Many people wonder if they have the ability to practice Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, which starts with what’s called the primary series. It seems there is an impression out there that Ashtanga is somewhat exclusive as it has gained a reputation, perhaps a little unfairly, for only being suitable for type A personalities or athletic types. While Ashtanga may not work for certain people with major restrictions, in my experience, the practice can and must be modified to suit individual body types and is, in fact, available to a wide variety of people for that very reason. What’s rare is someone who can start the practice without any difficulty. It is a more challenging practice, yes, but just how challenging depends on how you approach it.
The Ashtanga Vinyasa method is a systematic practice and the way to approach it is to realize that it’s never “one size fits all.” The beauty of the Mysore, self-practice style in Ashtanga is that each posture is taught one at a time, so you build your practice gradually and work according to your abilities. You start with sun salutations, move into to the standing then seated sequence and close with finishing poses and finally savasana or corpse pose to wind down. Each sun salutation in itself is like a complete practice, and then you simply add on. Modifying as needed, slowly adding on the standing postures, one at a time, each time working with the teacher, improving, adjusting and building a little more, and adding on to the closing sequence at the end. So by building the start and adding on at the end means you always have a complete practice from day one, whether it’s simply 15 minutes of sun salutations and sitting, or the whole primary series.
Whether one ever completes the entire primary series or how long it may take is irrelevant. Mysore style is designed so the practitioner’s individuality can be weighed in designing the practice; age, diet, lifestyle, ability, restrictions and history of injuries are considered. Basically, anything you’ve done with your body up until the day you start will have an impact on how the practice feels. So it simply can’t be the same practice for everyone, or the same experience. Although Ashtanga has always been a physical challenge for me, with the help of good teachers I learned to accept what I thought were limitations – stance too stiff, arms too short, body too curvy – and see them for just being the reality of my body and learning to work with what I had. The key is not to worry about what’s difficult for you but rather that you do the best you can without struggle or frustration. It can often be more of a practice of the mind than the body! Once I accepted that certain postures would always be a challenge, I was able to let go of the struggle and progress with the practice naturally for my own body type and benefit just as much as someone who could put their leg behind their head after just a few classes.
Individual body types will present different challenges but the practice can be adjusted to help and also to bring balance. Slower moving, stockier or kapha body types with the benefit of more stamina can use the practice to create more heat and sweat, melting kapha and helping keep their body in shape. Fast moving vata types who are constantly running around in life can use the practice to ground themselves by bringing their energy more into their legs and feet, moving and breathing slower. Fiery, ambitious, pitta types that might be tempted to power through practice can also do with slowing down and focusing on the breath to bring balance to their practice and lives. Ashtanga mainly attracts pitta types (type A personalities / athletes), hence it’s reputation, or vata types with long slender limbs that get easily into postures (but may lack strength). That doesn’t mean kapha’s can’t enjoy it, in fact they can very much benefit from it – speaking from experience as a kapha with just the right amount of pitta to get me on the mat!
But importantly, what matters most is not the external look of the practice and how many postures you end up doing, rather the internal experience of it. The primary series is also known as yoga chikitsa (therapy) and it definitely can be a healing and transformative practice. To achieve this a key concept to understand is that of tristhana or the three focal points, which are: the breath, the postures and bandhas / energy locks, and the drishti / gazing points. If the breath is good and if quality breathing remains the main focus of your practice then the deepness of the postures simply doesn’t matter. Correct breathing is what purifies the system and brings about the calmness experienced at the end of practice. The postures or asanas certainly help to detox and strengthen the body and gain flexibility. The bandhas or energy locks can be learned in addition to help create internal heat and space in the abdomen, creating lightness in the practice. This however can take time so correct breathing along with learning the postures in sequence is a good place to start. Then by also focusing your gaze on the dristhis or particular gazing points in each posture, your practice can also become more like a moving meditation and helps you not get distracted or frustrated by what’s going on with others in the room. Dristhi helps focus and therefore calm the mind. So however many postures you do you can always decide to work on these three elements, and then physical limitations become much less important. The breath will guide you as to how far you should go. Tip: anything less than a smooth even breath means it’s too much! Let the breath dictate what’s right, keeping it as even and smooth as possible to gain the full benefit of the practice.
