The new way I’m teaching ashtanga yoga

Relaxing the rules around ashtanga and practicing for all 3 bodies~

While I love ashtanga, the system is being abused.

Over the years the system has gotten abused by it being made more militant, more intense with too many rules, and has become more about attaining a posture or getting a new one. The physicality is taking over the practice and the benefits to mind, nervous system, and hormones are being lost in the overworking of the physical aspect.

While ashtanga is a very intelligent system of practice it is not all encompassing. 

So many postures, so many different bodies in different phases of life with different needs. Ashtanga has the answer for many of them but other practices are also necessary as well. Furthermore we all need different practices on different days. Some days we need to nurture ourselves and some days we may want to break a sweat or release tension. The way its being taught today it’s the same practice everyday just grinding it out. Learn to tune in before each practice and figure what practice your body and mind need that day.

I only do a full series once or twice each week, the rest of the week I do partial series, mix up the series, or add in some fun or different poses for other benefits.

Think of it as Ashtanga 2.0, ashtanga with upgrades! Upgrades for a better user experience.

For those that practice and love ashtanga (as I do!) I am still here teaching it and adjusting with it. I still practice it too but I have changed how I practice over the years. I now practice with more wisdom (and less vinyasas!). In addition I have added a dedicated pranayama practice to my asana practice. Not necessarily the ashtanga pranayams, though they may be included, but an all around pranayama practice of many different breathing exercises. All my classes include pranayama now 🙂

Reducing adjustments

For many years I relied on adjustments as a teaching tool, and while they are useful they are not quite as useful when we are using yoga for healing or fitness of the subtle and spiritual bodies.

Adjustments can actually be an impediment in your practice because you become reliant on the teacher putting you in a pose instead of figuring out a way for you to practice the pose on your own. I’ve heard so many people say to me that they do not do home practice or second series at home because I am not there to put them in many of the poses. On contraire you will find that attempting to do those postures and gently working with your body and what it needs will allow you to do postures you never thought were possible on your own.

Adjustments also create an unhealthy attachment to extremism, people keep pushing themselves further and further to points where the pose becomes detrimental. Flexibility is not the purpose of yoga, the purpose of yoga is to improve the quality of your life through better breathing and better control of your mind which in turn modulates nervous system and hormonal balance. The mind greatly disrupts both those systems. The only risk of injury from yoga is by adjustments and folks pushing themselves too far in a pose to “achieve it”.

Simply paying attention to your own body and what is happening inside is a higher aim of yoga and one of my goals as a yoga teacher is to help you increase the awareness of what you creating in your body.

I’m not anti-adjustment and still enjoy sharing in some adjustments with my classes, I just want to use more tools in my teaching, tools that help you tune in instead of tune out.

Wayyyyy less vinyasas. We just don’t have to work that hard.  

While it may be beneficial earlier in your practice or up to about your mid to late 30s to practice with full vinyasa (including between right and left sides) SOMETIMES, it’s over glorified. Too many vinyasas does not increase strength, causes injuries and poor form, and takes energy away from other important aspects of the practices. Do just enough to feel good and keep your heat. And to get lightness, vinyasas help to remove the density in the body. The longer you practice the less vinyasas you need because your body becomes light. When you feel light it means you have good circulation and when you feel dense or heavy you have poor circulation.

On the Guru

The guru principal, according to Hindu teachings, is an external source of knowledge, not necessarily a person. The guru principal can flow through people (and even animals and plants) just like electricity can flow through a light bulb or power a car. A yoga teacher is not any more of a guru than a parent or anyone else who likes to share knowledge.

There has been a lot of abuse that has taken place between gurus and students, abuse of money, power, and/or sex. If you don’t give anyone guru status, they can’t abuse you. Giving someone guru status is giving your power away. Don’t give your power away, you are your own guru.

Yoga is more for your subtle body, than the physical body. The subtle body practices are the more important aspects of a yoga practice.

In Yoga philosophy each of us has 3 bodies; a physical body, a subtle or thinking body, and a spiritual body. The physical body is greatly affected by what is going on in the subtle body.

The subtle body also needs elements to support it’s living. The subtle body has 3 aspects to it.

  1. Pranamaya kosha Vital sheath – breath, vitality = Our energy, how much energy you have and you spend that energy. It can be wasted with stress and thoughtless worries or enhanced with deep breathing, and staying conscious with your thoughts.

    Prana is vitality. Prana is what shines our eyes, grows our hair, and beats our heart. Wherever there is life or movement there is prana. Heat, light, electricity, gravitation, and magnetism are examples of prana movement. We learn how to use and increase our prana in yoga to become full of life and vigor. Breathing practices are designed to help our bodies accumulate and direct prana. Asanas help to mend the channels or nadis (as they are known in yoga) that the prana flows through.

    Ways we accumulate prana:

    1. From the sun
    2. Grounding with the earth
    3. Air through breathing
    4. Water
    5. Food
  2. Manomaya kosha Mental sheath – The importance of how our mind and thoughts alone affect the body is lost in many yoga classes. This is one of the most important aspects of yoga.

    Inner Contemplation – watching our thoughts and feelings. Yoga has an inner contemplation as part of the practice, this is consistent in all the different yoga philosophies.

