October 2009 – Ashtanga Yoga is not Militant

Ashtanga Yoga is not Militant

Just getting back from a “world tour” of types 🙂 I feel compelled to share a bit about Ashtanga Yoga and what I saw in some of the places in Europe I visited and taught in.  It seems the Ashtanga practice is a bit misunderstood; too many people are getting wrapped up in the physicality of it and making the practice very external and physical and thus not liking it.

This practice is not about getting a workout–it is not our external muscles we are trying to work instead we are focusing on internal cleansing, it is about connecting with the inner work of yoga–breathing/moving synchronicity, bandhas, drishti (Tristana).  Vinyasas are not about the workout, they are about counterbalancing the postures and building heat in your body for detoxification purposes! Poses where we are putting our heel in funky places (our abdomen, etc.) is not about the flexibility to do that–its about using your heel (the heel is therapeutic–it carries heat) to press into various organs, nerves, energy centers within the body to help wring out toxins.

Use your inner strength for the practice not your outer strength, too much muscular effort creates tension in the body, we want to release tension from our bodies.

Ashtanga Yoga is a process
Too many people are trying the “hard and fancy stuff” too early in their practice.  One of the side effects of this practice is that you will get flexible and strong :)–if you do the practice consistently over a long period of time.
Many people start the practice or practice irregularly and see someone who has been practicing consistently for a long time and observes how they can pick up and jump back or jump through, etc. so early in their practice they try to do those “hard and fancy things” too.  This only leads to frustration.  It takes time with the practice–put in your time and these things will come to you!  You do anything long enough you will get good at it.

  • It took me 10 years of practice just to do Janu Sirsasana C
  • The first 5 years of my practice I totally ignored the pick up in vinyasas and just rolled over my feet . . . Primary series is about getting grounded in your practice–don’t turn primary series into grunt work!

So in your practice don’t struggle with the “hard and fancy stuff”–do your practice consistently and let those things COME TO YOU.

Don’t Struggle with your Breath either!
You all know how I stress the importance of your breath in the practice.  On the other hand I want to remind you to not struggle with your breath.  Pattabhi Jois used to say “Free Breathing You Do” and “Loud Breathing”.  Some people struggle to keep the breath slow and do not allow different postures to change the pace of your breath.

It is natural to have a shorter breath when jumping back, or when doing a more challenging pose.  Struggling to keep your breath the same in Bhujapidasana as you do in Paschimattanasana is not free breathing!  And as I stated last week–let it come to you, the slower breath will come with consistent practice, as you get stronger and more flexible in the poses your breath will naturally slow down (and you will be more comfortable holding the pose longer which having a longer breath will require).

However our inhales and exhales should be the same, so if your breath is shorter-both the inhale and the exhale are shorter, and in your longer breaths again the exhale will be just as long as the inhale.

Remember “Free breathing you do!”

Don’t Push Just Try
I just want to clarify that while I am talking about not being “militant” with your practice you do have to try.  And there will be days when you have put forth effort.  With your trying, try and then let it go–non attachment.  Don’t get too caught up in “getting” what it is you are trying–thats when we end up pushing too hard and making the practice seem militant and unenjoyable.  Compliment the qualities of engagement with letting go.

Remember Yoga Sutra II:46 – Sthira Sukham Asanam
Sthira = Steady, suka = pleaseant, enjoyable
Find a balance between effort and ease that feels delicious and challenging at the same time. Sthira and sukha form a state of equilibrium (sattva) that is without agitation (rajas) or inertia (tamas).

Off the mat I have learned to apply Sthira Sukham to many areas of my life. Firmness in rules and discipline with my daughter, softness in how I impose them on her knowing she has hormones raging in her body and all the emotions young teens go through that she does not know what to do with. Firmness in my direction and goals, softness to flow with natural occurrence of life. Firmness in how I run my business, softness because my business is dealing with people and that requires compassion and understanding. Firmness in keeping with a busy schedule, softness to allow myself time to “rest and digest”.

And this gets us off into another whole tangent . . .this mix of firmness and softness is what tantric is about–a balance between opposing energies.  If we are too firm-or too much of the masculine quality we end up with a lot of aggression and start wars–too much softness or have too much of the feminine quality we may not put forth enough effort (laziness) and become complacent.  So in all areas of your life strive for that balance between firmness and softness.

And on your mat remember to make your practice fun and enjoyable.

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