Why Ashtanga?

*Note: This is a post I wrote two years ago in Taiwan. I recently dug it out and thought I'd share it again. Enjoy! :)

Yesterday after our morning Mysore practice, a friend and I stopped at N.Y. Bagels for some breakfast. Over our two hours of breakfast (yeah, we take our time like that, although we each only got a bagel and coffee...), we talked about many things, amongst them, Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.

I have realized over the years that, with Ashtanga, it is usually a either-you-love-it-or-you-hate-it type of yoga for many people. For those who like to experience a variety of yoga asanas, this type of yoga is perhaps not the best for them. Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is derived from an ancient lineage of Hatha yoga, and was modernized and popularized by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the mid-1900's. The term vinyasa refers to the linking of breath with movement between each asana, and therefore, Ashtanga yoga is constantly moving, transitioning from one asana to the next. There are a total of 6 series in Ashtanga vinyasa yoga--Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, B, and C--where practitioners start with the Primary series and work their way up. Therefore, you work with the same series and the same sequences of asanas until the teacher deems you are ready for the next asana or the next series.

Why would anyone want to repeat the same asanas in a strict orderly fashion every single day for 6 days a week? Well, that's the beauty of it. Once you have the sequence all memorized, you can do a Mysore-style practice, where you practice at your own pace and breath without anyone telling you what to do. Of course, there are usually a few teachers in the shala to monitor your asanas and give adjustments as necessary.

A Mysore-style practice allows the practitioner to find his or her own rhythm to each asana and vinyasa. By repeating the same asanas everyday, you begin to observe the shifts in your body during your practice on a day-to-day basis; you begin to note your improvements and achievements over the weeks; you begin to notice that on certain days, you may not be able to achieve certain asanas as deeply, or that a usually difficult asana for you is suddenly very easy on that one day. Without anyone teaching you, you begin to understand the mechanics of your body on your own, how each asana can be performed efficiently and safely, because you do it every day with awareness and breath.

For 1.5-2.5 hrs of practice, an Ashtangi is pretty much in a deep trance with his body and mind. Each day, the Ashtangi reintroduces himself to his body and to the asanas, because each day the body is different. What you eat, how you sleep, how you interact with people, how you deal with your daily agendas are some factors that predispose the state of your body the next day.

Ashtanga vinyasa is an art--a fluid and dynamic art. It is also a science, because you observe, learn, and make conclusions from your daily practice. Like all things in life, it tests your patience and determination so you are better prepared to combat whatever life throws at you.

"Practice, and all is coming."          --Sri K. Pattabhi Jois