    Contemplation is defined as an inner seeing or vision with a spiritual component — or even a mystical awareness. When most people are thinking they are so wrapped up in believing their thoughts that they are not evaluating their thinking.

    Inner contemplation is watching your thoughts and feelings as if you are an observer of your thinking mind. We need to evaluate our thoughts. Most of our thoughts are imaginary and will never come to fruition.

    Also be aware of the way you talk to yourself, what do you say to yourself? Don’t fall into the trap of criticizing yourself. On average we have three negative thoughts to one positive thought. Start to be aware of the quality of your thoughts. This is what mediation was developed for, it is not to stop the thoughts, rather to be aware of your thoughts and consciously direct them.

  3. Vijnanamaya kosha Intellectual sheath.

    Intellect is your mental capacity to solve problems, to understand concepts; it is not part of the thinking mind. Instead we use it to filter the thinking mind or thoughts coming through the manomaya kosha. It is known as the wisdom sheath.

    It’s not intelligence, intellect and intelligence are two different things, lets tease them apart.  The intellect is the faculty of reasoning and objective understanding; objective meaning not influenced by the mind, emotions, or personal prejudices. Intelligence is the ability to acquire knowledge and skills, the ability to learn. Intelligence can be measured, intellect can not. Intelligence is related to feeling, intellect is related to fact.

    The vijnanamaya kosha is the aspect of our consciousness that is not entangled in the task at hand nor is it involved with thinking. It is what takes our awareness away from deciphering the senses and into a deeper mental space. It is awareness. We are trying or raise our awareness to operate more in this part of ourselves.

    There are different ways to strengthen and purify this layer depending on your belief or culture. You can do meditation or prayer or any practice, such as forest bathing, that brings your intellect to a higher minded place. One of the best ways to improve this layer is to practice witnessing yourself  during different situations, how are you behaving? Witness yourself at work, in interactions with others, and especially when faced with a challenging situation. It will change how you handle the situation. Step back and watch your thinking mind and your words, notice how it drives your behaviors. The vijanamaya kosha is also sometimes called the witness mind.

    We are trying to use the higher parts of our mind; in the front and higher areas of the brain are we contemplate and think wisely, in the lower brain is where the stress and instinctual “knee-jerk”, preprogrammed childhood responses happen. We’re using the practices of yoga to access the higher areas of the intellectual brain so we can respond with more wisdom and less from our wounded child place.

    Vijnanamaya allows us to step back from a situation and view it from a better perspective. This is where insight comes from, and intuition can come from here as well. This kosha is responsible for our inner growth and personal development.

    How do you know you are improving your personal development?  You will experience a deeper peace in your life that comes from freedom of thoughts and judgements. It is where we find the deeper sense of oneness with all living beings. Within this layer of ourselves lies the beginnings of understanding  that separation and ego are just an illusion. This recognition brings greater compassion, love, and acceptance.

    It is highly unlikely that one will be able to maintain this awareness 24/7 , rather it will come in waves of perception, (hopefully) increasing in duration over time. As this happens you will notice you don’t get caught up in the daily dramas your mind tells you about. You also don’t get so caught up in what other people are doing. You will have less stress in your life and more calm.

    A physical yoga practice can help to develop this layer, especially as poses and abilities come and go. To be able to witness your physical practice without judgement of your physical performance is a sign you are on your way to operating with more awareness.

    It seems to me; being able to access and operate out of this layer of ourselves, which is a deep layer (4th of the 5) is the essence of all yoga practices.

The 3 bodies and their layers

“Behind the world show, behind the physical body and the beating heart, behind names and forms, behind feelings, thoughts, emotions, and sentiments there dwells a silent witness, thy immortal friend.” excerpt from Swami Sivananda

The subtle body has more layers to it than the physical. yoga practices attune most to the subtle body, some to the physical, and some to the spiritual. In my yoga practice I like to think of  the importance of my subtle body first.

Disease, health and purification of the three bodies 

Imbalance in subtle body owing to wrong living will eventually bubble up and manifest as imbalance or disease in the subtle and physical bodies. 

Yoga designed practices to bring all 3 bodies into health. Practices to bring balance to each body: 

Sthula sharira Physical body
Diet and exercise, asana 

Sukshma sharira Subtle body
Yamas, niyamas, pranayama, service, bhakti, mantra and puja, study, inquiry, meditation 

Karana sharira Causal or spiritual body
Philosophy, meditation, prayer, and deep dreamless sleep

You are consciousness. You are not the body, not the mind, not the senses, not the thoughts, the ideas, or even the karmas. Those things only pertain to the limited individual, jiva. The important thing is how to get through this life and how to use this awareness. Obviously, it is important to make the physical body a good container through practicing yoga and eating good food.

It’s not just the food you digest that equates to health, but also what you see and what you hear, and what you smell. Whatever you bring into the body through the senses must be that which helps you be purify all 3 bodies. 

The practices of yoga provides for all of these things; for the physical body, you have asana and the diet. For the subtle body you have the   pranayama breath work and minfulness/awareness. What does pranayama mean, literally limiting, or controlling, the prana, our life force.

For the spiritual body all we can do is eat more, sleep more, and love more — and most importantly recognize that when we have moments of bliss, it is never, ever from a thing or an object. 

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