era blogging. I look forward to another year of reading. Kristen

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    1. Thanks Kristen :-) We'll have to see what comes out of this "toddler" in the next few months...

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  2. I wonder why people who practice at home are labelled "Ashtanga snobs" and are accused of being superior/self-righteous? This seems to paint home practitioners with a rather large brush.

    Not all of them are practising at home in order to remain "true to the tradition". I suspect that there are multiple reasons why people decide to practice at home, even in cities with shalas or certified teachers. (full disclosure, i have done both a home practice and a shala practice)

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    1. To be fair, I don't think Shanna is actually labeling all home practitioners "Ashtanga snobs". In order to qualify for the label, so to speak, you must not just practice at home: You must also think that people who teach without being authorized or certified, or who practice with an unauthorized or uncertified teacher, are people who have "strayed from the path" and are not following tradition.

      In this sense, I don't think I am an Ashtanga snob (and neither are you :-)).

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  3. Perfect beginning for your terrible twos. Keep it real, my friend.

    I am all for hometown teachers. Daily practice, with people, evens everything out in the end. It is good when people off all corners of the tradition can practice together without egoic entanglements one way or another.

    The comments about ashtanga snobs in their caves, however, is incredibly unfortunate. In whose head does said snobbery actually reside? Some people are practicing at home because they have been asked to do so by their teacher. Periods of self practice are really useful for going deep into concentration and self-study, and for working on difficult techniques. Support people doing that hard work, for Godsakes. They are a very special, hardcore breed of Jedi.

    Anyway. I think people should practice together and that practice will even everything out. Here in the midwest, community is such an important resource. But... I never buy the "I HAVE to teach ashtanga but I can't go to Mysore" thing. Teaching is potentially a form of karma yoga (selfless service), and it is also a very intense calling. One won't be all that able to transmit this freaking powerful tradition if she doesn't have the wherewithal, willpower, and capacity for sacrifice required to get her ass to Mysore every so often. Ashtanga teachers should have strong enough minds that they can make something like a trip to Mysore a reality, even though it is a very difficult thing to manifest.

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    1. "Support people doing that hard work, for Godsakes. They are a very special, hardcore breed of Jedi."

      Couldn't agree more, especially about the Jedi part :-) In my own case, however, I also sense that I may have gotten to the point where a little instruction from the "outside" wouldn't hurt. Which means going to a workshop (or even going to Mysore) might soon be in order.

      I agree with what you say about Mysore. I will keep working on manifesting this in my life.

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  4. Awesome. I loved your post. I will be following you. Thank you for reading my blog.

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  5. a lot of us teach astanga out of necessity. i had no plans to teach when i began my journey. even in a big active city like chicago, at the time when i started-mid 90s-it was tricky to find someone who even went to india. lucky for me i found at least an authorized teacher. then it soon became necessary to teach mysore style because we had no mysore program in chicago until i started a serious program. there were scattered classes but not a 6 day a week morning mysore program.

    there are lots of teachers passing on the astanga yoga system to the best of their abilities. i personally never wanted the authorization or to be certified. i never even wanted to be a direct student of sharath or guruji because i resonated more & had better access to certified teachers.

    anyhoo.....i am one of those astangis who practice alone everyday. because thats what i love to do. there's no other reason for it & if i come out of the woodwork for a tim miller workshop, it's only because i love tim & would like to see him.

    lots to think about here. & cheers to 2 years !

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Lisa. Yes, there's a lot to think about. I don't think one needs to be authorized or certified to teach, although I do want to go to Mysore, hopefully someday soon. But I think it's really great that you stood up when you did and started a regular Mysore program where there was none, and probably inspired lots of people to begin their Ashtanga journeys; I actually know people (I'm not going to name any names here) who credit you with being one of their first "real" Ashtanga teachers :-)

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  6. Oh, I hate to disagree with Owl, but I do. Not everyone can get themselves to Mysore, and not everyone wants to. I submit that going to Mysore for authorization is like going to Harvard or Yale. It's a beautiful feather in your cap, and I'm the first to admire it. But it's a bit over the top to say that only those people authorized in Mysore are qualified to share this amazing practice. It's a bit... fundamentalist to go that far.

