My Yogini Diary: Practicing Ashtanga

“The most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga are your body and your mind.” ~ Rodney Yee

It was a sunny Saturday in March when I googled about yoga.  It was the final week for university’s second semester and the stress was overwhelming.  I typed in keywords which I hoped would display information about the nearest gym or shala that offered yoga sessions.
I stumbled upon Ashtanga Yoga Shala Mactan.

sunsalutation

Sunday morning
I’ve been up for more than 2 hours just so I can catch their 9 am Sunday yoga session.

When I came in, I was so excited how the practice would be like. During the introduction, I found out there are several types of Yoga, and that AYSM offers Ashtanga – a highly specific series of bends, twists, lifting, balancing, and jumps synchronized with a corresponding inhale and exhale.

Because the practice is physically demanding, intense and needs a lot of discipline and dedication, many of us practitioners became immediate friends after talking about how we all we’re struggling to perform each pose. I am thankful camaraderie came easy. No judging, no putting others down…just support, friendship, respect and fun.

A few days in, I started feeling more and more energized and focused by an hour or so of deep breathing and flowing movement that Ashtanga Yoga entailed.

If you’re new to Ashtanga Yoga, you might have pre-conceived expectations and worries despite the excitement just like I did.

Here are a few thoughts (or tips) that helped me with my practice:

Do not be intimidated:  Many feel they are too old or too out of shape to sit on the mat and do the poses. When you consider the Ashtanga Primary Series alone, the practice can seem daunting. Pushing through the soreness and fatigue will make you want to quit and sometimes will make you worry you’d somehow fail because you are not able to execute a pose correctly like, perhaps, some of the other practitioners. Just always remember that yoga sessions are called practice for a reason.  It does not aim to perfect, but rather to learn, explore and improve.  Ashtanga specifically is designed to create a healthier, stronger and more flexible body. If you doubt you’ll ever do the head stand or for your head to touch your toes, you’re in for a surprise!

Breathe correctly: All postures in Ashtanga are linked by breath. I admit I always have a hard time following the Ashtanga breathing technique; it’s always been a challenge for me. I sometimes get so occupied with the pose and getting it right that I forget to breathe deep and steady. Our instructor always reminds us that doing a deep steady and expansive breath through the nose, even when trying to do a difficult pose, will help you find peace during a difficult posture and will sustain you to Savasana. It really does.

Try not to skip a Vinyasa:
Oh Yogi don’t do asana without vinyasa’ ~Vamana

The Ashtanga Primary Series is not a short and easy practice. The first 18 poses are the standing series, and the last 14 is the finishing sequence. Technically only the middle part is the primary series. But you’re supposed to do all three parts during your practice. Plus, the vinyasa (chaturangas(push up position)/upward dogs/downward facing dogs) between the different poses. I admit, I’ve skipped a lot of vinyasa because there’s so much of them in the series. Then again, I do it as much as I can because this helps build arm strength which is vital in most of the poses. If I get really tired (especially when doing chaturanga) I place my knees on the mat before I lower down or I pause to get back to my breathing and then do the vinyasa after the next pose. The whole vinyasa sequence can get demanding; just never quit. I guess that’s all there is.

Listen to your body: Never rush. Don’t beat yourself up just so you can be a step ahead everyone else; it is not a competition.   Pay attention; your body will tell where your limits are at that very specific moment.
“Don’t worry about what you look like, or what the others look like. You may feel like the most awkward individual in the room, not being able to master one pose in your first session. What is important to remember is you must not force a pose. Each time you practice this pose, and concentrate on how your body is bending, you will get closer and closer to mastering it. Don’t expect to be able to do the poses correctly at first. And don’t give up because the person next to you seems to bend with such ease and grace. With practice you will be this person someday. After just one class, you will have achieved at least a little more flexibility. ”
If you have problems with a pose, your instructor will surely help you and will often let you execute a modified version.

Yoga is a powerful workout, especially Ashtanga. Some days you’ll be able to do the whole Primary sequence, other you could only manage to execute half of the sequence correctly. And that’s okay! Don’t worry if you skip some poses.
Do your best and never give up, but also never forget that taking it easy and slow is good.  Be kind to yourself, and be patient too. (oh, the things yoga teaches us)
“Practice, and all is coming.”

Think of it as an opportunity: Although it is recommended to jumpstart to a healthier diet once you start practicing yoga, you don’t need to cut out every unhealthy food you love right away, right then and there. Just consider it as an opportunity to make better food choices and practice a healthier routine. Again, take it easy; one step at a time. Gradually, but surely. 😉

attheshala

If I am not able to join the practice in the shala, I do the primary series at home. The practice has helped me feel better, look better, focus better, relax better and sleep better. better…better…better. 😉

Here’s a link to a more detailed information about the Ashtanga Yoga System

Try Ashtanga today! 🙂

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