No amount of text can convey my gratitude to David and Shelley. Without my teachers I would have nothing to teach. And simply put, David Swenson is responsible for getting me hooked on Ashtanga. When I was a young boy, about the age of 8, my father brought home a VHS cassette what would change my life forever. Its title: Short Forms, an Ashtanga program staring David designed especially for people on the go. Swenson’s peacefully grounded yet intense style left an indelible impression on me. I wanted to learn more about this yoga, which lead me to take classes at Yoga Vermont. I would find out that people of all ages and abilities were welcome here, children too. The entire studio moved about to the sound of one breath, and with each, an especially visceral sensation was reached. My practice today is a tribute to this breath, to find out where it leads, intuitively, I knew I must look to those who’ve walk the path before me.
I would like to briefly share a few observations about the workshop, and offer comparison between David and Shelley’s method today compared to years past. To know where the path leads, one must also know where one comes from. Based on their shared 7 decades of experience, I truly trust their guidance.
- Ashtanga is no longer the marine corps of yoga. David made this pun in the past to exemplify the effort and discipline that is required of participants. But during this workshop he reversed his position. His rationale: Ashtanga is for everyone, not just the few and the proud. I personally think that his new view is more so correct.
- Five As and three Bs. In this way, David is aligning his method with the “correct” Ashtanga method. Previously, he taught five and five. It is still debatable what make one method more correct than another. I tend to feel that the Surya Namaskara showcased today is springier, while five and five more grounded. The sensations one feels throughout the practice change depending on how you start.
- Do not fold in baddha konasana. In prior workshops, David said that he was disinterested in teaching old-school Ashtanga techniques with one exception. This weekend, David lived up to his promise by teaching baddha konasana A in the upright position. I appreciate David’s convictions here, even though I fold forward when practicing this posture at home.
On day two of the workshop, David made his entrance on the stage at Contois Auditorium showing off his ballet moves. I remember thinking to myself, this man is entirely untethered by the limits of ego. But perhaps the message he would have liked to present to everyone is that Ashtanga should not be thought of as just another exercise routine. It is a classical yoga style, in the very same way that a great dance form adheres to tradition. This tradition can be justified any number of ways. In truth, the health benefits are apparent, and the well-being affects cannot be overstated either. But ultimately, we move and breath in unison to honor the teachers who came before us. The message of the opening chant is recapitulated throughout the vinyasa sequence in perfect Apollonian order. In this way, we are invited thank our teachers with the character of our breath and movement.