Adapting Ashtanga

As some of you are aware, I am an Ashtanga yoga pseudo-junkie.  I love everything about it- the breath, the poses, the way it is sequenced, the challenge of it.  However, some of the very things I love (the poses, the sequence) conflict strongly with the philosophy I take with my clients.  I feel movement should be individualized to enhance and correct a person's posture and improve movement, two things Ashtanga doesn't always provide (at least in my opinion).  At times, I find myself conflicted, particularly when a client wants to begin a yoga practice and wants me to be the guide.  Many of my clients have or have had injuries and/or pain and are in their 50s and 60s.  They trust me to help them move better and the clients who end up asking me to teach them yoga do so after we have been working together awhile and they trust me not to hurt them.  Currently, I am teaching yoga to a wonderful woman I will call Kay.  Kay is in her early 60s, practiced a yoga program designed for her by someone 30 years ago for decades, has had hip replacement, needs the other hip replaced, has experienced bouts of vertigo with headstand, has scoliosis, and was injured in the last guided yoga class she took.  Kay strength trains with me twice a week.  We emphasize good hip mechanics, strength, and core stability.  I do not feel Kay is a good candidate for the Ashtanga primary series for a variety of reasons; however, I think elements of first and second series with a strong attention to mindfulness and movement with breath will benefit her posture and her current physical condition tremendously.  We are currently working on Ujjayi breath, slow sun salutations, some of the standing postures (we are skipping revolved side angle because it is difficult for her to hold the hip firmly in the socket during rotation and move from the thoracic spine rather than the lumbar), some of the seated postures (not always with vinyasa between but always with breath), some modified postures from second to improve thoracic mobility, and a modified closing sequence.  Sometimes, I feel a bit fraudulent (this isn't Ashtanga!  I am not being true to lineage!), but I return to ahimsa, which is my guide as a personal trainer and yoga teacher.  To practice ahimsa, I must do what I think is right for the client or student and help, rather than hurt.  While this isn't necessarily "true" Ashtanga, it is Ashtanga that has been adapted to the individual's needs.  Sometimes, I think it is important to practice flexibility in teaching to provide the greatest benefit.  Kay is thoroughly enjoying our yoga practice, and has recently added another day.  She might not be standing on her head anytime soon, but I am confident that she will progress from modified cobra to upward facing dog without pain.  The greatest sense of success as a teacher often comes from what an outsider might view as a simple improvement.

Yours in health and wellness,