If you’ve been following my recent articles on the blog, then you know our research team spent much of 2019 doing background study and preparing to begin our new research project: the mental, emotional, and spiritual effects of Ashtanga yoga. As with the rest of the world, we were not expecting a global pandemic at the beginning of 2020. The start of the covid-19 pandemic coincided with the planned launch of our survey to Ashtanga practitioners. As we thought folks were understandably occupied with other concerns, we chose to postpone sending out our survey at that time.
By the time fall 2020 came around, it seemed that the pandemic might be around for quite some time. So we decided to go ahead and launch our survey. But, due to launching at this particular time, we also had an opportunity to learn something about how adaptable the Ashtanga practice really is. We could learn if, when, and how Ashtangis were doing their practice during a global pandemic. And that could tell us some interesting things about how we really make practice fit in our lives. In this article, we’ll take a look at what we learned.
Ashtanga practice during the pandemic
So, did Ashtangis continue practicing Ashtanga yoga when much of the world was in lockdown due to the covid-19 pandemic? Overwhelmingly, the answer is yes. The majority of survey respondents (93%) said they continued to practice Ashtanga during the pandemic in 2020. Most practitioners (83%) said they practiced on average between 3 and 6 days each week.
Did frequency of Ashtanga practice change during the pandemic?
Respondents did not significantly change the number of days that they practiced each week from before 2020 to during 2020. Most respondents (87%) practiced between 3 and 6 days per week before the pandemic. Most (83%) continued practicing between 3 and 6 days per week during 2020.
Ashtanga sometimes gets some flack (often from non-practitioners) about being boring or repetitive. However, practicing a set sequence or sequences likely adds some ease and confidence when practicing at home on your own. Additionally, Ashtanga is often taught in a Mysore setting which requires students to memorize their sequence. That also has the potential to increase practitioners’ ability to own their own practice.
Did respondents change their regular practice sequence during the pandemic?
We found that there was a small but significant difference (p=.00012) in which sequence respondents practiced before versus during 2020. So, while many practitioners did not really change what they practiced, some did change which sequence they practiced. The general trend among those who changed which sequence they practiced was to choose a less “complex” sequence than their typical sequence. For example, intermediate practitioners did more primary practice. And advanced practitioners chose to do more intermediate series practice. However, practitioners also chose to mix up their sequences. Some respondents reported doing some postures from more than one sequence in a single practice during 2020.
Where did respondents practice Ashtanga during the pandemic?
The majority of our survey respondents (90%) chose to practice at home during 2020. Some respondents also joined Mysore classes (29%), led classes (44%), or open practice sessions (11%) online during 2020. A few (21%) also attended in-person classes during 2020.
That so many practitioners chose to practice at home and felt they had the knowledge they needed to do that, says some really positive things about the Ashtanga practice. If practitioners feel like they can do the practice on their own at least some of the time, rather than rely solely on a class, it makes the practice much more adaptable to students’ changing circumstances throughout their life. And that makes it more possible for practitioners to experience the benefits of yoga that come from maintaining a consistent practice.