Tuesday, 8 March 2016

A KPJAYI Authorised Ashtanga teacher's response to my recent posts on Authorisation, Parampara, Lineage, The Source etc. Also Sharath's full conference in Stockholm

It was nice to get a measured response this week to my recent posts on Ashtanga Authorisation, lineage, parampara and The Source from a recently Authorised KPJAYI teacher. The reader of my posts provides up to date information and perspective on The institute, Lineage, Authorisation, Parampara, Conference notes, Rigidityand the growing numbers of visitors to the institute

If my perspective is from the outside then this response is perhaps from 'the inside'...and up to date.

Relates to these posts.



I've also added the recent video of one of Sharath's conferences presented in Stockholm last year. 


Sharath's Stockholm conference 2015 http://www.yogashalastockholm.se/
full video below.

Hi Anthony

Like you, I feel  that the value of authorisation / certification is a worthy subject for debate. I've seen it being discussed before. Full disclosure: I am authorised in the KPJAYI sense of the word. I love my job. I help other students with their asana practice, and that help is guided by my experience assisting and practicing at KPJAYI. Personally I think this is what authorisation means. You're a student in direct and regular contact with KPJAYI. It implies a certain approach to teaching. Is it a better approach than that of Richard Freeman or John Scott? I doubt it. Is it a better approach than a crash course in "ashtanga" so that you can add it to your multi discipline portfolio? I'd like to think so.

I think that what gets most people into a tizzy about authorisation is the idea that you can't teach without it. You obviously can, loads of people do. Two of the biggest Mysore program's outside AYL in London are run by non authorised teachers.  I don't think Sharath is bothered by non authorised teaching. I don't think KPJAYI will ever chase after a non authorised teacher with lawsuits alla Bikram Choudhury.

Then there are the rules, and the risk of having it all taken away. It seems to be a rare event. So far a couple of people have lost authorisation because they ran teacher training courses. I'd argue: If you're so famous (and so sure of yourself ) that you want to run TT and if people come to you for TT, and you make a good living from TT, why are you bothered about being authorised by KPJAYI anymore? It's like saying "I believe in one kind of teaching method but I'm going to pretend I adhere to another one just to cover all my bases". It's weird.

I've assisted Sharath in Mysore in the past a wonderful, hilarious experience (he has, as you note, a great sense of humour). When I read your post I thought you might like to read my take on some of what you raised, based on my most recent contact with the Shala.

Conference notes :
These are not banned. Last winter Sharath asked people not to take notes or videos on their devices during conference. He asked people to wait until their time in Mysore was over before disseminating what they were seeing / hearing. He believes taking notes means you're not present. He believes you should digest information slowly  like a good meal before sharing it. The conferences are not lectures or seminars, they are a conversation. That said, conference notes are reappearing again this year. Maybe he hasn't said anything for a while. Maybe people forget or (more likely) are ignoring him.




The institute and the lineage:
Sharath still refers to the Shala as a research institute despite the name change, which was made to honour Guruji after his death.  I don't know why they dropped the R from the new name...maybe they thought it was too long winded.

I've never heard Sharath call himself the lineage holder. He's director of the research institute. That's not a hereditary title, he earned it over 23 years of assisting Guruji. Every day. At 43 years old He's well aware there are people who've been practicing longer than him.

He wants people to visit no matter how long they've been practicing, to continue taking part in the research. I think it disappoints him that some older students have chosen to stop going, for that reason alone.

Tradition/Parampara:
The Shala is not some great altar of tradition. I think a lot of people want it to be that way.  Little tweaks and changes to the asana system happen all the time, and if you're one of his authorised or certified people you're supposed to show up as and when you can to experience all this. That's the Parampara, in as much as I understand it. The asanas change, the yoga doesn't...people can't change yoga,  yoga changes people.

He has said, possibly in jest, that he doesn't want his children to end up teaching. He wants them to find their own path.  In the past two years the foreign and local students alike  are being encouraged to assist. You can write to the Shala and ask to assist when you get a place there. Last time he was in London he said assisting is the best form of research.

Rigidity :
The sequences we call primary, intermediate etc are not rigid. There is of course an average type of body - mind that can learn (and greatly benefit from) the standardised primary and / or intermediate series without too many obstacles but I got to see first hand how many variations there are, especially when he's working with someone local who he can help all year round. And, increasingly, he gets authorised students to work with him on such projects....it breaks a whole bunch of what most people would call "the rules".

Pranayama:
is being added earlier than it used to. Students of primary series are introduced to nadi shodan first.

