I know I will be burned at the stake for saying this, but I find the classic Ashtanga Primary Series video led by Sri Pattabhi Jois to some of his most prominent students……well…….sort of cringy.
From the tense-shouldered Urdhva Mukha Svanasana to the Chaturanga Dandasanas that are an inch off the floor, from the splayed elbow push-ups to the (He Shall Not Be Named) jump back to Plank (the horror!), so many of the alignments in the video are exactly what modern-day teachers (such as yours truly) preach wholeheartedly against.
Which begs the question, who (the #@&!) am I to question Jois?
On one hand, I will say I am no one, do what Jois says.
On the other, I will say that like every other physical activity on earth, yoga has evolved with the knowledge and physical science that only comes with time.
I wasn’t there when “modern day” asana practice began…about 600 (or more) years ago, but I am willing to bet that there were next to no alignment cues that went along with it. It just “was.” And now, it is just is so very, very much more.
Allow me the indulgence of time traveling back to the days when tennis was my life. I am going to date myself here, but in the early 1980s, we were all about the Wilson T2000 stainless steel tennis racquet. It was a state-of-the-art masterpiece and everyone who was anyone on the courts had one.
Bring that classic T2000 to a match now and–if you are not laughed at and ridiculed off the court first–you will be absolutely decimated by the high-tech, large-head, light-weight, graphite weapons–er, tennis racquets–that players use today.
What’s more, the rigorous athletic cross-training that players go through today gives them completely different physiques and indomitable power compared to ye old-tyme counterparts.
The relevance being: like tennis players, modern-day yoga practitioners have the benefits of science, evolution, and, yes, cross-training, on our side.
Why do we jump to Chaturanga Dandasana instead of Plank? Because our arms act as shock absorbers to protect our spines, shoulders, elbows and wrists as we land.
Why do we relax our shoulders down and back in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana? To release any tension and unnecessary pressure in the neck and shoulders.
Why do we keep the elbows in on yoga-style push-ups? To maintain the neutral lines of the humerus in the shoulder girdle.
Why do we take Chaturanga Dandasana with 90-degree arms instead of in low-down, floor-licking stance? Again, to mitigate the pressure on our shoulders.
In life, change is the only constant and this age-old practice is no exception to the rule.
And so, burn me at the stake, but I do feel I am qualified to question Jois. Not for the yoga pioneer he was back then, but for all the extensive knowledge we have now.