Monday, June 10, 2013


The very first time I took an Ashtanga-inspired yoga class, I was slightly freaked out. Ashtanga is also known as "Power Yoga", done with vinyasa, or connecting your movement to your breath. It's one of the more athletic types of yoga, where your focus is mainly on your breath and how you transition from one pose to the next, instead of focusing solely on alignment like in the Hatha and Iyengar styles of yoga.

Ashtanga yoga was developed by a yogi named K. Pattabhi Jois, who learned this style of yoga from his teacher, Krishnamacharya. Jois now runs the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India, and has passed down the teachings of Ashtanga to thousands of other teachers throughout the world.

So, this whole time, I've been going to yoga class and thinking in the back of my head, boy, I don't know if I'd ever be able to do Ashtanga. I'm not powerful enough. I don't have enough muscles. I'm not strong enough.

Then, Robin made the mistake of showing me her textbook: Ashtanga Yoga, The Practice Manual: An Illustrated Guide to Personal Practice by David Swenson, who happens to be HER teacher.

One of the things that I've noticed about the anxiety is that when I feel it creeping up on me, it always helps to drop and do a number of Sun Salutations, or Surya Namaskara. The flow, the breath, the movement - they all seem to stop the anxiety dead in its tracks (most of the time), and when I'm feeling a little sluggish, boy is that ever a way to energize.

So, I order a copy of this book, and BAM!, right in front, the whole sequence of Surya Namaskara B, fully illustrated with detailed written directions.

The first night I had the book, I tried to get through 15 of them during my home practice. Of course, I felt my mind wandering during this particular part of the practice, but I muscled through them. When I finished, my heart was pounding like I'd just run a marathon.

So, here I am this whole time thinking, man, there's no way I could do Ashtanga, I'd better stick to Iyengar with it's focus on alignment and the yin (holding still) of poses, or Hatha, because Ashtanga - just the name - scares the pants off of me.

And what do you know?

I've actually been doing Ashtanga this whole time!

Even in my home practice, I try to be fluid between the poses. I try to include a vinyasa (sun salutation) during transitions from floor to standing to sitting.

Now, of course, this isn't true Ashtanga. To be true Ashtanga, I would need to be mentored by someone who was mentored by someone else, etc. And true, I still can't do all of the poses perfectly all of the time. I still need to do my modifications. (Thankfully, there are many modifications illustrated in Swenson's book, which makes me feel more comfortable when I need to do them.)

Ashtanga sort of snuck up on me, I think. I may not look terribly graceful some days on the mat, and I may not have quite the physical endurance that I need to get through all of the poses in the Primary and Intermediary Ashtanga series, but...I think I'm off to a pretty good start.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, thought that I would not like Ashtanga yoga because, well, I am out of shape. I can walk for miles, but the thought of that kind of vigorous yoga scared me. However, because of the anxiety issues I have been having, I felt like I needed a yoga style that forced me to breathe and not have time to think. When I am concentrating on my breath flow and getting into poses, I do not have time to think about my anxiety and all the pressures I have on me.

    I was thinking the other day that I must look terribly awkward, because I am still getting back into it and my flexibility is not there yet. But, really, I need to realize that I need to think of myself as a beautiful beginner. I cannot let me thoughts go back to where I used to be, in yoga. I need to be present in the here and now and accept where I am, without judgement of myself.
    Namaste, my friend!