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Ashtanga Has Always Been Adaptive Yoga

Ashtanga has always been about the individual. It is traditionally taught Mysore style. In Mysore style, the student is taught pose by pose according to their abilities. An Ashtanga teacher, who has the ability to really see their students, can teach the principals to anyone.

I remember years back when one of my fellow yoga teachers asked me to teach to a group of recovering addicts and I balked at it. I asked her, “what am I supposed to do with them?” She thought it was funny because it was simple to her. You teach them yoga. I didn’t’ get it then but now I do. I, like many others had embraced a very dogmatic view of the practice. However, she taught from the pure essence of the practice.

Pattabhi Jois always said that yoga was for every one and he really meant it! He is known for telling people that,  if they would just take breath, gazing and bandhas every day, that their lives would transform.

Below is an excerpt from an awesome article by Kiki  were she talks about adapting Ashtanga to people with spinal chord injuries. See the full article here

Commissioner: Yes, Kiki, I look forward to that. So, you teach adaptive Yoga?

Kiki: No, Commissioner. I don’t teach adaptive Yoga. I teach Yoga to the individual. Furthermore, I have a unique training where I teach Yoga to the individual within a group setting.

Commissioner: Kiki that is the most refreshing and meaningful thing I’ve heard for some time.

As we moved away, George laughingly admonished me, Kiki, in the future try not to contradict the Commissioner.

I have to agree, honestly, who says no to a Commissioner? Especially one who is responsible for providing quality of life initiatives for the City’s large, diverse and underserved communities?

Well, I did. Because I can’t fathom what adaptive yoga actually means. Adaptive sounds to me like “less” than, when my Yoga understanding is that it is more, more, more. Limitless.

Over a 20 -year period, I received a rare education from my beloved teacher Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. He assured his students countless times, that this Ashtanga Yoga is a universal system, that everyone can do it. Except lazy people. And I can assure you the individuals I’m teaching at Axis exhibit extraordinary discipline and are keen to learn and practice.

At the end of each class, I ask each student to share insights or experiences of this class, or the yoga program since they began. The responses are incredible. Most students report that ongoing pain in the neck or back or shoulders is gone within a few minutes of beginning Ujjayi Breath. One student reports that after her first class she slept through the whole night for the first time ever, to which the group responded with cheers and applause. Another has gone off a prescription medication that kept his throat moist so he could sleep; after 11 years, he no longer needs it. Less stress, more calm, awareness of using yoga breath throughout the day, more strength. The list goes on.

After reporting his increased feeling of ease, a student asked, “Excuse me, but I hope you don’t mind, but I just want to know, do you have experience with people like us?”

Yes, I replied, I have similar experience with the MS community and the elderly with extreme mobility concerns.

But my expertise is in teaching Yoga to the individual.

The very definition of Yoga is limitlessness.

The Yoga Sutra, the Yoga philosophy text, defines Yoga as an experience of limitlessness.

Yoga citta vrtti nirodha.

Go here for the full article

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@shannasmallyoga.com.