A beginner’s Perspective on Ashtanga
A note from the start – I am not in any way an expert on Ashtanga and am only going off of my personal experiences. As someone who is relatively new to practicing yoga in general, until two months ago, I had no idea that there was such a thing as Ashtanga yoga. That being said, I gave it a try a couple of weeks ago and really liked it. The following is a description and overview based on my experiences with the practice so far.
From www.ashtanga.com, ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.
If you ever get the opportunity, I recommend going to Yoga Time Studio on Sunday afternoon at 4pm and practicing with John Drury.
If possible, get there a little early so you can meet John and listen to him talk about the practice ahead of time. John is a very nice guy who is the first to say Ashtanga is not for everyone. He is extremely knowledgeable about the practice, but at least from what I have seen and experienced, doesn’t take himself too serious and is realistic. He talks you through the process and helps, encourages, and guides you along the way.
The Ashtanga practice begins with an opening chant:
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukhava Bodhe
Nih Shreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantiyai
Sahasra Shirasam Shvetam
Don’t worry, you are not expected to know or memorize this! John hands out the chant on paper so you can chant with him or simply follow along. It opens and closes with an Om (which is really all I can do at this point).
After the opening chant, you start moving through the different sequences and series. One of the main differences from a traditional yoga class is that there is no music. You also are supposed to keep your eyes open during the practice. You work to focus on your breath and drishti. John talks you through the practice calling out and counting first in English, then in English/sanskirt, then in full sanskirt. There are a lot of vinyasas (which I like, but you do need to be prepared for). At the end, you do a closing chant (which is on the other side of the sheet John hands out) and then class is over.
I really enjoyed the first Ashtanga class I went to and so I went back the next Sunday. What I hadn’t realized (although thinking back on it, I’m pretty sure John told me) is that the class is the same week to week. It’s a set series, which you continuously practice. Ideally, I believe you are encouraged to practice Ashtanga 5-6 times a week. It is a repetitious process where you body learns the series and naturally flows with your mind already knowing what it is supposed to be doing. Personally, I like repetition and am enjoying learning the series, but I can see how that might not be appealing for someone who likes to mix things up.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend going to the Sunday afternoon Ashtanga class at Yoga Time Studio and giving it a try!