April 2012 – Individualizing the Practice, Progressing, and Mysore classes

I believe in the importance of individualizing the Ashtanga practice for each person.  Even though Ashtanga Yoga is a system, its not a system that is meant to be forced on our bodies.  Each of us come to this practice with different tightnesses, strengths, weaknesses, and emotions that affect how our bodies look in a pose.  Yoga is adaptable to each individual body so we can bring ourselves into balance with the practice.

With the popularity of yoga –and especially with ashtanga yoga as more and more people are practicing it and the classes are getting bigger it is losing its individuality.  it is being put in a box and bodies are all forced to look the same in a pose to progress.  If this continues only yogis will be able to practice yoga . . .  Meaning only those people with the skinny flexible yoga bodies will be able to progress in their practices and in actuality it is the people who don’t have the skinny flexible yoga bodies that need yoga the most!

Please keep in mind though as a teacher it can sometimes be challenging to individualize in a group class — but we still do.  Sometimes you might have to bear with us a bit if we are helping someone and a cue is off or you hold a pose a little longer.  It’s all for a good cause and we will do it for you when it is your time.

The transition from beginner 1/2 primary classes to full primary can be challenging for some.  So within the beginner classes I am going to start to give those of you who are ready to learn more a new posture each week.  When you are ready to try a led primary class you will be familiar with the poses and where your body is in the pose.
In doing this, once you learn a pose you want to remember it.  In a beginner class when we get to navasana (boat pose) you will continue going with the poses you have learned thus far while I cue the beginners through a modified closing and into rest.  I will give you instruction or new postures as I get the chance between the cues for the beginners.

So in this way yoga will give us all what we need 🙂

Progressions and Comfort Zones

I want to clarify progressing, when i speak of progressing I am not speaking of doing a pose better or deeper, I am speaking of learning more.  Growing with your practice.  In reality if our practice does not grow and change with us we will get bored with it and stop doing it.

Progressing is not about how well you can do an asana.  its about how consistently you practice (even short home practices count) and how well you know your body mind and emotions in the pose.  so you can remove the whole equation about ‘your performance’ and all that goes with it . . .

For example most of us (as long as we don’t need back bending for therapeutic reasons) should spend our first 6 mos – 1 year in primary.  After about 1 year of consistent practice of primary series, learning the intermediate series to counter balance the forward bending of primary and to begin the next level of work in the ashtanga system – the nervous system is beneficial.  Putting in your time and practicing consistently is how you progress.

Yoga = balance between inner work and outer work
I have come to realize there is an emotional side attached to our individualizations and progressions.  This is part of the inner work of yoga.
Yoga is a nice balance between outer work and inner work, with the physicality of ashtanga yoga its too easy to put all our effort on the outer work.

Some of this inner work Is about being comfortable with who we are, comfortable that our body needs to be in a pose differently than someone else — comfortable in our own skin 🙂
Letting “performance anxiety” or something similar keep you from going to a different class will keep you from learning how to do what you have the anxiety about doing . . .

Some of us like to stay in our comfort zone; chances are if you like to stay in your comfort zone in a yoga class you might be like that in other areas of life . . . stepping outside of our comfort zone in a yoga class is a pretty safe spot to learn how to do that.  Stepping outside of our comfort zone helps us grow and become confident in ourselves.
And no worries, other students are not watching you in class, we are all too busy thinking about and our own stuff, what feels tight, our breath, etc.

So try stepping outside of your comfort zone and try the led primary or mysore class.  Its nice to mix it up a little, come to classes you feel confident in and come to classes that challenge your confidence . . . it will be good for your growth.

Focus is more inner work
Focus is also important in a class where you have people doing a pose differently or progressing at different times.  It’s fun and sometimes helpful to see where the practice goes, but you want to keep that in balance.  It’s also good to focus on your own breath and practice — to not even know or care who is doing what around you.  This is the 5th limb of Ashtanga yoga, the practice of pratayahara (keeping your attention inward).  To not have your attention–and therefore energy so easily pulled from you, to stay onhealthy.net/product-category/analgesics/ focused on your work no matter what is swirling around you helps you to stay focused in life no matter what the universe swirls around you . . .

