Is Ashtanga yoga for everyone?
While factors such as age, experience with yoga, or how strong or flexible one is may determine how quickly one learns the practice, in the long run they are relatively insignificant. Everyone’s practice is unique and develops at its own pace. The practice is for anybody who genuinely desires to do it. The only prerequisites are a willingness to apply one’s energies, to face honestly and squarely whatever may arise, and to persevere.
What if I have an old injury?
Past injuries and certain other physical limitations may be impediments, but they do not necessarily prevent one from being able to do the practice. No matter what one can do physically, the foundation of practice is always the breath. Furthermore, Ashtanga yoga is considered a therapeutic practice. Individually and as a whole, the postures are designed to have particular health benefits, and it is believed that many physical conditions can eventually be healed by doing the practice. One just has to be patient.
How is Ashtanga different from other forms of yoga?
Ashtanga yoga is distinguished by Vinyasa, the formal system of rhythmic breathing and movement connecting one posture to the next into a complete practice. In general, the postures are the same as in other forms of hatha yoga, but in Ashtanga yoga the postures are in a set sequence that is done uninterrupted from beginning to end. Ashtanga is thus known as a vigorous form of yoga. In traditional “Mysore-style” class, all practitioners do their own personal practice every day, going only as far as the last posture they have learned.
Is there a religious aspect?
The origins of yoga lie within Hinduism. Although yoga has come to be known and practiced worldwide in a more or less secular context, its religious aspects are inalienable, and permeate the physical practice. Whatever one’s intent in starting Ashtanga yoga may be, anyone who undertakes it is participating in a practice with sacred and religious underpinnings. Therefore, while students are not required to subscribe to any particular religious belief in order to do the practice or realize benefits from it, they should be aware of its religious character and, at a minimum, be willing to offer the practice due respect as such. At the start of each practice session, teacher and students recite the “Ashtanga Yoga Mantra” in Sanskrit as an homage to all gurus who have paved the way for us to do our practice. At the end of the practice week (at the conclusion of led class on Friday), teacher and students recite the traditional Sanskrit prayer for peace, “Swasthi Prajabhaha.”
Why is yoga considered a spiritual practice?
Like other great spiritual traditions, yoga is ultimately a practice of liberation. Of course, establishing a daily practice does not guarantee the achievement of liberation, either in the short or the long term, but it does make possible significant internal changes that naturally lead to self-transformation — a true measure of spiritual practice. With support from the community of fellow practitioners and guidance from a teacher, from the tradition, and from him or herself, the aspirant (as the student of yoga is traditionally called) can make real progress on the path to liberation.
While the immediate benefits of yoga — health, stress reduction, and so on — are well known, and worthwhile in themselves, traditionally they are pursued not for their own sake but to prepare the body and mind to enter into meditation. An open body and mind in good health and temperament can then more readily achieve union (or yoga) with the Great Self, the Divine, or God.
True spiritual practice must be experiential rather than theoretical. So it is with yoga. The aspirant is not asked to take anything on faith alone, but to experience and evaluate the transformative effects of the practice within him or herself. While there is substantial sacred and philosophical literature going back over the ages that he or she may refer to, in the end it is through doing the practice, and observing its effects, that the aspirant can learn to control and calm the fluctuations of the mind and thereby realize the end result of yoga — freedom from the suffering of conditioned existence.
Why is practice six days a week?
In order for the internal processes that Ashtanga yoga sets in motion — cleansing, strengthening, opening — to work, practice needs to be done on a daily basis. Progress is accumulative from day to day; if one does not practice regularly, one is perpetually starting over. As any daily practitioner will attest, the practice is not meant to be easy. Discipline is needed. Indeed, the discipline of daily practice is its own reward. The benefits of practice only come according to how fully one invests oneself in it.
I learned Ashtanga differently. Am I supposed to change what I’ve been doing?
One of the goals of the school is to maintain the lineage (parampara) bequeathed to us as teachers from Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. The lineage is currently being held by his grandson, R. Sharath Jois, at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI) in Mysore. Therefore we strive to teach the practice as it is currently taught at KPJAYI. Students who have practiced under the guidance of teachers who, for whatever reason, teach differently will be asked to do their practice the way it is taught in Mysore now.
Why am I being “stopped” in my practice?
For beginners, stopping is simply part of learning the practice. Postures are taught one by one and usually need time to be assimilated. Furthermore, new postures are given only when a student has demonstrated proficiency in his or her practice all the way through the last posture given. In Ashtanga yoga, proficiency is at least as much about the correct maintenance of internal energy locks (Bandhas), gaze (Drishti) and proper breathing as it is about being able to get into a particular posture.
For established practitioners, being asked to “stop” before the end of what may otherwise appear to be a complete practice may be for one of the following reasons:
- The student has not done regular practice for some time, or has learned incorrectly, and needs to start over, gradually
- The student is injured and is advised to scale back his or her practice to allow the injury to heal
- The student has not demonstrated full proficiency in his or her practice and may be risking injury by going beyond his or her current abilities, in which case it is for the student’s physical, mental and emotional well-being that he or she is asked to stop
- The student is playing to strengths and/or neglecting weaknesses, and needs to redress this imbalance rather than add new postures
- The student has arrived to class too late to complete his or her practice within the specified class hours