    There are some fabulous teachers right here in this country, fully capable of passing on the tradition. No one, no one owns Ashtanga. This practice is bigger than one country and one man.


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    1. Hello Deborah,
      I don't think Owl is actually saying that only people authorized in Mysore or who have at least been to Mysore are qualified to share this amazing practice, although she does say that "one won't be all that able to transmit this freaking powerful tradition if she doesn't have the wherewithal, willpower, and capacity for sacrifice required to get her ass to Mysore every so often."

      What I think she's saying is that there is something about the whole process of going to Mysore (doing all the preparations to get there, getting there and being very bored with doing only primary series for some time while being in a foreign environment, etc.) that shapes one in such a way as to enlarge and enhance one's capacity to transmit this practice.

      In saying this, I don't think she's putting down the practices and teaching of teachers who have never been to Mysore (at least, I don't think she is). But at the same time, the fact remains that this practice came to us from a lineage, and so long as the lineage holder continues to practice and teach and keep the lineage alive (and I have no reason to suspect otherwise), it will be true that going to the source of the tradition connects one to the lineage and the tradition in a way that not doing so cannot.

      In this sense, going to Mysore to study Ashtanga is not like going to Harvard or Yale, because Harvard/Yale is not the source of academic learning in the way in which Mysore is the source of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. If this comparison feels strained and awkward, it's because it is: They are really in two different categories altogether.

      Is this fundamentalist? Well, if insisting that there is only one source of Ashtanga yoga is fundamentalist, then, yes, it is fundamentalist: There is a reason why I call myself an Ashtanga Fundamentalist :-) So yes, I am biting the Fundamentalist bullet here...

      Wow, that was a lot from somebody who hasn't even been to Mysore! Owl, if you are reading this and have anything to add, please do. I think I'm representing you correctly, but I cannot be absolutely sure, because I'm not you; or maybe I am, on some version of Bad Advaita, but that's another story :-)

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  7. So here’s the thing, Nobel. First, let me say that Yoga in the Dragon’s Den is my favorite yoga blog, the one I come back to week after week for interesting commentary on Ashtanga yoga and various related (and some unrelated) categories. Also, Angela (a.k.a. Inside Owl), has written some of the best writing on the deeper elements of Ashtanga yoga that I have found anywhere. Even when I have only an inkling what she is talking about, I have faith that she does know, at least enough to point a proverbial finger at the moon.

    Although I have taken workshops and teacher trainings with ashtanga luminaries certified, authorized, and otherwise just plain immersed in the culture, none of those people live near me. I learned the practice, and continue to learn the practice, from long time practitioners who have never been and have no intention of going to Mysore. “It’s not my scene.” Robert told me. Without Susan Pentland and Robert Moses, I wouldn’t have this practice, this transformative sadhana that has changed my life and helped me evolve as a human being.

    I offer my deepest gratitude to these teachers. It seems to me that in the end, students will vote with their feet, taking practice with those teachers who point their finger at the moon, illuminating the path, regardless of who or where they have studied.

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    1. Hello Deborah,
      thanks for reading and enjoying Yoga in the Dragon's Den. Yes, I also think that Angela/Owl is a good moon-pointing finger :-)

      It is true that students will, in the end, take practice with whichever teachers help them best to see the moon (or, better yet, get there). And having never been to Mysore myself, I can't really say whether or not it is my scene, either; I may not even like it, considering that I have lived all my life surrounded by the comforts of the so-called developed world.

      But I do have a burning curiosity to experience Mysore and KPJAYI as it is, and see what it does to me and my practice. Which is why I keep talking about it; I always believe that if you talk enough about something to enough people, it will happen :-)

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