MARCH 9, 2020
At the studio we teach the primary series of the Ashtanga series (there are 6 series in total. The first series is the primary, followed by intermediate and then 4 advanced series). We often only teach a portion of the sequence depending on the length of the class, as the full primary takes approximinately 1.5 hours to complete. Each and every breath has a role in the series. Each inhale and each exhale is a choreograph of movement or stillness. There is a dance with the breath and the way in and out of the poses is equally important. Most poses once entered are held for a 5 breath count. You do not need to know all the dance steps (and I promise there are not actually any dance steps) to take it. It helps to know that it is a very breath driven practice. This is one of the things I really love about Ashtanga. Breath in motion and an ability to rest into the cadence of it with a purpose to each and every one.
At first the dance might feel a little awkward or quick. A loving approach is required before you unroll your mat. A willingness to go at your own pace even if that means that you stay in a particular pose for a few less or a few more breaths between the transitions. As it is a set sequence, over time it becomes familiar and for many of our Ashtanga yogi’s it is a welcome home to unplug and connect in.
Alison O’Driscoll has been teaching Ashtanga at the studio for the last decade. She is passionate about the series and when I told her I would be writing about this for our newsletter she chimed in with some words to share. The one that brought me the biggest smile were her final words in the note ‘Thanks for doing a write up, Ashtanga is awesome, so fantastic if we can let more people know!’
Alison brings a very kind and compassionate approach to the series. She knows that each and every one of us has a unique body, a unique mind, a unique life! The practice has been described by some as vigorous and intense. It can be. It can also be reached with a gentle approach. Alison shares that ‘While the postures are the same every practice, every individuals practice will be different as practice unfolds over time and you will develop a practice that will suit your needs. Come and try your first led practice without expectation. Take a mild posture practice and enjoy connecting with your breath. Then, come and practice again! Your teachers are here to help facilitate your practice and guide you towards finding a practice to suit your needs. We are always excited to chat, so please, if we haven’t already, come and say hi! ‘
I know Alison means this. Come and say hi and check in and absolutely let her know if you are new to the practice so she can remind you how amazing you are. I mean this too. She can also offer any support or suggestions or assists you may need. The truth is each and every class we take needs to be adjusted to fit for the individual.
The practice itself begins in samasthiti “equal standing” at the top of your mat. The breath is ujjayi breath. An inhale and exhale through the nose with a slight constriction at the back of the throat. A breath that heats the system and also a breath that can be heard to guide us into a deeper state of meditation. (It took me a long, long, time to connect with this breath).There is no music in the class. You are the music. Your breath to be lost (well really found) in. From here the practice begins with Surya Namaskar A. Sun Salutation. Traditionally 5 are practiced. This follows with 5 Surya Namaskar B’s. From here the standing portion. There are steps in and out to all the poses. From standing to balance. From balance to seated. From seated to the back and some backbends and then closing poses. Again, in the 75 minute led classes some poses will be left aside from the series.
Pattabhi Jois is known as the founder of Ashtanga Yoga. He studied under the revered master Krishnamacharya. Sri Krishnamacharya was the teacher of other renowned teachers such as Iyengar,and Indra Devi. In 1948, Jois established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. To this day 1000’s of people are drawn to the institute each year to deepen their practice. Pattabhi Jois passed away in 2009 and his teachings are now carried on by his daughter and grandson.
Ok. I have shared a little history and a little about the class itself. Alison has let you know that she is available and keen to meet you on your mat from wherever you are starting from. And so now a little more pep talk time. Yes I am repeating something already said. It is ok to move at your pace. You do not have to understand it all. It takes time to know the map of Ashtanga. I often think of the first times I navigate myself to somewhere new, by foot, bus, or car. I follow the directions to a tee and I still often find myself circling around attempting to find the right destination. The second time I journey to the same place I get there with a little more ease. The same is true for the series. PATIENCE is a requirement. I could boldly capitalise that for any yoga practice. Well, who’s kidding who, for any life practice. One of Pattabhi Jois great quotes is ‘Practice, practice and all is coming’. Infuse some love and compassion and let your ego (the part that is attached to what you look like, and often has a tendency to label, condemn, or judge) take a back seat or better yet leave the car altogether.
Ready? We have Ashtanga three times a week at our Mission location. Join us on Monday’s at 6:00 pm, Wednesday’s at 5:45 pm, and Saturday’s at 10:00 am.