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yoga is not mechanical: teaching Ashtanga

Posted by on February 5, 2013

Scot Hendricks is our visiting teacher this winter in Boston, while Kate O’Donnell is in Mysore, India.

While regular “teacher-hopping” is not recommended for those practicing ashtanga yoga, it can be very beneficial to the students when a guest teacher comes for a few months.

There are no 200-hour ashtanga yoga teacher training programs; what makes a teacher is a long and devoted relationship to their teacher, an inquisitive and sustained practice, and a healthy appetite for self-study.

It is this method of ‘training’ which makes each teacher a unique conduit for a yoga practice which from the outset can seem formulaic and mechanical, when in fact there is much subtle knowledge to be found.

With a little guidance, of course.

As Scot has been getting to know each of us so well over the past few weeks, I asked him to share a bit more about his own background and approach to teaching Ashtanga Yoga. His response is below.

Om.

Cara

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 What is your approach to teaching Ashtanga yoga?

My approach to teaching Astanga yoga involves finding the work each individual needs to do in their own practice, and assisting to direct their attention to what might be getting in the way of their experience of yoga.

I tend not to focus on getting people into a pose, i.e. just helping them bind their hands, or bend or twist more. When working on a specific pose, I feel that what we are looking at is not just the pose itself, but how it confronts the student with something that relates to the entire practice. Often this approach requires letting go of what we think the finished pose is supposed to look like — “getting off the time line” — and taking a greater interest in the process.

This might start with listening to the quality of the breath, or clarifying the vinyasa sequence, pressing into the root to feel a more stable, balanced expression of the pose. There are many ways we work, all basically aimed to bring more attention to how it actually feels to be in the asana. If we can get into it deep enough, the practice reveals what to do – “yogas chitta vritti nirodhah.”

So I’d say my approach is to assist people to become more involved in doing the practice, in a way that will let them have a clearer experience of what yoga is. It’s what I feel Pattabhi means by “do your practice, and all is coming.”

Progress is not in getting people to be able to do more “advanced” poses, but in being able to go deeper into the poses they are already familiar with. At the same time, attempting more advanced poses is a great way to bring back an appreciation for the poses which we practice daily. It helps us gain a new perspective. See what we may have missed, or have been avoiding. One of my often quoted teachings from Tim Miller, “avoidance is not the answer.”

Over the years as I travel around and teach lots of new students in various places, I’ve noticed that as I watch people doing surya-namaskar I get a pretty good picture of what the rest of their practice will look like. It’s all there right from the beginning. That’s why I never get bored teaching fundamentals. What is amazing to me about the Ashtanga system is that after more than 20 years I still enjoy it.

Krishnamacharya said it best, “yoga is not mechanical.”

 

Scot Hendricks has been a student of yoga for more than 25 years.

He began the practice of Asthanga Yoga with Chuck Miller in 1991 at YogaWorks, in Santa Monica California.

He continues to practice under the guidance of Tim Miller in Encinitas CA, and Rolf Naujokat in Goa India. Scot has spent many years in Thailand, India, and Japan deepening his experience of the body-mind-spirit through the practices of Yoga, Vipassana Meditation, Thai Massage, Dance and Aikido.

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