Sunday, September 2, 2012

how to finally start an ashtanga practice..although not at home

how i started ashtanga practice..

After reading Mayaland's great post on how to start a home practice, I thought I would share my own yoga journey. I really admire people who have a home practice, because I am not sure if I could manage that..for now, I need a teacher and a place to go for practice.

In my late 20s, I walked into my first "ashtanga inspired" vinyasa yoga class in Portland, Oregon. Back then, there was no mysore practice in Portland, though the teacher hosted some sort of self-practice morning time at the studio, which was a mere 3 blocks from my apartment. Back then, however, the thought of going somewhere early in the morning seemed nuts. (now I would kill to be so close to my shala..ok, maybe kill is a bad word choice, but you know what I mean) And while I loved the vinyasa class, I was also completely mortified by it at times. For one, I sweated in it..which was soooo embarassing to me (the room was not remotely warm...this was the northwest, remember), and the breathing that my teacher did and tried to teach us..just the sound of it scared me. Plus the fact that I was a total weakling who could barely hold downward dog, or hold my arms up in warrior 2, let alone perform the mysterious chatauranga. A few times in those first classes, my teacher would demonstrate chatauranga next to me to show me how to do it..though I had no core or shoulder strength to do it. Still, I went to class each week, and even practiced some at home, without a mat. This was also before everyone owned a yoga mat..let alone a manduka. Eventually, the teacher moved the classes to another neighborhood and that seemed too far to travel for class. I continued with vinyasa classes at the nearby studio, and at least was happy that I was practicing regularly, even though it was a hodgepodge of vinyasa and hatha classes. Eventually, I met someone, and the yoga kinda disappeared from my life.

Then in my mid 30s, I bought Richard Freeman's into to ashtanga? video (yes video...i seem to always be behind in technology). Just the sun salutations exhausted me. I am not sure how many times I used the video. Interestingly, I don't think I ever watched it much past where I was practicing to. I guess I am not really a video or dvd practice person. It is either completely on my own, or with a teacher.

Attempt number 3..ok, not ashtanga at all, but just the am/pm yoga dvd that a friend of mine used every day for her practice. I would use it as a warm up and then do a little on my own afterwards..somehow the spacey music seemed good at the time.

Attempt number 4: vinyasa yoga at a studio in nyc. Whoa, my butt was seriously kicked. Maybe yoga is too hard for me.

Attempt number 5: vinyasa yoga at that same studio, maybe 3-4 years later. Still hard, but I figured out that if I practiced a little at home, it made the class a little easier. This then morphed into a year and a half at Jivamukti, working my way up from 2 beginner vinyasa classes each week plus home practice 3 more days per week, to a 6 day a week practice. I finally learn the elusive chatauranga, headstand, and to jump back in sun salutations.

Attempt number 6: A little over a year ago, I had tried to just do the sun salutations from primary series at home. I thought maybe I could gradually learn  at least the standing portion on my own, while I continued to practice at Jivamukti. Total fail: it was too hard on my shoulders, still, and I got so out of breath..and this wasn't even doing the surya b's. It was pretty disheartening.

Much of the inspiration for me to try ashtanga again came from the yoga blogs I read. The blogs I enjoyed the most were all ashtanga yoga related blogs: My Yoga Blog, Grimmly's blog, Yoga in the Dragon's Den, and many others. I loved reading about how people did their practices, both at home and with a teacher. Reading these, made me realize that it might be possible for me too. I must have listened to every one of Kino's podcasts. I too, wanted to hear about the practice from a woman's perspective. I was especially interested in how to develop strength in practice, and I am not just talking about physical strength.

One reason that going to a shala works so well for me, is that, besides having found wonderful teachers, I am fairly flexible but not particulary strong or good with endurance. When I tried to use a video in the past, it was completely the wrong pace for me. I need someone watching over my practice a little bit so I don't hurt myself (not that it always works out that way) and so that I didn't give up, especially at the very beginning. For the first 3-4 months, I would have some anxiety every day as I stepped on the mat- could I even do all of standing without wiping myself out. Many days, hearing other people breathing and practicing gave me the reassurance that I could go on with my practice. Now, almost 8 months into my practice, I no longer worry about completing standing..but most days I am still awfully happy and a little bit relieved to sit in dandansana.


  1. Yeah,nobody ever mentions the relief of Dandasana. Mysore style & in community, my favorite way to practice.

  2. :)
    there is also the relief of being done with utthita hasta padangusthasana as well as the relief of a well timed opening chant by my teacher...

  3. Yoga is the natural way to stay happy, healthy and stress free. It is the best home exercises you can do around the house.
    Yoga Teacher Training Rishikesh