Developing this focus is another part of the inner workings of yoga.  And this is why we have drishti, drishti is for mind control.  If you mind your drishti you will save yourself a lot of suffering 😉

Someone said to me “I don’t think I am coming back, after one year of practice I still can’t bind or get much deeper in the postures.”  This is a man with thick muscles and some tightness (men with thick muscles progress in flexibility slow — but there’s a whole lot of other ways to progress in yoga than just getting more flexible)  I said “ok, I don’t care whether you bind or not  — do you feel better after practice?”
He signed up again 🙂

That is what is most important about your yoga practice, do you feel better?  Does it enhance your life?

Someone from my classes who just became pregnant with her first child had just returned after taking off her first trimester.  I spoke to her about how we modify and she can practice as long as she feels comfortable, etc.  After her first practice being pregnant she exclaimed “that was my best practice ever! I didn’t worry about pushing myself deeper in a pose or getting a jump back, etc.  I just went through the practice breathing and taking care of myself.”   Nice lesson she learned.

Mysore Classes

Mysore is the name of the city in south India where Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois first started teaching Ashtanga Yoga.  In a Mysore class we teach how they initially taught Ashtanga Yoga in the 1930s and 40s.  This method today is still the best way to learn the practice.

In a Mysore class you are not cued through the practice, you do your practice following your own breath with a teacher(s) present — this gives you private instruction within a group class as the teacher is not bound to cuing the entire class and can stop and give you a few moments of undivided attention.  When learning the practice mysore style you only learn one or two poses at a time.  Initially your practice will be short as your first class you will only learn sun salutes.  This is nice for several reasons, you will not be overwhelmed by learning so much at once, and as you get stronger and more flexible your practice will get longer as you are ready for more.  The short practices will not last long!  The sad fact is though that most people do not like to learn this way.  They feel like they did not get “enough” for their effort to make it there.  If you keep coming back though you will get plenty!  Even more than you bargained for 😉

Traditionally led classes were only for people who had learned the entire practice mysore style.  Once you have the practice mysore style, then you are ready for a led class where you learn the vinyasa counts into and out of the postures, etc.

  • The beginner classes –after navasana have become mini mysore classes in that I have been giving a new pose each week to those who are ready for the next pose — and each person progresses at a different rate so not everyone gets the same pose, each person gets the next pose they are ready to learn.  Those of you learning the rest of primary this way will hopefully feel more comfortable coming into mysore classes.


Emotional side of a mysore class . . . yes I have come to acknowledge and realize there is an emotional element to coming to a mysore class –many of you have told me the following:

  • being nervous about forgetting the flow of postures . . . which is why I would like you to only go as far as you know then I give you only one more posture so you remember it.  However most people again don’t feel like they got their full practice and end up following someone near them which only makes it harder to learn the series.  I just want to remind you to look at the BIG PICTURE, don’t worry about having a short practice, enjoy it.  In time soon enough you will have the full series and you will know it better this way . . . and some day you’ll look back longingly on those short practices . . .
  • it can be a little intimidating seeing the more advanced practices and series . . . If this is how your feel, then you need to come.  Work on the inner practices of pratayahara and drishti and learn how to be comfortable in your own skin.

We have a supportive yoga community her.  You will find if you come to a mysore class someone in the class will “take you under their wing” and show you the ropes of a mysore class

New to Mysore?  Here are some tips:

  • Wait or ask for help in the postures you want help in
  • In postures where you have a right and left side, if I am assisting you don’t do vinyasa in between the right and left sides so I can adjust you on both sides then move on to someone else.  Otherwise I’ll start adjusting someone else while you vinyasa and may not make it back to you for the second side.
  • Don’t talk too much!

We are adding another Mysore class Mondays at 6:00p when Dave is ready to teach so he can teach Led Primary while I teach mysore.

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