Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Long breath, short breath; Is there a place for Yoga Teacher Trainings in Ashtanga?; The (possible) Republic of Texas

The last few days have found me in a state of blogging malaise, in which I just can't find any motivation to blog. It appears that the most active conversation in the Ashtanga blogosphere right now involves the question of how long or how short your inhalations and exhalations should be in the Ashtanga practice. But honestly (and apologies to Grimmly here), I really don't get this conversation. As far as I'm concerned, I agree with David Garrigues' position on this issue, which Karen has most generously shared on Grimmly's blog:

'...David Garrigues talked about balancing the energies that can arise -- tamasic, potentially, if you go too slow; rajasic, if too fast. Instead of a "correct" answer, it's about the individual paying attention to the energy he/she is creating with the breath.").'

And that's that. If your present rate of breathing in your practice is causing you to become restless/rajasic for the rest of the day, then you need to lengthen your breaths. If your present rate of breathing is causing you to become lethargic/tamasic, then you need to shorten your breaths. Simple, right? Again, many apologies to Grimmly for being such a wet blanket here; I would probably be pretty pissed myself if other people were to throw a similar wet blanket on conversations that I started. But well, it is what it is... 


Fortunately, Claudia has rescued me from my state of blogging malaise with her most recent post, in which she addresses a reader's question about whether any studio should train Ashtanga yoga teachers. 

Just so it is clear that we are talking about the same thing, by "Ashtanga", I mean "Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga", i.e. the practice that I (and hopefully, you) have come to love, and of which I am a self-declared Fundamentalist. 

So... should any studio be offering teacher training to train Ashtanga yoga teachers? In a way, the issue is moot. As we know, KPJAYI has explicitly stated that it is the only body that has the authority to authorize teachers of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (whether you agree with KPJAYI or not is another story...). But this has not stopped studios all over the world from offering teacher trainings that purport to train people to be able to teach Ashtanga competently. Just the other day, in fact, I actually ran into a couple of people here in Minnesota who are doing a yoga teacher training. When I asked them what style they are being trained to teach, they said, "Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga." I thought about starting a debate with them about why they believe that their teacher trainer is qualified to teach them to teach Ashtanga, but decided against it. First of all, such a conversation would violate the doctrine of Minnesota Nice. Moreover, there's just something about this culture of niceness that prevails in the yoga world (see this post) that makes it difficult for anybody to initiate a debate in a real-life yoga conversation. So I left it at that. 

So maybe the more interesting question would be: Is there any place for yoga teacher trainings within an Ashtanga studio? I recently learned that a certified Ashtanga teacher whom I greatly respect will be starting a teacher training program in her studio beginning from next year (I think Claudia mentions some such thing in her post as well; I wonder if we're talking about the same teacher/studio?). When I learned about this development from this teacher's Facebook page, I immediately emailed her and asked her what her reason was for doing this, given that Sharath has quite explicitly stated that only KPJAYI has the authority to authorize teachers to teach Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. 

Damn! I really am becoming the Ashtanga Police, aren't I? :-) To my pleasant surprise, this teacher took a generous amount of her time to write a lengthy reply to my email. In her reply, she explained that although only KPJAYI has the official authority to authorize teachers of Ashtanga, the fact is that many capable students at her studio who wanted to become teachers were searching all over the city for yoga teacher training (TT) programs. Rather than have them take a Power Yoga TT or a TT from some other style of yoga, she decided that it would be better for her to offer them an in-house TT program; this way, she can at least have some control over what they are learning and how they are learning it, so that they won't go around the city teaching Ashtanga and saying that she has trained them to teach a particular way when she hasn't. She also hopes that at least one or two of the graduates from her TT will be able to help her teach an Intro to Ashtanga class that she is planning to set up at her studio. 

In addition, she also emphasizes that this TT she is offering is by no means a substitute for going to Mysore, and that she agrees with KPJAYI that if somebody wants to teach Ashtanga in the traditional way(as in teach Mysore style, beyond the Introductory class level), they have to make the trip to KPJAYI.

I think this teacher (I have this feeling that many of you probably know who she is) is adopting a very wise policy, and I agree with what she is doing. So, to answer the question above: Yes, there is a limited role that TTs can play within an Ashtanga studio: They can supplement and support, but do not replace the trip to KPJAYI.       


In other news: Did you hear that there are a bunch of people in Texas (more than 60,000 people, actually) who want the Lone Star State to secede from the United States? Crazy, right? Well, at least I think it's crazy...

Well, if this were to happen, those of you who are reading this blog from Texas will soon be reading this blog from outside the United States! Bizarre, no? And if I want to go to Texas, I will then need to have a passport! Woah... 

But seriously, I hope this won't happen. Texas actually hold some beautiful memories for me. It was actually the first place I lived in in this country; I was an exchange student at UT Austin in the fall of '99, and benefited much from and learned much from the hospitality of the people in the capital of the Lone Star State. So... well, I guess you can consider this post to be my unofficial non-endorsement of the secession of Texas from the Union! Not that anybody would care about my opinion one way or the other, but I thought I'd take a stand anyway. Damn! If I keep talking politics on this blog, I'll soon have to rename this blog Yoga and Politics in the Dragon's Den. Truthfully, this doesn't sound half as catchy as Yoga in the Dragon's Den.      

