This is mostly for you folks out there who aren't from anywhere near here; it's meant more as a sort of diary or photograph, of how one does ashtanga's potentially very traditional format, in this city where there's quite literally no access to that tradition.
I've done ashtanga yoga in two locations in Indiana: Bloomington, the big college town down south, and Indy, the centrally located capitol.
There is no classical, traditional Mysore-style here, and also none of what that implies: no organized, studio dawn practices 6/week, no regular expectation of big strong adjustments, no stopping at the pose you can't do, no standards like "wrist bind the Marichyasana in order to get Intermediate," and all of that. For that matter, there's not much discussion of the whole progression of Primary to Intermediate and core postures, and so forth. Many people who do Ashtanga poses here, do led Primary (sometimes even without teaching of ujjayi, bandhas and dristi) and come across thinking that "ashtanga" is this quick moving sequence with a ton of forward bends in it.
Reasons why people stop doing ashtanga yoga here include the following:
1) I can't lotus, and that sequence needs me to, so I can't do it.
2) The repetition is boring.
3) The poses are too advanced and I can't learn to do them.
Now in a classical room, support and advice are given (or at least have been to me) as to the pose where you stop, and so while you do stop, you also progress. Lotus or backbends or whatever it is, is coming. Also, in a classical room, there is teaching and adjusting in Marichyasana D or Baddha Konasana or Garbha Pindasana and such.
In an Indianapolis room, where the levels are radically mixed and the time limit is often 90 minutes if not 75, and the series is always led (unless it's "beginning" or "intro" or simply taught by someone who always modifies the sequence), there isn't really time to teach Marichyasana D or to explain how to do Garbha Pindasana, and because ashtanga tends to be billed simply as "one of the vinyasa yogas," if it comes across as impossible, people go to an easier-access class, and there winds up being even fewer ashtanga classes than there are now.
Many people who teach ashtanga here, do so without the hard poses. NO ONE learns to do Garbha Pindasana unless they specifically ask for it. Janu C and Marichyasanas B and D are regularly, but not always, cut.
So how is this sequence taught here?
Most ashtanga teachers in this area come from David Swenson. There are also some who come from Johnny Kest (maybe you'll say, "that's not ashtanga!" Haha, maybe so, but Michigan's close and it's sure easier to get 200 hours in a month than to try to explain how your three months in a Chicago Mysore room make you able to teach some esoteric sequence of vinyasa poses, right?).
So the "tone" of ashtanga teaching here, tends to be either "modify it yourself" (i.e., Marichyasana D will be verbally introduced and people will be invited to non-lotus the one foot) or "just do the easier version" (Janu A instead of C). It's actually very nurturing, in a way, very heavily "take care of yourself." The dialing in of hard poses is completely and utterly student-specific. If you want to learn to jump back or want to learn to lotus, you HAVE to specifically ask for it, often before or after class. Sometimes, there will be a break in class to work on lotusing the hip open, but then you're costing valuable minutes of your 75-minute slot.
Led Primaries in Bloomington are 90 minutes and either do part of the sequence, but more slowly, or do the whole sequence, with modifications and options. There's no Mysore-style individual attention. Take-it-up-asana (Swenson's funny tolasana) is taught but never required, as a vinyasa option.
Led Primaries, when there were some, in Indianapolis, tended to be full sequence (but now, part sequence), with modifications more closely tied to students' capabilities. Classes tend to be small (1-6 people) and so it's easier for individual attention to get done. Still, the student has to request the hard pose in order to get teaching about it.
In this context, I developed endurance in Primary series. In Bloomington from 2004-06, I could sometimes get in four classes a week. I was able, early, to take it up, and in Indianapolis Primaries, started getting advice and encouragement to jump back. A workshop thrown by an It's Yoga (SF) grad taught me the rest of the jumps. I started pursuing "the real" ashtanga yoga, in books. I started pursuing the hard poses no one could do. I started to wonder about "the right breath pace" and all of that. I did, admittedly, 200 hours with a modified Ashtanga school, but I also did a month of Mysore-style and got a Baddha Konasana adjustment that changed that pose for EVER.
I came back with real exposure to the real tradition, from people who had really learned it from the real source. And for four months prior to going, I threw down a dawn practice, full Primary when I could muster it, in a cold house, in sweats, in the dark, before an 8-hour temp job doing data entry. Solitude like few people understand.
It would be, I think, accurate, to say that I do the most traditional ashtanga in the entire state of Indiana, anywhere.
But can I teach that mode here? Sometimes.
Recently I said that ashtanga might benefit from more of a "coach-athlete" relationship than a "guru-student" relationship. What I meant by that, and I tried to locate that comment specifically in Indianapolis, is that coaches encourage their athletes, and don't go out of their way to injure those people in order to "get them to achieve."
A vinyasa class I really like here is taught in a coaching way: the challenge is offered, and people are free to modify; the teacher more coaches, than leads. There is encouragement and sometimes the flowing sequences are too stout for anyone in the room to do, and that just means, metaphorically, that you take a break from the Stairmaster, or you walk for a bit, up the hill on the marathon. There is no failure in this rhetoric, no frustration (except one's own), and underneath it all, a net of "it's cool, it's all good."
One of my own students recently said that ashtanga was "nurturing." You won't find THAT often, online in the ashtanga blogosphere.
It's very hard, here, for the asana practice to show one, one's own demons. The daily mirror-look of Mysore-style practice really isn't a motivator here. Most yoga practices are in class, led, with company, "apart" from daily life. Sure, people bring demons they can't put down, or images of failure and insufficiency and "I can't," but they are as likely to confront those on a morning RUN as they are in a yoga room.
The asana practice is NOT understood here as a shadow-revealer. It is not for that.
Unless, of course, you take up or direct your you-mobile TOWARD that.
This is what it is, to ashtanga here. People want the endorphin rush, the sweat of fitness training, and a good send off; they don't want demons, meditation, and the philosophy of the Sutras along with that. In fact, talk about demons, meditation and the Sutras is often done in classes totally SEPARATE from asana. There is led asana practice, AND THEN there is discussion of "healing" and all of that, all done by different people, unless it's a combination of "getting healthy and changing habits," which is very cool but isn't, for example, strict 8 limbs (and nor does it claim to be).
So the whole idea of people projecting onto a teacher as a guru who can heal them of their whatever? That idea is, quite literally, IMPOSSIBLE here. And perhaps that impossibility is a GOOD thing.