Saturday, July 08, 2006


Inspired by a post by Jenna and an unrelated, but coincidentally recent, discussion I had with another blogger who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons of privacy, I have been thinking about the issue of whether it is ever okay for a non-authorized teacher to teach the Ashtanga system (or at least what one knows of it) to someone who would not otherwise have access to an authorized teacher (and by "authorized teacher", I mean one who has been authorized to teach the Asthanga system by Guruji, himself).

Here in NYC, we are lucky to have access to more than four studios that specialize in teaching Ashtanga in the Mysore style plus a number of authorized teachers not necessarily affiliated with those studios. But there are plenty of folks out there who wish to practice Ashtanga, or at least to give it a try, but who don't have personal access to an authorized teacher. One of those is my cousin, D, who lives far enough away from the nearest shala to make it completely impractical for her to go there on any regular basis. I asked Sir what D should do, and he suggested that she spend a week at a shala and then go practice on her own for a while, then spend another week at a shala (doesn't have to be the same one as the first) and then go back home and practice again, and so on. Still, this is not practical for D because she has young children and is, herself, in graduate school, and so cannot run off for a week here and a week there. Others, including many who are reading this, have similar stories - no shala within a 50 mile radius, the impossibility of travel, etc.

So, let's say that a wannabe Ashtangi without an authorized teacher discovers that there is someone in town who has studied Ashtanga with an authorized teacher and who maintains a daily personal practice. And let's say that the wannabe Ashtangi without an authorized teacher asks the student who has studied with an authorized teacher to teach her Ashtanga.

Would it be wrong in this case for the student who has studied with an authorized teacher but who is not authorized by Guruji to teach Ashtanga, to teach Asthanga to the wannabe Ashtangi? What would be worse, for the wannabe Ashtangi to be taught by a non-authorized teacher? Or for the wannabe Ashtangi to miss out on the benefits of Ashtanga? What would be worse, for the wannabe Ashtangi to receive a diluted third-hand version of the teachings? Or for the world to be deprived of the birth of another Ashtangi, albeit a somewhat bastardized version?



Karen said...

I've taught my husband and my daughter. Or, more accurately, I've practiced with them watching and following along. It's very clear to me that I am not an Ashtanga teacher, so all I can do for them is offer them some exposure, and then they have to figure out how/when to access a real teacher. For those who are far from authorized teachers, there're always DVDs (shout out to Richard Freeman, my first teacher via DVD ;-) DVDs, with an occasional in-person visit to an authorized teacher, seems like a viable solution.

Sue said...

Tough situation and tough questions.

I don't feel as though I'm much of an authority, but here's my 2 cents anyway.

I don't have a problem with a non-authorized teacher teaching the basics of Ashtanga as long as the non-authorized teacher's intentions are sincere and that the student will eventually make it to an authorized teacher at some point in time.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to an authorized teacher. Some don't even have access to a teacher! If I was in your cousin D's situation, I would be so grateful to be taught by anyone, authorized or not, just so I could get a taste of Ashtanga.

Jody said...

Im sure the sky wouldnt fall if you taught your cousin ashtanga. But you probably shouldn't teacher her any farther than you are in the system yourself.

yoga chickie said...

Point of clarification: I would LOVE to teach my cousin everything I know up to Supta K, except for one small problema: she lives approximately 2000 miles away!!!!!!!!! I did write her a cheat sheet once though. She practices "with" Darby via DVD. But understandably, it's not an especially workable scenario, especially since she is also a marathon runner, so she could probably use some really good adjustments. My question was really based on Jenna's (Driste - linked in the main entry) blog about her husband!


Yogamum said...

I was taught by an unauthorized teacher and I am eternally grateful. She always made it clear that the ideal would be to go to Guruji himself or barring that, an authorized teacher. Was it good for me? Absolutely. Is it good for "ashtanga"? Who knows.

I think Melanie Fawer's DVD is particularly good for instruction, BTW.

Tell your cousin if she ever does have time to make a field trip, we have a Mysore-style practice group every other Sunday at a studio about an hour north of Colorado Springs, a straight shot up I-25 from her.

samasthiti said...

I think people get a bit hung up on the whole authorized thing.

Of the three teachers I have studied with that I consider to be amazing teachers, only one was authorized, When given a choice, I choose to study with the two who are not. One has 20 years experience, studied with Guruji for 6 months, studied with Tim Miller and Richard Freeman. The other 14 years, Guruji 2 times, and Richard Freeman( her main teacher), and Tim Miller. That's enough for me.

But I do think it's interesting that Sharath says to study for 10 years and then be a teacher, when they are authorizing people who have studied for way less time than that.

And as far as dilution..isn't it a practice taught by transmission? Eventually Tim Miller, David Swenson, etc, are going to be the next in line with Sharath, as far as that goes? And Guruji is already the second or third or who knows how many dillution, a this is a really old practice.

It's better to have some kind of honorably taught ashtanga than none at all. I think they may try to seek out more if they are exposed in the first place, like me.

