Those of you who have known me throughout the last 15 years of teaching yoga know that I love teaching both Ashtanga and Vinyasa flow. I am one of the few teachers who has studied, continues to study extensively in both systems, and believes in both. I have been asked so often how and why that is possible, that I felt the need to write a brief piece on it.
How can I be an “authentic” and “real” Ashtanga teacher if I study, teach and practice both systems?
While I attended my first yoga class in CA in ’96, I didn’t begin practicing with intention until ’98 at Atlanta Yoga, under the guidance of Adele Gale. I had very little experience practicing, but I instantly fell in love with Ashtanga and it remains my main area of study and practice. But, soon after I began teaching, I realized that Vinyasa flow (as taught by my VF teacher, Shiva Rea and other respected teachers) also had major benefits and was also a legitimate system. I realized that for some students, Ashtanga was the recipe, but for others, Vinyasa flow was. For some, the Mysore style and it’s beauty and simplicity was the path. For others, the joining together on the mat in a group practice that was led and always different was the path. Rather than take on a judgmental stance and have students who just quit practicing, I committed to teaching both styles. While the Ashtanga system works better for me personally as my spiritual practice, and continues to be my main asana practice, I enjoy and benefit greatly from VF, and I know others do, too.
In my view, for me to dictate what style of yoga you practice is a lot like pretending that my political preferences or religious preferences are the only “right” ones. Just because I think it, doesn’t make it “right.” There are many legitimate systems of yoga, and it is not for me to tell you what your spiritual path should be. I can only share my experiences and hope to help others find their ways, whether they are “my way” or not does not matter. In all actuality, I am only the message bearer, not much more. It is not up to me to create or put my “take” on the message, it is only my job to share it.
Unfortunately, there can be judgment by some teachers in the west, an attitude that their system or teaching is the only “correct” method. And, interestingly, it appears in both styles that I teach. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have heard from vinyasa flow peeps that Ashtanga is too dogmatic, or from Ashtangis that Vinyasa flow isn’t “real” (that is what I hear most often, and it is a shame and pretty insulting to the students who practice this style 6 days a week). These statements always makes me sad, because A) these are not true statements, and B) why should anyone care what system someone else is practicing? They are on their mats and that is awesome! I do understand that some classes have gotten a bit away from the original intent. For example, I am certain that the sutras do not expound upon using yoga in conjunction with cycling for firmer glutes. But again, who am I to judge? I can only do what I do, with faith and conviction.
And in my experience, the truly gifted gurus (such as David Garrigues) never, ever teach from a place of judgement or criticism, but only from a place of love, bhakti, profound experience and knowledge.
And so all I know to do is to teach, authentically, both systems. They have more in common in my teaching style than not. I can only remain true to trying to get as many people practicing daily as possible, without judgment and with great love. At the end of the day, isn’t it all just a journey toward God? Why is my journey better or more real than yours? It’s not.
I hope to see you on the mat soon.
“galavasana” and “fallen angel.”