More later.  


  1. Tim Miller and Richard Freeman have their own TT programs that have been running for years so I don't think an Ashtanga teacher training (outside of Mysore) is that much of an anomaly.

    1. True, an Ashtanga TT outside of Mysore isn't that much of an anomaly... then again, what's going on in Mysore isn't a TT (at least, is not supposed to be); you are not supposed to go there with the expectation of getting authorized or certified to teach.

      Perhaps the trouble with doing Ashtanga TTs outside of Mysore is that people may get the mistaken impression that the TT (200 or 500 hour) qualifies them to teach Ashtanga, when the fact of the matter is that no amount of TT hours will suffice to make one a great teacher; the only thing that will suffice is lots of hours of practice and gaining insights from those hours. But I suppose this is not just a problem with Ashtanga; it is a problem with yoga in general.

      The other problem, I think, is that the teachers who are doing the TTs tend to go down this slippery slope where it becomes increasingly tempting to teach advanced techniques to students who may not be ready for it: See Bindy's latest post for an example of what I am talking about. So maybe the problem isn't so much TTs per se, but the sort of learning environment and expectations on the part of the students that TTs tend to foster.

      Anyway... I don't have the final word on anything; just thinking aloud, as always. I am happy to read that you are learning and having many wonderful experiences in Mysore ;-) Wish I were there...

    2. Yes. Yes. And Yes. I feel that TTs in general convey the message that one can become a yoga teacher overnight by committing 500 hours and a whole lot of money....when the real "training" happens in developing one's own practice and study with an experienced teacher. Unfortunately the long and slow road does not make an easy sell. I don't think the popularity of TTs will ever cease, therefore it is up to us as students to be discerning when choosing our teachers.

      Mysore will happen for you when the time is right, don't worry ;)

  2. If I may play devil's advocate -- what is it that you believe privileges KPJAYI for qualifying teachers?

    Let's consider a hypothetical Ashtanga teacher, who certified in Mysore. This teacher's methods are indistinguishable from those of Guruji or Sharat, resulting in students whose practice is identical to those who train in Mysore. Why is it wrong for such a teacher to offer teacher trainings, or even offer their own credential? If the method is being transmitted as an authentic continuation of its lineage, what is the basis of any objection?

    And on the other hand -- who gave Guruji permission to certify teachers? Who gave Krishnamacharya permission?

    1. I'm afraid I'm not going to be much sport for your devil-advocating :-) I think some of the things that I wrote in my reply to D above may also be relevant to what you bring up here, so I'll try not to repeat myself. Basically, my rather conservative view on this matter is that if the practice and the lineage continues to be transmitted properly via KPJAYI (and I have no reason to believe otherwise), why shouldn't we continue to look to KPJAYI as the one source for qualifying teachers? Why complicate matters by having multiple sources which may or may not be credible transmitters of the tradition?

      I think that last question probably came across as being much more confrontational than I intended it to be; I'm not making any judgment as to who is or is not qualified to transmit the tradition. Basically, I'm just adopting a conservative-pragmatic view with regard to this whole thing. Conservative, because I don't see the need to change things when there isn't a need to. Pragmatic, because I think that one source of qualifying teachers creates far less confusion than multiple sources.

    2. Not a confrontational question at all, quite reasonable in fact. From my very limited knowledge I would say that the answer to that question is this:

      In the past couple decades the student-teacher ratio at the Mysore shala has grown by a factor of hundreds.

      Also, the availability of continuous, year-round study has been eliminated.

      These two facts compromise the essential nature of how this yoga used to be transmitted: through direct transmission between guru and shishya. Not to deny that many people experience their Mysore study as having depth and meaning. But I'm afraid the significance of the credential is not what it used to be.

      The Iyengar system where the family credentials senior teachers and senior teachers credential junior teachers has done an excellent job of maintaining the integrity of their lineage. Maybe the Ashtanga community could benefit from something similar, no?

    3. That last thing you brought up about the Iyengar way of credentialing teachers is very interesting. Based on my very limited perspective, my sense is that it could also work for Ashtanga. Of course, I'm in no position to suggest such a change as big as this. But then again, maybe certain senior Ashtanga teachers have already taken things into their own hands (in a good way), and have already gone down this path.

  3. It's simple. SKPJ and Sharath have told the teachers blessed by them NOT to offer teacher training. Around 2007, they called the people doing TTs and asked them to stop. All but one did (most of the Certifieds switched to running teachers intensives, not Yoga Alliance style TTs). They asked authorized and certified teachers to sign a contract verifying that we will not participate in teacher trainings.

    So, for those of us who are students of Sharath and SKPJ, the instruction is clear. Whether we receive our teachers' instruction is up to each of us.

    We can argue with the instruction, or defy it, all we want. But that is the instruction.

    1. Thanks for the simplicity and directness of your clarification here, OvO. Definitely helps to clear things up quite a bit :-)


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