I taught the inaugural Ashtanga for Beginners class last night at Amara Yoga. Oh goodness was that fun! The yogis who participated were so responsive to everything. There were even a few seasoned Ashtangis in there, and I think they got something out of it too. But for the true beginners, it was likely the first time they heard many of the concepts I shared. My years of Yoga Fundamentals class with Linda, Ashtanga Immersion training with Kelsey, and everything I’ve learned from all my teachers came through. Several students even stayed after class to work through specific questions. It was so fulfilling as a teacher.
Here were 5 key points:
- Ashtanga is strict. But its your practice. We do what we do and that is perfectly fine! Don’t be afraid to join in on a class. If you are able, there is a right way to do the poses. But if you are still working on a pose, modifications are quite acceptable. Just do what you can do.
- Everything starts with the breath. Even though they were beginners, the Ujjayi or fierce breath was deafening. I mean, they really got into it. It goes away when their minds shift to the asanas, but they still need to keep their breath.
- Bandhas are not far behind. These root locks are held for the entire class until savasana. Mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, and jandalara bandha. The last is used less, but the other two are always engaged. They are the pelvic floor and transverse abdominus.
- Drishti is SO important for mental focus. Every pose has a drishti, your visual gaze, and this is emphasized in Ashtanga. It directs your energy and places your spine in the proper orientation. Concentration and inward focus are very real benefits of drishti.
- Props? Yeah, there was a rift way back when between yoga lineages. The Iyengar folks are masters of using props. They can be SO helpful in feeling what a pose is supposed to feel like. And it can make it safer for your body. Ashtanga insists on using your body as a prop and modifying as needed without external props. But I still say that if a block or a strap helps you to learn a pose, by all means, use them. Personally, I don’t use “props” in a class, but I do use a small hand towel to help with binds and such (since I get really sweaty even though wiping sweat is a no-no too). Ashtanga teachers may grin at your use of props, but don’t be afraid to bring what you need. A water bottle is considered a prop too since you don’t want to quench your inner fire, your Tapas, but do what you have to do. And if you find yourself trying to go prop-less, its fine to ask your teacher how to modify a pose. They will gladly help you.
The Tristhana method is key to Ashtanga: breath, bandhas, and drishti. If you focus on these 3 elements, everything else will fall into place. Never be afraid to try. Challenging yourself and trying shows your confidence and resolve to do better. Patthabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga, always said “You Do!” And I would echo those words. You Do!
Practice and all is coming