Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

3 ways Ashtanga yoga proved me wrong

ShouderstandsUp until last year, I’d had very limited experience of Ashtanga yoga – I’d been to one class and had watched a few Youtube clips. I was not a fan. However, over the last few months, Ashtanga yoga has somehow seeped into my life, and I’ve worked my way up to a six-day per week Primary Series practice. One of the best things has been in the number of ways this daily practice has proved me wrong! These are 3 of my misconceptions…

  1. In Ashtanga, you need to perform advanced asanas perfectly

My first Ashtanga class felt competitive and almost aggressive.  I really wanted to like it, and to like it I thought I had to be “good” at it. I was so attached to the idea of achieving the perfect asana that when I couldn’t, I got frustrated. I looked around the class and saw others flowing through their vinyasas and seemingly effortlessly moving into postures I found painful just to watch. I wondered how the hell I was doing so badly, and strangely enough, I found an excuse not to go back the next week!

I now realise that the competitiveness and desire for perfection came from me. No one in that class told me that I had to perform each pose fully, perfectly, or even attempt it at all if it was beyond my capabilities. The aggressive attitude was fuelled not by the teacher or the style of yoga, but my own ego. I wasn’t willing to allow myself to be a beginner. Once I let go of the desire to do it “well” and just focused on the process of moving towards each asana, I found it to be a very different experience.

  1. Ashtanga hurts

Two years ago, doing a workout programme called Insanity (not an ironic name, as it turned out!), I injured my lower back, which caused chronic pain. Lots of nerve irritation and muscles in spasm did not go well with trying to force myself into the forward bends of the Primary Series during that first Ashtanga class, and I spent most of the class and the week after it in agony.

I realise now that the increased pain was not caused by Ashtanga but by my approach to it. I was trying to push through and ignore painful sensations. So when I tried it again, I went back to basics. I carefully, taught myself the asanas one at a time and valued the correct alignment more than going deeply into postures. In the process I learnt about my body – what worsened the back pain and what helped. I tried to lengthen, rather than bend into forward folds. I learnt the importance of strengthening and engaging my core, and found that hip openers greatly relieved the tightness in my lower back. I am still learning, but my pain is significantly reduced, despite the fact I am doing more physical activity than ever.

  1. Ashtanga is boring

When I first realised that Ashtangis do the same sequence of postures every time they practise, I couldn’t think of anything worse. I crave variety and change, and the thought of doing the same thing every single day seemed mind-numbingly dull. Even once I decided to give Ashtanga another try, I wasn’t keen on repeating it every day. I wanted to avoid those asanas that didn’t feel good and spend more time playing with the ones I could do.

But what I experimented with was just noticing those thoughts, and then continuing with my practice anyway. I found physical and mental strength in the discipline of not following my thought patterns into altered behaviour. And I began to tune into the subtle differences in my experience and the sensations of the asanas each day. When I did this, my practice became anything but monotonous. Every session is unique, and following the same series of asanas allows me to be more sensitive to the differences I feel in my body.

I’m just at the beginning of my journey with Ashtanga, and it’s already proved me wrong on many counts. I think this is a good thing, because it means I must be learning!  It’s not the only style of yoga I enjoy, but it has become the “bread and butter” of my self-practice.

Has anyone else had a change of heart about Ashtanga? Do you love it or hate it? Please comment and let me know – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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2 Comments

  1. Mark

    Great to see you’re enjoying Ashtanga. I have to admit I was quite competitive in class for a while. Back then yoga was not much more than an exercise class for me. One day I felt really good doing a self practice and I was enjoying myself so much I just thought I’d see just how deep I could go. Tweaked my knee, nothing serious, my own fault completely. Told my yoga teacher, she told me it was an ego injury, I’d never heard the phrase before but it’s common yoga parlance. Took me a long time to stop being competitive, but my yoga experience feels all the better for it.

    Can see you’re really connecting and gaining insight into the asanas and your body. You see so many people doing various postures with a bent back when it should be extended, not good.

    Every practice is different, you have good days and bad days – not a good choice of words – days when you are weak/strong, stiff/flexible etc. The great thing about the sequence is you learn so much about your own body, coming back to the same asana in the same order day after day. You can understand more deeply the asana and work with it. Challenging asanas provide a mental challenge, the determination and peace experienced on the mat eventually permeates your life off the mat.

    Being a sequence that you learn off by heart allows you to focus on the breathing. This focus and breath is yoga, and can become a moving meditation. Something you can’t achieve so easily if you’re doing an unfamiliar sequence.

    My ego is telling me to practice more so I’ll be able to keep up with you if we get a chance to practice together in Spain LOL

    • Thank you Mark – it’s really interesting to hear your take on the insight Ashtanga has given you.

      Ego injury?! That’s such an accurate description! Definitely inflicted a few of those on myself as a runner!

      And you’re so right about the sequence of postures allowing you to focus on the breath. It seems really strange to think now, but I used to ignore “the whole breathing thing” in yoga classes if I didn’t feel like it! Having learnt the Ashtanga sequence so closely with the breath, I can’t imagine yoga without it.

      No sneaky extra practising before Spain – my competitive nature won’t be able to handle it, and that won’t be very yogic for anyone 😛 Bring it on though – we can bore everyone else to death with our Ashtanga chat 😀 x

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