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"As the bodily constitution of each human being is different, it is important to practice the asanas accordingly. The benefit to be had from one asana or pranayama can be derived just as well from another that better suits the structure of a person´s body. Some asanas are not suitable for particular people and may be painful."
(Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, Yoga Mala, pp. 29-30)
„I´ve heard a lot of complaints from students who are having difficulty with a certain posture (in the Ashtanga series) and aren´t being taken further beyond that point, are not being given any modification of that posture to practise. This isn´t the way to teach because there´s always a different avenue to approach it from. (....) of course you can modify a pose. A lot of teachers are just making up their own rules. And they´re giving a bad name to Ashtanga yoga, or any kind of yoga. A lot of what´s going on is because of tremendous ego. (....) I just want to share what I know. I can say this is the way they taught in ancient India. This is the way my father taught. And this is the way I want to teach. I don´t want to put any of my ego into it.”
(Manju Pattabhi Jois/Richard Clark, Setting The Record Straight.
In: Australian Yoga Life 12 (2005), pp. 44-45)
Yoga system is perhaps more challenging than other systems of hatha yoga.
Unless you are very young, very strong, very flexible or very talented in
another way, it will take you to your limits, whether they occur in the
Primary, Intermediate or Advanced Series. But it does offer benefits that
practitioners with less stamina, less muscular strength or perhaps a
practitioner with an old injury can still enjoy. There are Ashtanga Yoga
practitioners in their seventies, or practitioners with serious physical
handicaps such as surgery or the amputation of limbs.
Ashtanga Yoga practitioners are expected to practise with determination, that is, you are expected to work seriously but you are definitely not expected to go beyond your limits and injure yourself ("If it hurts, you ´re doing it wrong" - David Williams). The Series in Ashtanga Yoga are well-defined, and the teachers have neither the authority nor the wish to change the sequence. Therefore, they will always encourage the students to continue trying, and no teacher will put up with cant. However, this does not exactly mean that there are no options for modifications at all. Although the operations in a busy shala (school) have to be efficient and there is not much time for individual counselling during a led class, it would be wrong to conclude that a student would not be allowed to find his own approach to an asana at all. If you encounter difficulties resulting from a physical cause that will not allow you to practise an individual asana in its full version (like a scoliosis, short tendons or a damaged joint), we recommend that you use your own wits and that you realize when you have reached your personal limit. Then (but only then!), modify the posture (not the sequence of the Series) with the help of your teacher. Practise with reason and build your yoga practice over time:
Holding moola bandha is the most important aspect of Ashtanga Yoga – even more important than the breathing rhythm and by far more important than performing an asana “correctly”. Originally, bandhas were the first thing that was taught to beginners, followed by the breath and only then asanas were taught.
In his book “Yoga Mala”, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois has outlined the stages at which Ashtanga Yoga can be practised by those that cannot yet handle the full Primary Series:
Stage 1: The Sun Salutations A and B
Stage 2: The Sun Salutations A and B plus the sequence from sarvangasana to padmasana
Students that have mastered stage 2 should add the other asanas one by one at their own pace.
A good idea for a practice if your time does not allow you to do more, is the following routine:
3 Sun Salutations A
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