Category Archives: Teachers

Changes in Ashtanga Teacher Standards

In the past few days there have been some changes on the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute website, ayri.org. There is a new link under the practice category called in capitals TEACHERS LIST.

In contrast with the familiar list of teachers on ashtanga.com, this list as of today (August 14 2008) primarily lists certified teachers (not authorized teachers), or a fraction of the total.

The new list on the AYRI site comes with a change in the standards for being listed. To be listed, the website states:

[Teachers] should maintain a yoga room or shala to allow for daily, preferably morning, Mysore-style practice and should honor Saturdays and the full/new moon days as rest days.

In addition, it seems that the requirements for keeping the authorization to teach are being significantly tightened. For example, teachers are asked to :

  • return to India every year and half to study for 2 months
  • have a shala for daily classes
  • refrain from teaching on traditional rest days such as Moon days
  • refrain from teaching any series beyond the primary series
  • refrain from teaching workshops

These requirements look like an attempt to raise standards and the quality of teaching. Perhaps it is due to the notable increase in students and teachers in the past 5 years (we wrote about how the number had at least doubled back in 2006). To me, these changes raise questions about the essence of Ashtanga yoga.

What effect will these new requirements have on the quality of teaching of Ashtanga yoga across the world?

In my opinion, in many ways this is a step in the wrong direction for Asthanga yoga.

Asking for a trip to India every 18 months for two whole months puts a heavy burden on new parents and on those with fewer financial means.

No Workshops?
Workshops provide benefits for both teachers and students, and are a key part in building the worldwide Ashtanga community.

Asking teachers to forgo the extra income from workshops may make it impossible for a lot of them to return to India so frequently, since ironically it is often these very workshops which give the teachers the means to return to do so.

Personally, a lot of what I have learned about Ashtanga yoga is directly due to taking workshops with authorized teachers. Had these requirements been in place when I was starting my yoga journey, I would not have had the amazing opportunities to learn from such talented teachers.

Hundreds of dedicated teachers have devoted their lives to teaching ashtanga yoga. They have made enormous sacrifices to become authorized. It seems unfair to change the rules so drastically and abruptly. The standards are changing in a way that may make it impossible for a lot of teachers to continue teaching as authorized teachers.

In addition, raising the standards in such a way that few teachers meet them could have the perverse effect of lowering the quality of teaching because they become meaningless.

These changes do not seem to be in the interest of the Ashtanga yoga community, and in the continued spreading of this wonderful practice.

These are my initial thoughts and I wrote this because I care deeply about the practice. I welcome your opinions on this important matter.

Lessons from Lino Miele

[This article was kindly contributed by Brooke Hewes].

Last month I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Rome’s Lino Miele at a workshop in Bozeman, Montana. If you haven’t heard of him, Lino is a senior Ashtanga Yoga teacher who has been studying the practice for more than 20 years-yet you wouldn’t know it at first glance. He’s as humble as a novice and as excited about the practice as if it were a recent discovery.

Lino Miele and Guruji

Lino Miele and Guruji

As those of us who practice know, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is vigorous. It’s a remarkable and joyful practice, but vigorous nonetheless. In fact, it’s the vigor-the progressively challenging postures strung together with coordinated breath and movement-that encourages body-mind unification. That cultivates all eight limbs of Ashtanga. That encourages stillness: the calm and joy inherent in the present moment. With the grace of a ballet dancer, the shifting intonations of a seasoned thespian, and the wisdom of a yogi, Lino showed a room full of students the gentle side intrinsic to Ashtanga. His lens and teaching tool was the Full Vinyasa System, which he also refers to as “the scientific method.”

The following highlights from his workshop can inform and lend context to all students of yoga, Ashtanga or otherwise.

1. Learn Full Vinyasa. Vinyasa is synchronized breath and movement. Each time you move with conscious breath, you are completing a vinyasa. While I have always known the definition of the term, before Lino I understood vinyasa as what transpires between poses: the moving transitions. In Ashtanga, however, vinyasa supports and cradles the posture, which itself is included in the vinyasa count that begins and ends at samasthiti. While counting vinyasa for janu shirshasana A, B and C, for instance, there are 22 coordinated body-breath movements between samasthiti, including “jumping through”, “jumping back,” and what Lino calls the “state of the asana”: the five breaths spend in head-to-knee pose.

Lino became interested in the scientific method of vinyasa five years after first studying with guruji in Mysore. In 1993, Lino was in France when he, as he writes in his book Astanga Yoga, was inspired when Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois “in his energetic voice [began] calling the exact number of the vinyasa.” Lino began researching the system, which Pattabhi Jois with his guru Sri. T. Krishnamacharya developed from the ancient text Yoga Korunta, which states “Oh yogi! Do not do asana without vinyasa.” In addition to listing each vinyasa count for all postures in surya namaskara A and B, the primary series and the finishing sequence, in Astanga Yoga Lino lists the benefits of each posture ascertained from time spent with guruji, consultation with doctors and persistent review of medical texts. And, no doubt, his own dedicated yogasana.

