Someone once said “Yoga is for everyone, but Ashtanga might not be for everyone.”
There may be a little truth in that, but I mostly disagree. Ashtanga CAN be for everyone.
We are in a modern age of yoga. There was a time when you had to qualify or apply to study with a yoga teacher. The dynamics are a bit different today. If you want to practice yoga, you can. It is completely up to you. And I’m not just talking about beginner or gentle yoga classes. I’m talking about Iyengar, Ashtanga, or some other seemingly advanced practice. You just have to try and give it a chance. Here are my 3 tips for venturing into Ashtanga Yoga:
- It’s YOUR Practice
For most yoga studios, we want you to practice with us. We aren’t going to push you away. We love that you try your best. Teachers love nothing more than to see progress. YOU make the choice to come to class and allow the teacher to guide you. Yes, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini,… are specific yoga styles with nuances specific to their practice. We are going to show you the style of THIS practice. But it is still YOUR practice. We facilitate and you do what your body says you can do. Eventually, you’ll find WHY we say to do things a certain way. But you should follow your own path to finding what works for you.
- Modify Everything!
I have been practicing yoga for a while now and teaching for several years. But there is still a lot I can’t do and may never do. But I get the same benefits from the practice whether I modify a pose or not. So if you are new to yoga or to Ashtanga, your body will not be used to certain positions. But don’t judge yourself or be discontent about your place in your journey. You do what you do and all is fine. Nobody will judge you. A yoga teacher never judges you if you can’t touch your toes or bind yourself like a pretzel. They’ll help you wherever you are. Modify every single pose if need be. Just do what you can and have fun.
- Make It Enjoyable!
I used to run track in high school and 5K/10K races since I was in the 6th grade. I knew exactly what to do, what to wear, and how to train. But when I began running ultra marathons later in life, everything changed. It seemed what I knew for 20 years was only about 10% similar to ultra marathons. It blew my mind. Ashtanga might blow your mind too. Ashtanga Yoga is different from anything you’ve ever done before. It is a very different culture. The “breath” is the first thing that jumps out at you. But as you delve into it, you realize how important it is. There are so many things that by your 5th or 50th class, a little light goes off and you say “Oh, that’s why!” But you find your way in your own time. Meanwhile, have fun. Be amazed by what your fellow yogis can do and don’t let it bother you if you aren’t there yet. I’m the last person who will get frustrated by not putting my feet behind my head. My body is different and that’s OK. What matters is that I’m growing in both mind and body.
Please don’t be afraid to go to Ashtanga and make it your own practice. You don’t have to do everything. Try out the poses and have fun. Ask the teacher for modifications or find something that works for your body. If you need to take child’s pose or just sit for a few breaths, do that. Soak up the experience and have fun. Its ok to laugh and feel the moment. You came to class and that’s what matters.
Historical Note: In the early days in Mysore, India, ayurvedic doctors would send people with debilitating diseases to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga. The Primary Series, or “Yoga Chikitsa”, is called the healing series. If someone had a disease where they could barely move, he would help them into a pose and then have them breathe. That was their practice.If you are sickly, overweight, are weak, have scoliosis or diabetes,..then Ashtanga IS for you. Ashtanga wasn’t made for elite, uber qualified yogis only. It IS for everyone. It often healed them; and it may heal you too.