After my third day of Ashtanga during my yoga teacher training, I had a very clear feeling: it’s not for me. My first teacher training had been in the flowy and comparatively forgiving prana vinyasa, all done up in bhakti vibes, world music feels, and exploration of what feels good to you in your body.
Coming to the discipline of Ashtanga, well, I simply was not finding a lot of joy during the practice: the soreness in my muscles from the unforgiving number of vinyasas, the rigidity, the starkness in which our teacher would count down from five… four… three… two… two… two… two… having us hold asanas loooooong as he made slight adjustments in our postures…. Sometimes I felt like such a failure. So much was out of reach for me in some of the binds and advanced asanas (binds are difficult for my body, and there are quite a few in the primary series!). Never had I needed so much help from props. Our teacher threw in vinyasas not only between each seated posture but between each variation and between right and left sides. It was exhausting and I was humbled.
Over the four weeks of the course through, a transformation began to happen. Naturally, my body grew stronger. I saw changes in my flexibility and agility getting into bendier asanas. My alignment improved dramatically. But, no, something more… I was actually starting to like this practice.
It is so physical that it truly takes you out of your mind, and I found it to be a beautifully meditative practice. Following the same sequence each day is an insight into where the body stands for that day, in that moment: a check-in. There is so much discipline and routine involved in it (true Ashtanga practitioners practice 6-days a week) and I think that since I am not naturally drawn to routine in life, it helps to ground me.
Coming home, I have found that many days my personal practice turns to Ashtanga. It is not the practice I do every day: I love that I’ve learned different styles and can choose to practice hatha, or vinyasa, or even restorative, deciding what my body and mind need in the moment. In my own home practice I’ll sometimes throw in related asanas that I love or am working on if I feel inclined. But a surprising percent of the time I find peace, inspiration, refuge, in Ashtanga.
This process of coming to love Ashtanga: the groundedness, the challenge, the rewards, and ultimately the development of a daily practice are why I am choosing to offer a series of foundational Ashtanga classes at Mountain Yoga Studio in Susanville through the end of October. We will take time in each class to focus in on a handful of asanas in particular, building each week so that by the end we cover the primary sequence. My goal is for students to walk away with what they need to develop and maintain their own home practice, one that they can take refuge in when it is not accessible to make it to class. Yoga is so much more than asana, and Ashtanga has a way of ripping open any blinders so that you can become that much closer to knowing your true self.