Diary of Lazy Ashtangi and Why I Do Not Encourage Practicing Yoga with a Video.

Practicing in Purple Valley

Yep, that’s me ↑ in Petri Räisänen’s Led Class in Purple Valley, Goa, India in February 2010.

As I sit down and finally have time to write my next blog, I realise a month has passed since my last diary entry. Somehow, I lost track of time, like everybody else who has been dealing with the craziness upon approaching Christmas time, in Australia also known as the Summer Holidays.

Of course I love all the busy-ness, I have always relished working under pressure, but it did mean that my daily yoga practice became… well, more of a weekly yoga practice. However, I did manage to come up with some interesting results in this ongoing research of self-motivation to get on that mat as often as possible.

As I concluded in my last blog, I really enjoyed practicing with the video of John Scott’s Full Primary Series. This made me decide to investigate further so in the past few weeks, I have practiced with David Swenson, Petri Räisänen and Lesley Fightmaster. I had never heard of this last name before, but somehow she was mentioned to me twice recently so I decided to check her out.

The highlight was that in my digital archives, I also found the led class recorded with Petri when I was in Purple Valley. So last week, I practiced with that video as well and it’s almost identical to the online version with one major difference: I get to practice with my 34-old self and two of my friends who were there with me.

How is that for great company during a lonesome self-practice at home!

Anyway, below you will find my findings about each video, but first, let me say this: if you a beginner, I do not recommend practicing (Ashtanga) yoga with a video.

I believe that any asana practice should be taught under the supervision of a teacher. And no, I don’t necessarily mean a certified, authorised or otherwise registered person. I simply mean a person with the right experience, able and willing to share knowledge with another person.

In my opinion, physical alignment, breath control and mindful transitions between poses are crucial for a safe and beneficial asana practice. Since these aspects differ widely per person, personal guidance is very important.

Example: if a teacher on YouTube says that for Virabhadrasana B the heel of the front foot should line up with the arch of the back foot, that may be the perfect alignment for herself or the hyperflexible model in the video. However, for a large majority of the other practitioners, especially beginners, this may not be ideal at all.  I won’t go into the details as to why, but you know, ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, lower back, instability, etc…

Google it and you’ll find plenty of good and bad articles illustrating what I mean. However, when you are doing an online class, I doubt you would interrupt your practice to google your alignment options, even when you feel quite unstable and are pretty sure that you don’t look as gracious as that skinny lady in her pretzel pose on your screen.

I think I made my point. If you are a beginner, go to a yoga teacher to learn how to practice asanas. Once you understand the basic alignment principles and more importantly, once you know your own body well enough to understand its strengths, weaknesses, limitations and needs, I think you could benefit from recorded classes as a support and inspiration, not so much for instructional purposes.

My rule of thumb would be that you are ready to practice Ashtanga with a video when listening to the counting is enough and you don’t need to look at the screen to understand what to do.

I can think of at least one exception to everything I said before and that is when there are simply no teachers available to you. Before I discovered Ashtanga, I practiced with Vinyasa DVD’s while I was living in a small village by the Red Sea in Egypt where I later became one of the first yoga teachers. There were no teachers around so there was no choice. Although practicing with the videos may not have taught me perfect alignment nor the philosophy behind the asanas, it did keep my passion for yoga going.

Also a reason why Ashtanga yoga lends itself well for recordings would be that it is a fixed sequence, therefore once you are familiar with it, you don’t need to look at what the video shows you. Listening is enough (see my rule of thumb above). With Vinyasa or any other form of yoga that does not know a fixed sequence, you will probably need to look up from your pose to understand exactly what you are supposed to do, thereby compromising your alignment.

Anyway, don’t let my rant above discourage you. I just try to make you aware of the limitations and risks of practicing with a non-interactive teacher. The same could be said of a teacher that does not do any adjustments and is too busy demonstrating the sequence and poses to properly supervise the students.

So Ashtanga encourages self-practice every morning, either in a Mysore style setting or alone, limited to the asanas that you have been give by your real-life teacher(s). My problem with self-practice at home is that I am simply not good at practicing alone. I miss the energy of fellow Ashtangis breathing and sweating next to me, I miss the observing eyes of the teacher and the incentive of practicing in a group setting.

Practicing with a video kind of fills some of those gaps. It’s a bit like going to a led class with a teacher that doesn’t do any hands-on adjustments. It has the added advantage that you can fast forward to the finishing sequence if for any reason, you are not doing the Full Primary that day, a good reason being that you haven’t been given all the poses yet.

By clicking on the links, you will find my reviews of the recordings of the Full Primary Series by the four previously mentioned teachers.

I would love to get your feedback on how you feel practicing with these, or any other videos!

Review of David Swenson First Series

Review of Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series with Jessica Kass and Fightmaster Yoga

Review of Ashtanga Yoga Led Primary Series with Petri Räisänen

Review of David Swenson First Series.

David Swenson is another teacher from the old lineage and although the video must be at least three decades old judging by his clothes, his teachings are still invaluable. The video starts with a thorough introduction on what Ashtanga yoga is, what the important elements of the practice are and how to do the Surya Namaskaras and Vinyasas. Very useful for beginners.

Interestingly enough he skips the opening mantra and counts only in English, instead of the traditional Sanskrit. He gives plenty of options for beginners and instructions how to get into the poses, possibly even more than John Scott. Also David likes to stretch his arms out and jump in between standing postures which makes me think that this must have been the way in the old days. This and also lifting the chest and chin on the inhale before getting into the standing poses is not practiced much anymore nowadays. When practicing with Sharath at the main shala Mysore, I have been told that students are explicitly instructed not to look up or back bend when inhaling before folding over into the pose.

Even though also David Swenson counts a little bit too fast to my liking, I use the time he spends giving instruction on how to get into the pose to get one or two breaths in and so I often manage to take about four breaths, sometimes even five.

It’s a brilliant video and I like practicing with David.

Total duration: 1 hour 56 minutes
Practice starts at 24 minutes 10 seconds into the recording
The finishing sequence starts at 1 hour 32 minutes 40 seconds