The Madonna effect:
I think Madge putting her leg behind her head had a negligible impact on the popularity of astanga compared to, say, the recent phenomenon of Kino MacGregor online. Madonna, as far as I'm aware, referenced astanga but never spoke about Mysore. Kino exhorts her followers to head for "the source".

The recent swell in numbers trying to get to "the source" is probably going to bring about more big changes. At the moment the Shala is caught between a rock and a hard place. To continue with Guruji's open door policy or to formalise it into a system more like Iyengar's with wait lists etc? To take the heat off Sharath by letting some certified teachers train and possibly authorise ? Who knows....

Cheers

-----------------------------


I was going to add my long 'chatty' response to the mail above but decided I have rambled on enough in the posts this mail responds to. However here is a nice extended comment/response to the original post from a non authorised but experienced Ashtanga teacher  from the comments section of that post.

---------------------------

"Such a great discussion/overview of this subject, Anthony. Thanks for this.

It's my belief that a good teacher of this practice does something that goes beyond accurately sharing the series as it has been codified, or providing good physical assists, or great technical pointers.

There are teachers, and then there are TEACHERS.

There's that lovely saying in the Ashtanga world - I first read it on Angela Jamison's blog - "Holding the space." I feel strongly that the key to good teaching lies in this concept. Holding the space means the teacher is fully present, grounded in their own practice, and yet, egoless in the way they share the practice with students. They share the practice - the one they have done for a long time - as it has been taught to them by their teacher, with an intent to meet each student where they are that day, and serve that student, kindly and wisely.

With this intention, I teach. And I am not authorized. But, I think of myself as a facilitator, or even, servant of the student. My first Ashtanga teacher, Beryl Bender Birch, and in fact, all of the teachers I have studied with who have really resonated with me as TEACHERS (Nancy, Tim) share this quality. They serve, without ego, but with wisdom and kindness.

Teaching as an act of service to those who chose to study the practice with my help brings my own ego into check. I become a clearer conduit for the knowledge that has been shared with me, and facilitate the student's exploration and self-discovery of pramana - right knowledge.

And, speaking of right knowledge, there's that great sutra - 1.7 - which applies here, methinks -

प्रत्यक्षानुमानाअगमाः प्रमाणानि ॥७॥

pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ pramāṇāni ॥7॥

"Of these five, there are three ways of gaining correct knowledge (pramana): 1) perception, 2) inference, and 3) testimony or verbal communication from others who have knowledge.
(pratyaksha anumana agamah pramanani)

pratyaksha = direct perception or cognition
anumana = inference, reasoning, deduction
agamah = authority, testimony, validation, competent evidence
pramanani = valid means of knowing, proofs, sources of correct knowing

I think of this Sutra when I read or hear "words of authority", coming on down from on high (although, ofttimes, these words have been filtered - I think that's why Sharath has said lately, "No more conference notes." It's like the telephone game!)

Note, that the best form of pramana/right knowledge has all three elements: our own experience or perception, logic, and the direct words of a figure of authority.

Still, the best of these three is the first: our OWN experience, OUR perceptions! (Patanjali tended to put the most important or crucial element first in his tendency to list things in the Sutras.) Logic may erroneously be based on false assumptions. And figures of authority may not turn out to be figures of authority, but the misinformed - or worse, charlatans (for more on this, we can all google, "guru, sex scandal"

I've always been a bit of a rebel or outlier, so I believe respectfully questioning authority, when your own experience tells you otherwise, is a sign of a healthy and active mind and spirit. The Ashtanga practice fosters this trait, as it produces a healthy and active mind and spirit, too, when done for a long time".



***


A note on the above conference video.

I happen to find the video frustrating at times, Sharath is clearly referring to Mark Singleton's book Yoga Body at the beginning of the conference, he dismisses the book by saying that anybody can write a book (Mark's book was based on his Phd thesis) and is dismissive of 'some University' (Mark discipline is Philology and Ethnography , his PHD is from the ancient Department of Divinity at Cambridge). Sharath stresses the importance of actual practice (not realizing perhaps that Mark has practised Ashtanga for many years).  

As it happens, I'm not convinced by some of Mark's arguments in Yoga Body either, however I value the contribution he and his colleagues are making in moving towards a better understanding of yoga's past and present, how the theory and practice of yoga has been and is currently being transmitted. We can see perhaps in my recent posts and the response above the constant, ongoing, layering and rewriting of interpretation by teachers, students, scholars and the media.

It's unholy mess and can be a distraction, informed practice with discernment is best, which is I think what Sharath really wants to say.

The conference gets better after this shaky beginning.

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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