Ashtanga is like the ballet of yoga. If done regularly, the primary series can set a solid foundation for the practice in the same way ballet teaches the fundamentals of dance.
And as in ballet, Ashtanga requires serious discipline that calls on all your strength both inside and out.
My blogging buddy, Maia Cruz is a committed Ashtangi (she’s currently enrolled in a teacher training!) so I asked her a few questions to shed some light on this amazing style of yoga which I highly encourage for anyone looking to strengthen their practice.
How would you describe Ashtanga yoga?
Aside from what it literally means, 8 limbs (of yoga), Ashtanga is one of the oldest styles of yoga, and has an admirable lineage where its roots have been the seeds of other styles of yoga. It’s a repetitive practice; and repetition is a good teacher– sitting beside experience. Ashtanga is what is practiced for Mysore classes – which is the same series where the students practice at their own pace, and can only progress to either the next pose or series with the blessing of the teacher. It is long, and slow, and patience is truly tested.
Why did you decide to do an Ashtanga teacher training?
It was love at first sight… but I got scared. I danced on the outskirts of Ashtanga/Mysore for two years before finally heading to the first Ashtanga-Led class. And from that very first class, I felt there was something more waiting for me with this practice. And when the studio offered the Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training, I had no second thoughts. Except for the fact that I’d have to tighten my belt for the next several months to afford it. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to do the training. Live on less, gain abundance. Oh! And that’s another way I can describe Ashtanga… it teaches you to ‘live simply’. ????
What does your Ashtanga practice look like?
In Mysore, I have already began the second half of the Primary Series. I practice as often as I can. My work schedule is shifting which does not allow me to practice Mysore everyday. Yoga Public (the studio where I practice) is in Winnipeg, an hour away from where I live, and it’s more difficult during winter to travel. I don’t do much practice at home. I have a dog and fur is simply annoying when you practice ????
What’s your teaching style?
I have been teaching in the local studio, Yoga Connections since finishing my first YTT. After the second session of my Ashtanga YTT, I provided a 3-Saturday workshop here in Steinbach on what Ashtanga is about (they honestly don’t know!). After the workshop, I began teaching Ashtanga (for beginners) every Saturday-Sunday.
Before Ashtanga coming in my life, my teaching was either a smorgasbord or a kaleidoscope. It was a bit of this and that. It wasn’t me. Because I have been practicing Ashtanga for a year now, my teachings just before the Ashtanga YTT has been moving towards it, adding a variation or unique asanas of what I feel can flow well with the class. It has been Ashtanga-based without them knowing, or maybe not even me realizing it. And I was beginning to love my practice and teaching, finally. ????
What are you getting most from your Ashtanga teacher training / practice?
During our classroom sessions, I always jot down what I call ‘my golden nuggets’ on my manual. The page is full ????
Our instructor, Jonathan, adamantly repeats: Stay on the path. And since I began doing Mysore and attending his workshops, I hear this a lot from him. I thought it meant the path of Ashtanga. And it is. Until you realize that it pertains not to my practice alone; but to either the many things happening in my life, or to one special thing. The path in itself is the goal; it is the prize. Each day of walking the path creates a collection of sweet rewards. Most times we want to only see the jackpot… when really, the many times we “Do the work’ (Jonathan’s words), we ourselves are creating the jackpot. Isn’t it more amazing that I have created the prize instead of it merely handed to me easily?
I write about this often in my blog. Usually I talk in circles trying to make a point of this. Whatever work we put forth, practice, relationship or whatever, is as much the same as a path we have chosen as it is the sweet icing on a cake.
We only need to stay on the path, do the work.
Please share a bit about your experience with meditation.
I am a horrible person in learning to meditate. I’ve had many, many attempts and can never last, like last to do so everyday. Until I began my Ashtanga YTT. The focus made all the difference. No music, no visualization of sorts in a screen. Only the guidance of the instructor.
Ashtanga practices meditation using the drishti. But since we have our eyes closed, we internally focus on our nose. Starting off on a bigger area and then it gets narrower and smaller, more refined through continued practice and staying longer on meditating. There are of course, moments of falling out of it. And that’s alright. No need to curse ourselves or feel frustrated. It is what it is. It’s not meant to be perfect, only perfect to where I am at that moment. We only need to stay on the path, do the work… breathe deep again focusing on the bigger area… then refine as you come to normal breathing.
Our group lasted for 45 minutes the longest. I actually know the duration. The first 15, my left leg starts to go numb. By 30 minutes in, both legs are numb. On the 45th minute, the numbness has reached my hips.
Then breathe deep again, focus on a bigger area, then refine both focus and the breath.
Who will benefit most from an Ashtanga practice?
Any-friggin-one! I’m not like a gymnast or a subdued person. I have a crazy personality who gets get carried away with some of my Type A traits. I’m a dominant Vata in my dosha so I like getting spaced out. The beauty of Ashtanga is it allows you to become aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and allows you to accept them, accept yourself. The practice allows the truth about ourselves to come out. It makes us see, and it becomes frightening so most people step back.
What’s the best way to get started with Ashtanga?
I asked a similar question to my teacher, Adrienne Shum. And I’ll reply the same way she did.
Just come. Just show up. ????
Thank You, Maia!
Click here to read her blog.
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Very interesting interview Elysha and Maia, thank you!
I can not thank you enough for making this happen. You helped paved the path for words to spill that have been bottling up since I began training. I conducted a 3-day workshop on Ashtanga last month and I couldn’t stop babbling either – hahaha!
My utmost gratitude, Elysha. Truly humbled here. =)
And thank you, Sara, for reading!!
Right back at you with the thank you, Maia! And yes, let’s keep thanking each other!! It’s the ultimate gratitude practice!! ????