Guest Blog: Thoughts For The New Ashtanga Teacher – David Garrigues

Guest Blog: Thoughts For The New Ashtanga Teacher – David Garrigues

This May, we’re excited to welcome world-reknowned Ashtanga Yoga Teacher, David Garrigues.

David is among a small group of Ashtanga yoga teachers who received teaching certificate directly from the late founding master of ashtanga yoga Sri K Pattabhi Jois. David met Pattabhi Jois in 1993 and over the next 16 years he traveled to Mysore India more than 12 times to study with the great yoga master. In 1996 Pattabhi Jois granted David a teaching certificate, David returned to Seattle and opened the first ever Ashtanga yoga studio in Seattle. In 2002 David hosted Sri K Pattabhi Jois (along with his daughter Saraswathi and his grandson Sharath) in Seattle. He is the founder/director of Ashtanga Yoga School (AYS) of Philadelphia and also travels extensively throughout the US, Europe, and India offering workshops, in depth studies and retreats.

In this blog, David shares his thoughts on 25 years of teaching Ashtanga Yoga.

You can book into his weekend-long workshop in Edinburgh right here.

Joy: You’ve been teaching Ashtanga for the past 25 years now, what is your ideal way of teaching and getting results from the students?

David: I need to put a lot of energy into the room during class and a lot of care and sensitivity. I need to be able to work through resistance and obstacles from the students. I am looking for ways to find their strengths and ways to encourage them. This takes a lot of energy. It is mind blowing to observe that if I drop one day and come in kind of tired, kind of grumpy, or out of it, I’ll see the students demotivate. They can sense it. Partly it is their responsibility to provide their own inspiration, their own motivation, but yet, I marvel at how “on” I have to be to keep the ship steering right. I believe a teacher has to position him or herself to do their best everyday and that takes preparation. It takes resting well, eating well, practicing well, and studying. A teacher needs to be available to the students physically and emotionally. It’s a job that demands strong work.

Joy: I want to address something you said to a teacher the other day. The teacher has been struggling because there aren’t many students in her classes right now and she’s feeling discouraged and you told her to, “Not be discouraged and to syphon the energy she normally would be spending on teaching into her own sadhana practice.”

David: Right. If you aren’t teaching as much then you want to use that extra energy to go into your own tapas and have faith that the extra time and energy you’re spending on your practice will help increase your ability to share. Its easy to get discouraged when students aren’t coming. Over the years I’ve developed a trick. I tell myself that the universe wants me to spend more time on my mat rather than teaching. This trick works for me, I don’t become discouraged.

Joy: Does it ever get old teaching Ashtanga?

David: The recipe can seem so basic or simple, and in a way it is, but to stay with that simplicity, to be fully present with it can be hard. It is easy to lose track of the system. To maintain an unerring devotion to Ashtanga is a kind of faith; faith in its power to heal and its ability to impart knowledge to the student. As an Ashtanga teacher you are constantly remembering the system and trying to refine your knowledge of the method: the sequences, the breathing, work with bandhas. Its these basic things that you are deepening within yourself while you practice so that you can have more understanding of how to teach your students and the new students that will show up. There is always some aspect of Ashtanga that us teachers can continue to develop or some new knowledge to uncover.

Joy: Is this because you are trying to teach as many different people as possible?

David: Yes, you are, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Tim Miller, he said it. He said, “It’s the practice that teaches you”. The teacher’s job, my job, is to communicate the practice to you. And what’s so beautiful about Ashtanga is that every teacher comes from the lineage but they each have their own interpretation.

Joy: Explain.

David: I’ll use myself as an example. I am drawing off of what I learned from Pattabhi Jois. I am constantly trying to bring the teachings I learned from him to come to life. Even this many years after his death I am honing in on my memory of what he taught me and intended by certain things he said and did. If I could summarize what he taught me it is simply that Ashtanga is a healing system both physically and spiritually. I have formulated my own ideas about how to transmit the healing benefits of the Ashtanga practice. I combine my ideas with his. I don’t try to be an imitator of Pattabhi Jois or a clone. I am ME with my own ideas. Pattabhis Jois didn’t talk about the set up position, the anticipatory crouch before the spring, but I see healing come to students when they do this. I see it as part of the rhythm of the breath, and this encourages that Ashtanga is a flow, which Pattabhis Jois was emphatic about. When I’m using my voice I make sure the Ashtanga comes through. It’s vital that I remember the real roots of the system and stay true to it because Ashtanga is a lineage and it’s my job to keep the connection to the lineage in my mind. In short, as a teacher you are doing your best to absorb and transmit what you learned from your teacher but you are also using your own creativity and your own sense of how to teach while teaching.

Joy: What do you do if a student isn’t understanding some aspect of what your teaching?

David: There are a lot of reasons they may not be understanding. Sometimes they aren’t ready to hear what you have to say or they have to unlearn some bad habits. It’s very common with students that there will be some resistance and as a teacher you frequently work through blockages to get to a place where learning can happen. That’s where the strength comes in. A teacher needs to be very strong to help a student who is resistant.

Joy: When is it appropriate to back off from helping a student and when is it appropriate to move in be vocal, can you talk about this?

David: Sometimes a student needs space and the practice is discovered in solitude so a teacher needs to develop the sensitivity to know when to back off. But sometimes backing off is exactly what the student doesn’t need. They will go away because you back off. Because you don’t stand up and go, “Here is the method. You aren’t breathing.” If you really try to show them, get them to breathe, they may have a breakthrough and it will make the difference between them continuing to practice.

Joy: How do you tell the difference between needing to be more passive or active at any given time?

David: That’s where we come full circle to what I was saying in the beginning. You have to show up ready to teach because when you’re a little bit dull and a little bit distracted and a little bit unconfident then you can miss those nuances and be less effective where as if you’re sharp and available in the moment you’ll catch the signs the student is giving you.

Joy: Let’s move on to the community aspect of it. This can be more challenging for some teachers than others. How important is it that a teacher has community and provides community?

It’s way up there on the list of importance. The community that you build through events, gatherings provides camaraderie, fellowship. The students understand that they are learning together. They begin to rely on each other. All of this can build a Mysore program or an online community where home practitioners can feel united. In fact, more beginning students get as much benefit from their connection to the teacher and the other students as the practice itself.

Joy: Do you pay attention to what other studios or teachers are doing?

David: For me it’s more about focusing on my own program, my own strengths, and putting my energy into knowing what I have to offer and offering it. For a beginning teacher, your strongest suit is to find your own voice and go forward into teaching rather than think about what other people are doing.

Joy: Any last thoughts for the new Ashtanga teacher?

David: You can trust Ashtanga and the Hatha yoga techniques that it’s founded upon. Ashtanga goes into them more seriously than the average yoga. That is unique. Students will respond positively if you can get them to experience the healing benefits of the techniques. 


 Book into David’s workshop in May right here.
Meadowlark Yoga

Visit our studio on the edge of the Meadows, open 7 days a week offering Ashtanga Vinyasa and other styles of 43 Argyle Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1JT 0131 2287581