Helsinki Ashtanga Yoga School
10 Year Anniversary Party (by Rodrigo Quinones)

As students learn the Ashtanga Vinyasa sequence, Lino advises learning these counts-that uttihtia trikonasana (triangle pose), for example, has five vinyasas; parshvottanasana (intense side stretch pose) has 16 vinyasas; and navasana (boat pose) has 13-to see the big picture. To understand the fluidity of breath, body and mind so beautifully articulated through Ashtanga Yoga.

2. Practice Full Vinyasa. During what Lino called a full vinyasa practice, we came to samasthiti between most of the postures, including seated poses. As we did, Lino kept count. “Line up each asana with breath,” he said. He presented the system as a teaching tool that we should learn but not always do. Just knowing the count for each posture informs us of the extra breaths and fidgeting (i.e. the distractions) we so often take between poses. If one did practice with a vinyasa between each posture every day, the better part of their mornings would be spent on the mat. (And while this would be delightful, it precludes most day jobs.) Which brings me to another lovely lesson from Lino: learn, and then learn to let go.

3. Don’t Get Attached-to Full Vinyasa or Anything. Lino insists that learning about the vinyasa system helps one dive deeper into the sequence, and, eventually, oneself. “You taste it, eat it, swallow the system, you digest the system, “he told us in his Italian-accented, matter-of-fact English. In time, he continued, extending the metaphor even further, you become the system. “The practice is you,” he said, and each time you step on your mat, “you work on yourself.”

Years ago Lino taught this system at a workshop in New York City. After learning the full vinyasa system, one woman started doing it every day (as Lino himself did for years). She did it during the primary series and then the second series. Then, two years later, she saw Lino again and she was still doing it. “That’s enough. Basta. Stop,” he said to her. She asked why. He explained that had he taught it as a tool-to become aware-but not to do every day. She started crying, and not just with gentle, zig-zag tears, but with sobs. “Why you cry,” he asked. And she replied: “You’ve taken away my baby.”

It’s vinyasa, he told us all with a knowing smile and a stern wag of his pointer finger, not her baby.

In other words, don’t get attached.

4. Cultivate Compassion for Yourself. “What you don’t do today, you do tomorrow,” Lino told us. In terms of vinyasa, learn the proper counts for each posture and aspire toward them. In the meanwhile, be patient and give yourself a break as you practice lengthening your breath and becoming more adept at transitions. The strength, skill and stamina cultivated through practice will build and, eventually, give way to a fluid full vinyasa practice. Once there, you can decide on your own when it is best to practice with full or half vinyasa.

NOTE: In Astanga Yoga, Lino recommends that beginners practice half vinyasa-which most of us likely do and includes picking up, jumping back and jumping forward to seated positions sans samasthiti; for postures like supta padangusthasana (sleeping big toe posture) where you finish on your back, half vinyasa is initiated by chakrasana (wheel).

5. Practice Posture, not Pride. Which Lino-after arranging himself into a challenging posture and, in jest, strutting around the room with a proud, inflated chest-demonstrated by glancing toward the ceiling and, with one hand over the other, pulling down his ego. Yoga, he explained, lends ample opportunity for accomplishment. But when you finally get that pose you’ve been working on for months, years even, feel a sense of accomplishment and move on. When you move fluidly and properly through full vinyasa, congratulate yourself and then come back to your breath. Ground your ego just as you do your big toe mounds in samasthiti.

6. Go Ahead and Laugh. Have fun. He did. Just be sure to maintain vinyasa meanwhile.

Helsinki Ashtanga Yoga School
10 Year Anniversary Party (by Rodrigo Quinones)

7. It’s OK to be Selfish. Make time for your practice without feeling guilty. Through your practice, he said, you will open your heart to a more joyful, intrinsic way of being. You will change. You will find stillness and peace. By making such space in yourself, you will inspire love and mindfulness in others.

And while you’ve got some time, go ahead and practice full vinyasa. It may take longer, but as one woman who I practice with so intuitively put it, “it’s like coming up for air … one gets the chance to completely fill the lungs before diving back into the practice.” Coming to samasthiti between postures isn’t tiring, it’s invigorating for the many opportunities to take deep, comfortable breaths.

8. Carefully, Carefully. Slowly, slowly, Lino repeatedly cautioned. Pay attention to the unique way that your breath floats through your body. And if your breath is too quick or vigorous, stop, place your right hand over your heart, and catch your breath before moving on.

Again, because full vinyasa inherently slows and deepens your breath so that you can move within the prescribed vinyasa counts, you are careful. You are aware. You are present.

9. See Lino Again. That’s my lesson, not his.

Lino-related Links:
• Lino’s Ashtanga Yoga Schools in Rome (Italy), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Helsinki (Finland).
• Astanga Yoga, written by Lino. This page also showcases his two DVDs, a poster illustrating the primary series, and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ book Yoga Mala.
• A photo essay of Lino’s annual workshop in Kovalam Beach, South India.
• A review of Lino’s first workshop in the states (Chicago, 1999).

A modified version of this story appeared April 25, 2008 in Yoga On & Off the Mat, a biweekly column by Brooke Hewes about Yoga that can be viewed at NewWest.net/yoga.