Anonymous said...

it's a hard call because i am one of those people dealing the no-certified-teacher-within-a-50-mile-radius situation. and i am very aware of, and respect, AYRI's desire for quality control on teaching. realistically i think more people are learning from non-certified teachers. just go to and see how many poeple are actually listed as 'certified.' not too many. like sue said, as long as the teacher's intentions are good,and, more importantly, they know their stuff. my teacher is not certified but has studied with a teacher who is for 6 years and she's good. i guess it's down to how bad one wants their practice. and a little common sense and discrimination. i sign myself anonymous only because i am computer illiterate and trying to figure out choosing an identity and going throught the whole ordeal of setting up yet another internet account (probably with yet another internet password and username) has been too much of a bother. i will tackle the issue shortly to conjure my identity as i don't have a problem letting anyone know who i am. take care.

Anonymous said...

maybe, if you can find a few people in your area that are interested in the ashtanga practice, you could get together and invite one of those authoried teachers once in a while for a workshop, you have a bottomline to work from. and maybe, you can make an arrangement with traveling teachers to visit every few months or so?
my 1-cent,

Richard said...

I think its just a case of good, better, best. Credentials are just that, credentials. They lend a certain credence, but in the end don't tell the whole story. Certainly a certified transmissioned fully documented teacher would be perfect. But we start from where we are and maybe that should be good enough.

Jenna said...

I have no trouble with the ethics in my situation. I feel completely comfortable helping my husband practice ashtanga in a mysore style. When I asked via email, my instructor said the following:

"it is great news that your husband wants to begin yoga [or at least give it a try]. it seems you have the right idea about starting him off slowly. just think about how much he may be able to sustain and maintain and how much you are willing to guide him through it [the less you show him at a time, the quicker he can memorize it, the less he'll need you] and that doing less more frequently is better than more less frequently. but you already know this. i am only saying so because you asked.

as for bringing him to class, ask us again after we return, before you want to come."

To clarify for those who don't know my situation, I live 100 miles from the nearest authorized instructor, and I visit my (authorized) instructor about twice a month. I follow his guidance in my own self practice, and talk to him via email quite often to keep a stronger teacher-student lineage.

I was teaching a led-primary ashtanga class once a week. I recently gave that up for a few reasons, one of which was that while I do feel comfortable leading my husband in a mysore setting, I don't feel comfortable leading a group through full primary when they shouldn't be practicing full primary. This is, unfortunately, the way I was taught ashtanga, but after learning in a mysore setting, I realize the importance of stopping at a pose you cannot approximate before moving further along in the series.

Just today, the owner of the studio I taught at asked me to take on the led primary class again, as well as teach a "beginning ashtanga" class. So these issues are brought to light for me again. Teaching my husband is one thing. Teaching a class is a whole 'nother deal that I don't think I'm ready for.

However, on the flip side, there is absolutely no ashtanga here in San Luis Obispo. And if a community began to emmerge (via someone like me teaching-gasp), then the likelihood of an authorized teacher setting up shop here to build a mysore community is much stronger. So what to do, what to do....

Anonymous said...

I don't think it makes one bit of difference. My ashtanga teacher was orignally an iyengar teacher for many years, then found ashtanga, visited mysore twice and now teaches with other non-authorized teachers at a studio he owns. Many certified teachers visit running week long courses through-out the year.
Yoga is yoga.
Asana is asana.
Just because a teacher is not authorised does not mean he/she cannot teach asana. That's just ridiculous.

_Richard_ said...

Ashtanga is a system for healthy 14 year old Indian boys. That's what Jois was anyway. So if you don't fit that demographic, Ashtanga might not be for you.

If this sounds a little cut and dry, consider this...the Ashtanga and Iyengar systems came from the same teacher! I think this is what makes Krishnamacharya so great. He knew what Jois needed (who was healthy) and what Iyengar needed (who was often ill).

The question of the ethics of teaching a system is further compounded by the subjectivity of our teachings. Everybody takes something different from a given teacher. The only Ashtanga actually taught is by Guruji himself. Everyone else is teaching what they think to be Ashtanga.

This combined with the fact that most people can't just walk in and start the primary series leads to some questions of the validity of the Ashtanga "system" as a strict linear practice. Yoga isn't a cut and dry method - we're teaching our selves how to be dynamic. We can't do that in a pre-defined system! I feel the same way about Bikram (although I have more beef about Bikram himself than Jois).

Many times, when I teach, I give time for "yogi's choice" - a block of time to do whatever they want. I think we have to listen to ourselves and each other. If we are honest with our abilities to teach the Ashtanga system (I've done it as subs for classes), we'll cultivate the flexibility we need for the system itself, and for the world.

Great blog by the way!



samasthiti said...

"This combined with the fact that most people can't just walk in and start the primary series leads to some questions of the validity of the Ashtanga "system" as a strict linear practice."

If people were to start ashtanga practice in the traditional method, they would be led Mysore style, through the series one pose at at time by their teacher. It is a system that works when you follow the rules. It's hard, but so is everything worthwhile in life.

I think people think they know what they need more than their yoga instructors do. Mainly because in America there are a lot of yoga instructors and not a lot of honest to god teachers. Ashtanga's "strict linear practice" leads us to find meditation and peace, that is hard to find when you just do whatever you want.

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