And then there was Ashtanga…

I’ve tried a few different types of yoga in my time. The ubiquitous Hatha. Alignment-focused Iyengar (an excellent match for my perfectionist tendencies). Graceful and fluid Vinyasa (just like dancing!).

But none have humbled me quite like Ashtanga.

Granted, I haven’t been practicing it all that long – I started dabbling earlier this year, incorporating the standing sequence into my home practice, following along with a dvd, and more recently going to a regular led class once a week. And sure, I knew there were some pretty tricky asanas in each of the six series, including Primary. In no way did I expect to get through it all on the first go, but I thought 10+ years of practice would prepare me – I thought I was strong and flexible enough to get through most of it and come out on the other side with a happy, sweaty, post-Ashtanga glow.

The first time I went to a led class, I got the glow alright. I also couldn’t move my arms for three days. And that was a beginner’s class. We had barely gotten halfway through Primary series.

Since then, I’ve played around with my practice of Ashtanga. Sometimes full Primary, sometimes not. Sometimes I vinyasa after every pose, sometimes I don’t, instead spending more time on the asanas I find the most difficult (Marichyasana D, anyone?).

I thought that I would get bored with Ashtanga – doing the exact same asanas, in the exact same sequence, every single time I got on my mat. Quite happily, it’s been the opposite. The practice is constantly changing. One day my headstand is solid and stable, the next my feet can’t get even get off the ground. In each pose, I find something new to focus and work on – the placement of my foot in Marichyasana, not letting my shoulders drop in Parsvottanasana. I’ve grown noticeably stronger in a relatively short amount of time, making arm balances easier (and much more fun!). And on those days when curveballs come from all directions, it’s nice to know that some things remain a constant.

Ashtanga is tough. It asks a lot of you – physically, mentally and emotionally. More than discipline, it takes guts to get back onto the mat every day, to come up against resistance, over and over again; those poses that you can’t seem to crack, no matter how much you twist your spine, or wiggle your foot a little higher on your hip. But it’s in this very act of showing up, starting again, and working through the challenges that Ashtanga throws up, that transformation starts to happen.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. savasana addict
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 08:54:45

    You’re right, Ashtanga is somehow special. When a student asked Sharath if and when he will teach meditation, he replied that the daily practice is just that. And in a way it’s right, because contrary to other types of yoga (maybe Sivananda apart, where you do the 12 basic postures), you can fully concentrate on your third eye, be mentally present, don’t let the mind wander, BECAUSE you don’t need to think of which posture you do next. It’s all there, planned out for you already. Love it.


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