1. Intimacy: Yoga is more than a technique. It is a way of being. And that way of being can only be learned by being in proximity to it. You don’t learn yoga so much as you absorb it.
2. Interactivity: Yoga requires feedback. As students of yoga, we cannot see ourselves clearly. Mirrors provide only a reflection. Only a teacher can see us as we are help us align with our true nature.
3. Individuality: Yoga is adaptable in order to meet the needs of different people in different contexts. Muscle-bound manual laborers in the Yukon perform postures differently, have different needs, and require different instructions than lithe ex-dancers in New York City.
DVDs, by their very nature, fail to deliver any of these three components. Therefore, DVDs fail as a mode of yoga instruction.
I think the writer is correct in his observations, and I suppose for most seasoned Ashtangis, this whole issue is moot anyway. Whether you practice in a shala or by yourself at home, you are working with a preset sequence of postures (primary, second, third, fourth, or beyond), and if you're trying to maintain drishti, the last thing you need is to be distracted by somebody with a big voice on a TV screen :-)
But as with many other things, I think the answer you get regarding a particular issue depends very much on the question you ask. If the question is: Are yoga DVDs a good mode of yoga instruction? The answer would be no (for the reasons stated above). However, if the question is: Can yoga DVDs serve a positive function within the yoga practice? Then the answer is more complicated.This is so, because even if yoga DVDs are not in themselves a good mode of yoga instruction, there are other things they can do. Here are a few:
(1) They can get somebody who is new to yoga interested in yoga, and become motivated to delve deeper. While this is not in itself a substitute for working with a teacher, it can get the curious individual started on a path which would eventually lead to him or her finding the yoga style and/or teacher that works for him or her. As a matter of fact, we have a living example of this: In her latest post, Christine talks about how it was a yoga video that got her started on her yoga journey.
(2) They can give somebody who is new to yoga an idea of the different styles, teachers and possibilities out there. When I first started doing yoga in grad school, I was a "yoga sponge": I went to all the yoga classes I could afford, which was not that many, considering my budget. Later on, I became a yoga teacher at the local yoga studio, despite my total lack of certification (flashes mental birdie at Yoga Alliance here :-)), and was able to go to all the classes there for free. But this is another story for another post. But as I was saying, when I first started doing yoga, I was a sponge trying to soak in everything that could possibly be learnt about every school of yoga under the sun. Since I couldn't afford that many classes at that time, DVDs were a useful way for me to get a sampling of the different major styles out there.
(3) They are a way for people who don't have the time and/or money to take classes to continue to do yoga. Especially in these economically challenging times, this is very vital. Yes, there are the three pitfalls listed earlier, but I believe that some yoga (no matter where it comes from) is better than no yoga. Actually, I also believe that the only cure for yoga is more yoga, but this for another post :-)
(4) They are a way for people who are self-conscious (because of their perceived body size, because of their perceived lack of flexibility, or whatever) to get started on the yoga path. Again, the three pitfalls apply, but again, I also believe that some yoga is better than no yoga.
(5) They can help one to stay connected with one's teacher if one cannot meet the teacher regularly. I'm speaking from personal experience here. Somewhere around the beginning of 2007, I decided that just going to any yoga class I could go to and practicing from DVDs just wasn't cutting it. I had to study with a "real" teacher. So that summer (2007), I went to Maui to study with Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane for three weeks. In my less-than-desirable financial situation at that time, I had to ask my dad for help with the airfare, and I lived on a farm for $10 a day in exchange for helping out with stuff around the farm. It was a very eye-opening experience in many ways (more material for another post :-)), and I learnt many many things from Eddie and Nicki. But I can't afford to fly to Maui too often (I still haven't been back there, to this day). A few months after Maui, I stumbled upon Nicki's Intro to Ashtanga DVD at the local Border's. I immediately bought it. When I played it in my apartment, I couldn't help smiling the moment her voice came on: It totally felt like I was back on Maui. A little update: I did manage to go to Nicki's workshop in Indianapolis last winter (2009). I hope to make it back to Maui one day :-)
So yeah, yoga DVDs aren't all bad. For a while, I practiced with them on a more or less regular basis, for the reasons above. However, I did eventually get to the point of "DVD fatigue". I just felt that the postures and sequences in yoga DVDs tend to be either (1) so unchallenging and repetitive that one tends to lose interest after a while, or (2) very challenging, but lacking any systematic way to build up to them. I felt that I needed a practice that would challenge me constructively, that would regularly give me a sense of "constructive failure", if this makes sense. And I felt that the environment at the studio I was teaching at wasn't really giving me this, either. Don't get me wrong: The teachers and students there were all wonderful and supportive people, and I made many wonderful friends there. But I think what sometimes happens when one has been a teacher for too long is that people start seeing you as "the teacher", and consciously or unconsciously become unwilling or unable to challenge your understanding of the practice, and your own practice stagnates as a result. I felt I was at that point. By a fortuituous turn of events, I moved to a new place (Milwaukee) and encountered my teacher, who got me into a regular mysore practice. And it was mysore Ashtanga practice that got me out of this rut. I had "dabbled" in Ashtanga-inspired sequences (and even did the primary series occasionally) before that, but it was regular mysore practice that made me really understand the power and beauty of this practice: This practice that brutally and honestly challenges me everyday. Yet within this brutal honesty lies the seed of real growth.
Huh, another long ranting post. And I started out only intending to talk about yoga DVDs :-)