And recognize that the aim is not to be perfect. Nobody starts perfectly, and perfect is not the goal. It’s about doing what’s appropriate for you, for that particular day, that stage in your life and allowing the practice to be a support for your life that will naturally move and change with the passing of days, seasons, years and life stages. You can use the practice intelligently to develop an insight into what your body needs that will help let go of attachment to results or how you want things to be. If you can do that, guaranteed it will be a much more enjoyable and beneficial practice than if you compare, compete, push too hard and eventually break yourself. This happens all too often in Ashtanga. Surely no yoga practice was ever designed to have that result! So I would fully encourage anyone who is curious to give it a shot, try the Ashtanga Primary Series in particular in a Mysore style setting, but give it a good amount of time, learn how to develop your own self practice and try to practice without too many expectations knowing that it’s ok to modify. Most of all try to practice with a sense of joy and that’s hopefully what you’ll get back. Enjoy!
Are you one of those crazies who gets up at ridiculously early hours to fit in your yoga practice before the rest of the world wakes up?? Or maybe you’ve considered it but not quite managed to get past the alarm stage?! Or perhaps you’ve only thought about it, and the thought alone was enough to put you off!
It’s fair to say that practising yoga early in the morning is not the easiest thing in the world. Especially for those of us in colder climates when literally the last thing you want to do is get out from under that warm, cosy duvet with the rain pelting against the window and it still feeling like the middle of the night. Yet anyone who has dared to try it will know that yoga sets you up so amazingly for the day. You walk off the mat and into the world feeling calm yet alive and ready to face whatever life throws at you. A stark contrast to how you felt when the alarm went off!
In Goa, we will open every day with a wonderful yoga practice. Ah but the difference is, there it shall be warm and you’ll probably have already woken up naturally to the sound of the sea and the sun peeping through the bamboo walls of your beach hut. Yeah it may still be a little hard to roll out of bed. You might have a touch of jet lag. You might think to yourself, why oh why do I have to practice yoga so early on my holidays! But you will soon see, it will be worth it. There is a certain peaceful magic to tap into at this time of day. And being on holidays, there’s no rush to finish your practice. We will have all the time in the world to be fully in it, without any other pressures. Time to sit, to breath, to stretch, to relax, to get ready for another warm day by the beach in magical India. Bliss!
Each morning we will gather in the outdoor yoga room and start with a meditation, maintaining the quiet of the dawn. Taking this peaceful time to tune into our inner selves, tapping into our intuition that is often heightened at this time of day. Away from your daily worries at home, this will be a perfect space for you to reflect on your life, as you are guided through a meditation practice that will focus on letting go - of your worries, stress, anger, and moving forward - with gratitude, clarity and guidance. A chance to lose some baggage and to gain some perspective.
Moving on from the meditation we will shift the focus to the breath. Deepening and lengthening the breath, using it fully, with awareness. Breathwork will be a key focus of the morning. You will be guided through simple breathing techniques to enhance the quality of your breath and to experience its powerful effects on the body and mind.
Then using our enhanced breathing we will simply start to add movement, as we move on to the yoga asana practice. You will be guided through a sequence to awaken every part of your body. We’ll start the week off gently, building the yoga practice each day and focusing on different parts of the body. But always moving with the breath and with focus. Starting with sun salutations we’ll then move through a standing sequence, followed by seated postures before winding down with a closing sequence. Full guidance will be given and beginners will be taken through each posture step by step. More advanced practitioners will go deeper, each working to their own ability. It will be a dynamic, ashtanga based practice but accessible to everyone.
Finally, there will be rest, deep rest. But with an awakened mind and body. To leave you rested yet feeling alert and alive. And then comes the toughest decision of the day...swim before breakfast or breakfast before swim??!
