Exploring Different Types of Yoga and Finding Ashtanga
Vande Gurunam Caranaravinde…
If you haven’t read my blog about my first couple of yoga classes, you should, you’ll have a laugh (hint: I broke something at a studio). Just like anyone, I began my yoga journey unsure and very curious. I didn’t really know where to start or what to do. A friend taught me a yoga class in my living room, I was quite fascinated, and then I just started Googling.
I rotated through Groupon, trying out various studios in Las Vegas, trying to find what worked for me, what I needed at the time. There are a lot of different studios in Las Vegas with all kinds of offerings, I quickly realized I could get anything I was looking for. Hot yoga, check. Yin, check. Kundalini, check. Nonprofit and donation-based yoga? Check! We truly do have it all.
But as I’m Googling and watching videos on YouTube to learn about all these different types of yoga, I was still unsure where to begin. I had that very familiar feeling of “well I know I can’t do X, so I can’t go do that type of yoga.” Which of course is silly. We all know that, for example, Olympic gymnasts train for hours a day, 6-7 days a week, from the age of like, 3. So it is quite literally a full time job for them to be able to do the crazy, gold-medal winning feats that they do…and for years and years! We all know this, yet when we see average people around us accomplishing lesser, but still great, feats we somehow don’t believe the same amount of work is put in.
So eventually I just began. I don’t even remember the order in which it happened at this point, and I love that my early yoga journey doesn’t seem linear to me, because now I know, it’s not supposed to be, nor will it ever necessarily be linear! I did try hot yoga, yin yoga, vinyasa, meditation, power yoga, restorative. I hopped all over town and just said yes to whatever I could fit into my budget and schedule.
Where To Go From Here?
About 5 years into my yoga journey, I found myself a little lost. I never quite settled down to a particular yoga studio or style of yoga, I kept jumping around just trying anything. I also would occasionally do some yoga at home, following YouTube videos. One day when scrolling through YouTube, I found this video:
I hadn’t seen anything like this in any studios yet, and I was immediately curious. “What is this ashtanga yoga? These yogis are basically gymnasts, their bodies are doing crazy things! I could never do this, but wow what if I could?!” Some thoughts that immediately went through my head. I sort of immediately brushed off this idea that I could ever do this type of yoga, but at the same I kept Googling it, looking it up, reading about it, watching other videos…I was enthralled.
One day soon thereafter, I saw a post, an ad? I don’t remember, but something on Facebook about someone starting a Mysore-style Ashtanga practice room in Las Vegas. The fates aligned, I was meant to see this. I inquired, I showed up.
My first day in Paige’s Mysore room seemed pretty ok, she taught me sun salutation A, and I was familiar since I’d been practicing for a few years, but this was the first time I learned the entire sequence with structure, and repetition, and no modifications to the sequence. I remember that’s all I did that day. I believe I did 10 sun salutation A’s, and I was BEAT.
On day 2 we added sun salutation B, and again, that’s all I did. Sun A and Sun B. Again, beat, completely exhausted. But something kept me going. I kept showing up.
I went to this Mysore room for about 2 months, fairly consistently, and thus began my love affair with Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.
What is Ashtanga Anyway?
Ashtanga yoga actually describes the 8 limbed path (which I explain in this blog here), but the method of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga was developed by Krishnamacharya, often known as the father of modern day yoga, and his student Pattabhi Jois (seen teaching in the video above!). This practice contains 6 different series of sequences laid out particularly, and practiced in order. The sequence seen in the video above is the Primary series, or the first of the six series.
The class in the video is a led class, where the teacher leads the practice and counts each breath and movement in Sanskrit and the students follow along. How do they know what postures to do?? Well, they learned in a Mysore room just like I did, these students in the video learning in Mysore, India itself (which is where this style of teaching gets its name).
In this style of the practice, students work on the specific sequence they are on, whether it be primary, second series, or third, etc. and the teacher goes around the room working with each individual student on their practice and postures, adding a new posture in the series once they’ve shown a certain level of mastery of the postures leading up to that one. This ultimately sets the student up for a self-led, home practice where you work on the practice daily on your own.
A lot of ashtanga students go to India to study with the Jois family (after Pattabhi’s passing, his grandson, Sharath, now leads the Ashtanga center in Mysore, India), but I have not made this journey yet. I hope to one day! But all the students that go to study bring the teaching back to the corners of the earth that they scatter to, and thus the ashtanga vinyasa practice has spread far and wide, with knowledgeable and experienced teachers everywhere who can share the practice with others.
For me, I love the structure of this style of yoga. I love that it set me up for a home practice where I can work on the series on my own, at my own pace, and in my own headspace. That’s the best part, that this journey is really between you and yourself and your God. There’s something different about using the will to get on the may at home, at 7 in the morning, with no one pushing you, motivating you, or leading you. It’s so easy to get in the flow of yoga when in a studio with teachers and other students, the collective energy of the yoga keeps you going. But on your own, it’s a different journey.
I also love knowing what’s next haha! This is great for anxious types like myself. There aren’t many surprises, but the surprises that do come are more…controlled, I guess I could say. I could probably use the challenge of more unknowns in a practice I just walk into, but that type of practice doesn’t serve me the way ashtanga does. Ashtanga also serves my body, I love the challenge that it brings, particularly in strength. Repeating the same things over and over can have a different challenge than being surprised and accepting change. Sometimes the seemingly mundane, after doing the same standing sequence for months on end, can bring mental challenges to tell the mind to just let what comes come. This also shows subtleties in the body by exploring the same postures over and over. I have been able to really explore what emotions and tension I hold in my hips by continuing to revisit the multitude of hip opening postures in the Ashtanga primary series.
Yoga Practice Fluidity
I could write a whole series on Ashtanga yoga, and I just may, but for now I’ll say that this practice has been transformational for me, body, mind, and spirit, and I look forward to what the journey continues to bring me!
That being said, I have learned to let my yoga practice be guided internally and I try to do what I’m feeling called to do. The Ashtanga traditional structure is 6 days a week, with one rest day, and resting on moon days. I have rarely followed this, I have been led more to practice 4 or so days a week, and I do yin when called. I find yin to also be a very transformative practice especially for the mental capacity. To sit in one posture for minutes at a time allows so many portals of energy to open and flow that we might normally not sit and allow the time.
So while I always end up coming back to the structure and power and strength of the ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice, I now do not shame myself if I fall off of my routine.
And this journey will of course continue to ebb and flow through life! The best thing anyone can do, in my experience with the practice, is to find what works best for YOU. Whatever physical practice, meditation style, breath practice opens you up to finding your highest truest self, so that you may live in peace and show the way for others by how you move your feet…then that’s the yoga practice for you!