Today I was reading a great FAQ article from the Ashtanga Yoga Library and the author brought up a really fascinating point. Below is an excerpt:
Mahesh, this is a really reasonable concern. I remember when I first saw a picture of someone practicing ashtanga. I was horrified! I thought to myself "oh, this yoga is only for very advanced athletes who are wildly flexible and strong, etc." It took a long time before I realized that what I was seeing in the picture was not at all what I would be expected to do in my own practice...at least not right away.
My favorite Ashtanga FAQs always include a line about how one should avoid looking at asana stuff on the internet, blogs, youtube, etc. Often we get really enthusiastic about something and want to learn everything we can about it and so we get books, magazines, videos, etc. hoping that exposure to the information will help us get closer to that thing we are enthusiastic about. While this is often helpful -- we do need information in order to know what to do and how to go about doing it -- it can also be very confusing and misleading.
The reality is that You Tube, websites & books all feature ashtangis with perfect poses. To the average person, many full Ashtanga poses look like straight up contortionism. For instance, the biggest pose in Primary series is Supta Kurmasana which is pretty much both legs behind the head while laying on your belly. Most websites and books show this totally daunting variation:
While most people's supta kurmasana looks like this wonderful and totally doable variation:
It would be so awesome to see a book or website out there that showed these poses represented in different bodies. I love Ashtanga teacher Kino MacGregor and I would follow her around the world like a puppy if I had the money. One day I watched one of her you tube videos where she showed this beautiful girl who was obviously gifted and a yoga pose goddess doing variations of a pose suitable for beginners. Even the beginner versions she showed were a bit too open for a beginner. In fact, the model did a horrible job impersonating a beginner. I could imagine a beginner watching and saying, "if this is a beginner, then there is no possibility for me." I left a comment on the video requesting that she use different body types to make them more accessible and friendly to her viewers. Being that she probably gets about a million comments and e-mails a day, I am sure she didn't see it but wouldn't that be nice?
I was teaching Mysore last week and a fairly new student was moving along using a cheat sheet/practice card. I looked up and noticed that he had skipped about 2 or three poses. When I brought it to his attention, he pointed to the practice card, which I think featured Ashtanga teacher David Swenson, and said, "my body does not do that and it never will so I am just skipping it". I slowly talked him off the ledge and showed him some totally cool and awesome variations that he could do and he was rather pleased with himself afterwards.
Think about all the people, especially beginners, who look at the studio schedule and see, "Ashtanga" then go online to look it up and see this:
Here is my question to you, Lets Discus!
In an effort to provide information about Ashtanga and market it, are we actually scaring people away by only showing pictures of people doing the full version of poses?