AshtangaProductions released a DVD of R. Sharath Rangaswamy practicing the Ashtanga Primary Series in March 2006 (you can buy it here online). [Also, dont’ miss Philippe’s interview with Dominic, the DVD’s producer. -Ed.]
Sharath is described on the cover as “the foremost teacher of Ashtanga yoga today” and “the grandson of the founder of Ashtanga yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois”.
The production value of this film is very high – it was shot at Eddie Stern’s New York Shala, in a simple yet soothing space. The editing by Dominic Corigliano is flawless, with multiple cameras displayed only when necessary and smooth transitions between postures. The menu to navigate to a particular posture is intuitive and highly practical. Sharath did the voice over, counting vinyasas and calling out asanas.
However, the real value of this DVD lies in the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the most advanced Ashtanga Yoga practitioner in the world practicing the Primary Series. I have practiced the Primary Series probably more than a thousand times, and have seen others, from beginners to 20-year senior teachers practice it countless times. And yet Sharath’s practice had a quality to it that I had not seen before.
It took me a while to pin this down and express in in words. Needless to say, outwardly Sharath’s practice feels weightless, as if gravity was an afterthought. But I had seen this before – John Scott‘s DVD comes to mind, embodied in the slow-motion jumpbacks. Was it the complete control of the bandhas (internal locks)? Lino Miele‘s video is also a masterful aspect of this. Perhaps the way in which very difficult asanas seem totally effortless? David Swenson‘s Advanced Series DVD is a perfect example.
Finally it came to me – the sense of presence. Even after having done this practice a few thousand times, and repeating asanas which for him must be child’s play, it feels as if Sharath is completely present in the moment, as if he is practicing for the first time. He is fully aware without being self-aware.
More remarkably, this awareness is constant from asana to asana, from the simplest to the most challenging. There is no trace of self-consciousness in Sharath’s practice, no ego, no analyzing rational mind. There is only the practice. Surely, this is the essence of yoga, something we are all aspiring to.
There are a few welcome and intimate glimpses that Sharath is also human – his fiddling with his shorts, or readjusting his hand grip after rolling up from Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana, or even grabbing his feet after lifting them in Upavistha Konasana (instead of floating the feet up while still holding onto them).
Catching details like these is oddly reassuring.
[Dominic kindly shared some additional insight on the making of the DVD with us, too. -Ed.]