I need to make a statement here about this notion that the Ashtanga system was developed to discipline and curb the “energies” of 12 year old boys in India and therefore may not be appropriate for X-year olds from Western culture. As another blogger who may not want to be identified here said to me recently when we were discussing this notion, “That is such a cop out.” I couldn’t agree more (with all due respect to Richard-from-Pittsburgh who made the statement about Ashtanga and 12 year old boys in the comment to Ashtangethics).
Ashtanga is for everyone. If taught in the Mysore style, one pose at a time, no new poses until the previous poses have been mastered without modification, then it provides the opportunity for “yoga” to happen. Period. It does not matter how many postures are learned or how long the practice takes. The “yoga”, which is to say, the calming and corralling of the fluctuations of the chatterbox mind, simply happens in the context of the poses being practiced, with the entire system and its accompanying desires, fears and other responses as a backdrop.
Yoga Mala makes clear that there is no age at which Ashtanga cannot be practiced (although there may be some advanced age at which there Guruji sees no point in beginning the practice at all). I have heard it said that there is no student who is too weak, too inflexible, too stupid, too annoying, too monkey-minded to practice Ashtanga. The only impediment to the practice of Ashtanga is laziness. And by laziness, I mean, failure to practice, practice, practice.
Now, one who is not as pretzely-bendy as a 12-year old boy may find the practice of Ashtanga to be ego-bruising and frustrating. However, that may mean that Ashtanga is EXACTLY what this student needs. One who is not as energetic as a 12-year old boy may find the practice of Ashtanga to be exhausting and draining. Should he throw up his hands and say, “Heavens to Guruji, I’m just not a 12-year old boy anymore…I give up! Back to Level I Vinyasa for me…”? No! By all means, that student should get more rest and see about changes in his diet that might make his body feel more fit. The act of working through the difficulties in the practice and the transformation into a more mindful eater is exactly what he needs. What if someone is recovering from an illness? Chikitsa, the other word for the Primary Series, means “therapy”. This practice is intended to rejigger the body, stretch the fascia, retrain the muscles and joints to embrace life in an open way. I am speaking from experience when I say that Ashtanga is exactly what this person needs.
Some dogs were intended to herd sheep or to pull sleds. That doesn’t mean that they don’t make great pets.