Yoga History

AYC ’13: How ashtanga has changed


While there was a separate workshop I attended with Nancy about “How I was taught” (which I’ll save for a later post), the teachers discussed the changes they’ve seen in ashtanga from when they first began to practice. Some of it was the postures themselves, and some was a change in attitude. It’s hard to believe that ashtanga once was lighthearted, relaxed and not nearly as serious as it is today.

A faster pace in teaching

  • We got adjustments for every posture every day. He taught quickly – new poses every day. Today, people are held in primary for a while, and back bending didn’t come in until after we learned intermediate. – Nancy

The organization of the advanced sequences

  • Advanced A used to take 3 hours to do. The 3rd series is now equal in length as primary and intermediate. – Tim
  • Advanced A is now split as 3rd and 4th series. Advanced B is now 5th and 6th series. Primary is the most important, and Guruji would say, “Advanced just for demonstration.” – David
  • Any change that was made to postures from how we first learned it, Guruji would say, “Now it’s correct.” – Eddie

East meets West

  • Yoga in India was a natural part of culture. For Westerners, they travel all this way, and it became strict. – Nancy
  • Indian students had the “coveted” class at 4:30 am. It was relaxed and social with conversation and laughter. The vibe changed when Western students arrived. Quiet and all business. – Tim
  • It was terrifying [in reference to how it became so serious and strict]. – Dena
  • Yes, he tortured us. But when you came back, he’d put you back together. You always came out better than when we came in. – Nancy
  • It was the perfect storm with Guruji and Western students. Not a lot of local students were pumped about ashtanga. He had a lot of time to work with us. – David

Ashtanga then and now

  • It was relaxed and at times sloppy. “Today’s yoga is so serious – not like the laughter we shared with him.” – Nancy
  • “I never thought anyone would want to do this. It’s too hard.” – Nancy
  • Ashtanga is for ANYONE but not necessarily EVERYONE. Not everyone wants to do the work. – David
  • In the ’70s, we were wild hippies. It took a couple decades before ashtanga started really growing. Guruji said, “Slow growing is good.” – Tim

Ashtanga looking forward

  • The essence of the practice is the same. – David
  • “Guruji taught us something good, and we’ll carry on as best we can so it’ll be there for whoever comes after us.” – Eddie
  • The only thing that matters is if you do it, feel better from it, and if it works, then keep doing it. – David
  • “We’re clothing ourselves in this process.” – Dena

I’m compiling my notes about the teachers’ comments on the beauty, versatility and benefits of ashtanga. Stay tuned!

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  1. Moni says

    That’s really interesting! The east/west dynamic especially. Hmm. I like the idea of it being fun.

    • Terri says

      It’s pretty amazing to see how ALL of the senior teachers’ personalities are lighthearted and fun when we do such a “serious” practice. I guess you need a pretty good sense of humor to take on ashtanga 6 days a week!

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