For those unfamiliar with the ashtanga style of yoga, it’s a pretty physically intense practice. It’s also the basis for many of the more vigorous styles of modern day yoga, including vinyasa yoga, which is the style that I teach. In an ashtanga practice, you work in one of the six series of set poses, beginning with the primary series and maybe working up to the others over time. As with other flowing styles of practice, you move with your inhales and exhales. Practitioners are encouraged to do ashtanga daily, in the early hours of the morning, with days off that correspond with the new and full moons (and ladies are to take off when Aunt Irma is visiting).
Despite the fact that ashtanga is the parent of vinyasa, and I’ve been used to a strong, flowing practice, I still avoided ashtanga. I made up excuses: I didn’t want to get up so early to practice. I wasn’t interested in doing a set sequence, because I like variety. I didn’t want to try it until my wrists healed from carpal tunnel.
You know how excuses go.
The thing is, I was really avoiding it because I was afraid I wasn’t strong enough to do the sequence. I’d heard too many stories about ashtanga students injuring themselves during their practice, and I thought that I would end up in that category. I didn’t think my body could handle the sequence, and the many, many caturangas, which are effectively triceps push-ups. There’s also, of course, the blow to the ego when you can’t muscle your way through poses. I’ve gotten better about that one, but it still comes up from time to time.
A few months after I arrived in Sydney, though, I found myself drawn to ashtanga, specifically the mysore style. In a mysore practice, rather than your teacher guiding a group through a full class, s/he assigns you poses as you’re ready for them, so you slowly build your practice. Since I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to be doing this practice, I decided to sign up for a course here to get familiar with the sequence before finding a mysore teacher.
Having only experienced one instructor so far, I can’t speak to the whole of the ashtanga, of course. I can say that I’m happy that I decided to do a led course to start, though I do still sense that mysore is where I need to be to deepen my practice. I do get the sense that my teacher was gentler than many – especially with his adjustments – though he corrected a few things in my practice that no other teachers have mentioned to me, and that’s led to a positive shift during my time on the mat. I am definitely glad that I waited until my wrist injury was less acute/almost gone, because I probably wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the sequence before that.
And most importantly, I’m happy to be learning more about this style that’s helped shaped so much of the other varieties of yoga that I practice, particularly vinyasa, which is my yogic love. The broader my experience, the more I get to grow, in my own practice, in my life, and as a teacher.
**On August 5, 2012 – my 31st birthday – I committed to taking action every day for the next year of my life. Taking action and facing fear often go hand-in-hand, so I’ve got some two-for-one business happening over here. In this new Monday blog series, I’ll be exploring some of the things that I’m doing to honor this commitment – especially the big fear-conquering ones.