After a week or two weeks of this routine perhaps you will return home and think, right, I'm ready to give this early morning yoga lark a try! Or you may develop a sitting practice with some breathwork to add to your current practice, which you can do in the comfort of your own home with a hot brew by your side. What you take out of this retreat and integrate back into your life will be entirely up to you. But one thing’s for sure, you will go back a whole lot more relaxed and at peace than when you first decided to take the plunge and book that flight to India, thinking...a yoga holiday....I must be mad!
Are you mad enough to join us or still wondering what this craze is all about?! Email any questions you have to firstname.lastname@example.org. All kinds of crazy welcome!!
Yoga is this week's topic and it can fulfil many of our primary food needs including Spirituality, Joy, Physical Activity, Health, Social Life and even Career. In fact, if practiced properly and truthfully over time, yoga can indeed benefit every part of your life including your relationships, both with others and perhaps most importantly, the relationship with yourself.
Yoga is a science, and not one developed for the purpose of giving you a great body! It goes a whole lot deeper than that, but that doesn't mean we cannot enjoy the positive effects that a yoga practice can have on our bodies and minds. Used correctly over a long period of time the physical practice of yoga can bring about incredible transformation to the body, cleaning it up of toxins that have built up over time and reducing the desires for substances that intoxicate our bodies in the first place. Transformation can be quite dramatic for some but not necessarily immediate or initially visible. To experience real change, without a doubt requires discipline, focus and no real attachment to a particular outcome. If the goal is really to lose weight or tone up there are plenty of sports and other physical activities that can produce better, faster results.
So what is it about yoga then? Why do it? On purely a physical level yoga is one activity that can be practiced in some shape or form for all of your life. It can support the body, as it changes through various life stages and, inevitably, slows down with old age. It helps lengthen muscles, increasing flexibility and ease of movement in the body, which could make tying your shoe laces at the age of 80 a whole lot easier! Some people practice for this reason alone.
In terms of the subtler aspects of yoga we certainly notice benefits to the mind in its calming effect. Lying in Savasana (corpse pose) at the end of a practice one notices a stillness of mind, a reduction in the chatterings that go on most of the day, perhaps more clarity in thought therefore an ability to make better decisions. Some people simply enjoy the 'time out' for themselves, away from the madness of their daily lives and responsibilities. The breathing element of a yoga practice by itself can bring about positive effects to the mind. The breath and mind being so connected in the way the breath changes when we experience different emotions, such as sadness or anger, means we can use the breathing techniques in yoga to control the mind and bring it to a more level place. Breath work is a fundamental part of any yoga practice and arguably the most important. The effects of correct breathing can be felt on every level – physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual.
It's true with any practice whether it be yoga, a musical instrument, a sport or a religion, that focus and commitment are required in order to see results. Repetition is key, and belief in the system, sport or instrument to which you dedicate yourself to. The outcome is entirely unpredictable. But for many who decide to take up yoga, initially for some of the physical benefits mentioned, it becomes much much more than a physical activity. It might even become a spiritual practice, a system to follow to improve not only your own life but of those around you, an awakening of a desire to lead a cleaner, healthier life and to contribute positively to the world.
For others yoga enhances their social lives and becomes a new way of meeting great people. I haven't met many nasty yoga practitioners on my travels, it has to be said. It can be a great excuse to go on yoga holidays to explore exotic places, or simply a breakfast with some interesting folk after class on the weekend.
And for others, the call to teach after practicing for a long time themselves is too strong and yoga becomes a whole new career. Again this can't be predicted and certainly shouldn't be the goal of starting yoga. There are much easier and more profitable career changes available! But it could be that the benefits from yoga are such that you feel stronger and more confident as you decide to make changes within your current career or take on an entirely new one.
So which Primary Food needs your attention? Are you already working on one particular area of your life? Could yoga help you along the way?
The Love Food & Yoga retreat in Goa will provide the perfect environment to tap into some of these amazing benefits. If you're new to yoga, you'll be fully supported in getting started. And if you've dabbled but haven't committed, fear not, there will be no judgement, just gentle encouragement to get going again. Those with steady practices are of course most welcome too, as you will most likely know, there is always growth, always learning.
Look forward to sharing and of course experiencing a whole lot more in Goa!!
Questions? Email Anthea at email@example.com.