January 2010 – Ashtanga Yoga IS for Beginners

Ashtanga Yoga IS for Beginners

This topic is spurred by a very good newspaper article that came out in the Harrisburg area last week. Although the article was good, it gave an overview of the different types of yoga and in this overview it stated that Ashtanga Yoga is not for beginners! Our practice is so mis-understood! This practice is for beginners, and can be taught to beginners–you just need a good teacher who will teach it slowly and individualize it for you. If as a beginner you jump into full primary series you may feel lost and frustrated. However, if you learn primary series slowly, for example in a Mysore class you will have a much different perspective of the practice–you learn only 1 or 2 poses at a time and this you way you get a better understanding of each pose and learn how to suit them to your body. The ideal way to learn Ashtanga yoga is one pose at a time. First you learn just sun salutes–you learn the breathing and the moving and breathing synchronization–the heart of our practice. Then you learn 1 or 2 new poses each time you come back. This way is very empowering as you will remember what you learn (vs. being thrown in a full led primary class where you get 54 poses all at once . . .) and you can practice it anywhere anytime.

Ashtanga Yoga is NOT just for young boys
Another popular myth about Ashtanga Yoga is that it is only for teenage boys. Maybe this developed because when Guruji and Krishnamacharya were studying and practicing this yoga they shared the space in the Mysore Palace with the boys gymnastics team. So maybe some of the gymnastic like moves did come from the gymnasts, so be it. A,er many years in this practice your body does just go there, you get very flexible and strong and you develop a high level of coordination with your body, this is a natural process and does not require pushing yourself to be gymnastic like in the practice. Remember as I have said before, don’t push to do the jumps the floats and pick ups, etc. Let them come to you–a,er many years of practice! One day you will just hop right through and float to your mat–don’t struggle or try to do that early in your practice! Put in your time with the practice and let it come to you. So if you want to feel as fit and strong as a teenage boy well into your 50’s and 60’s then you should do Ashtanga Yoga 🙂

Ashtanga yoga is for anybody . . . the only people who can’t do ashtanga yoga are lazy people! Anyone who wants to take on this practice can, it does not matter how old you are, how tight you are, how many injuries or aches and pains you have . . . Many people think if they are tight they can not do yoga, or if they are not coordinated, or if they have pain or injury . . . the fact of the matter is the more tight you are the more you need yoga, if you are not coordinated yoga will make you coordinated, and if you have pain or injury yoga will help the healing process as it improves blood flow–you will just need to modify your practice to support and not aggravate the pain. But really the most common excuse is time. Especially if you are in the householder phase of your life time is crucial and this practice is most effective as a 6 day per week practice; practice 1-2x per week you’ll feel better and improve health, 3-4x per week you will notice your body changing and getting stronger, more flexible more coordinated, and you will start to feel the lightness in your moves on and off the mat the practice develops. Practice 5-6x per week and you will transform your life. Don’t let this frustrate you if time is short you can do a short home practice of 5 Surya Namaskar A’s, 3 finishing lotus flowers, and rest, then come to the studio once or twice each week for full practice. This counts! and will help you stay connected to your yoga practice, over time you will naturally want to do more full practices–it will not be a struggle or a chore, you’ll just want it . . . Try it and you’ll see.

I know I have spent the month talking about the wonders of ashtanga yoga, and although I am partial to the ashtanga form, I want to express that all forms of yoga are good. It is important as a beginner to shop around and find the form that suits you–and the teacher that suits you, in some cases the teacher may be more important than the form! Once you decide on a form and a teacher it is important to settle down and stick with your one form and teacher and work them deeply. When you flit around between styles and teachers you have a higher risk of injury and you do not get to experience the deeper teachings and benefits that the forms bring about. Shop around then settle down!

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