Everything You Need to Start an Ashtanga Practice
Say it with me: I am flexible enough! I am strong enough! Ashtanga yoga is NOT too hard!
Whatever the challenge may be, it will pass. Tight hamstring? Sore wrists? Frustration, falling out of your Ashtanga routine, struggling with a pose, discomfort in practice?
Whatever is going on in your Ashtanga practice, a few things are always true:
- You are not alone in this - we have all been there.
- It will pass.
I've noticed in my years of teaching that a lot of people have the same questions. That's why I created this corner for you - to answer questions and help you get started on a lifelong journey!
What Do I Need to Get Started?
Surprisingly little! All you really need is comfortable clothing, a good mat, and a clean space to practice in.
I always recommend the Manduka Pro Mat. It's a little bit of an investment, but it is worth it - they last forever, and are way better on the wrists than other mats. There are 60 chaturangas in Primary Series, and that is a lot on the wrists.
Mats can be slippery at first, wash it with vinegar and leave it in the sun to dry and you should be all set!
What about props?
Props aren't necessities, but they can be super helpful and I recommend that new students practice with them.
I think props foster independence and can be extremely helpful learning tools. They can create space when we don’t have it naturally, and can help us to repattern - I would say that these are the two main times when we want to use props. If you're interested in more info check out my Prop Talk blog post and video!
- Yoga blanket
- Foam blocks This is my favorite foam block because it isn't too squishy
- Cork blocks I love these blocks! They are inexpensive and great quality
- Foam Wedge Recommended for wrist pain
For more suggestions on props and books go to my resources page.
If you are ready to deepen or develop an Ashtanga practice join Ashtanga Central - the hub for yoga - today!
I've never done yoga before. How do I get started?
The best way is to work with a teacher. If that isn't available to you there are some great online resources. I like mine! Try my course Intro to Ashtanga Yoga - this is for beginners or teachers who want to learn how to teach beginners. I also have a free Sun Salutation masterclass and Ashtanga Yoga Starter Kit that you can download here.
Everyone started as a beginner. And being a beginner is tough. But there's no other way around it, you're going to have to get started. The secret is to begin.
How should I get started with Ashtanga if I have an existing yoga practice?
I’ve been teaching Ashtanga for about 15 years, and I’ve had a lot of students start after a number of years of practicing other styles of yoga. These students are usually physically capable but struggle with memorizing the sequence, so I typically don’t advise students to do more poses than they can remember the order of. That said, I think spending some time really dialing in on the sun salutations and standing postures is huge, because you’ll see these same poses again and again in different orientations and in different postures. You want a solid foundation, and those postures can really help to build that foundation.
Although Ashtanga is traditionally taught one pose at a time, I’ll sometimes group them for students with a lot of existing yoga experience. Overall, going slowly is usually the best call. There’s a lot of inherent risk in the postures in Ashtanga, and it can be quite demanding on the joints, so always move cautiously and pay attention to how you feel. The learning curve is steep, but it’s worth it.
When will my hamstrings stop hurting?
Here's the thing: when you're new to Ashtanga, almost everything hurts. One thing I have noticed with new students is that a lot of injuries come up in the first year, and the practice often reveals to us imbalances and injuries that already existed. Practice mindfully. Don't push too hard. Be consistent and patient. It takes time and it will change.
How many times should I do a pose I'm struggling with?
Three times or 20 breaths, depending on the pose. I don't recommend trying something more than three times, because then you get tired and reinforce a bad pattern. Give it your best shot and then keep going. For some postures I suggest really working a pose for 20 long breaths, rather than trying it multiple times, and then moving on.
I'm just starting. Is it better to do all of Primary, or just Sun Salutations?
When you're just starting, it's best to go slow. Focus on sun salutations and standing postures. You are going to see these poses again and again in different orientations, so dial them in now! There's a lot of good information in these poses that will carry you through your Ashtanga practice. Now is a great time to work on developing good habits and form! Standing poses are generally considered safer than seated poses, so use this as an opportunity to open up your hips and prepare them to start the seated postures when the time is right.
My knees, wrists, shoulders hurt.
Pay attention now. Like I mentioned before, the practice brings a lot of discomfort to the surface. But when the discomfort or pain is in the joints, you need to pay attention. It's a signal to back off and modify. I don't suggest not practicing, but I do suggest seeing a doctor or a PT and avoiding all postures that are hurting your joints. None of this is abnormal, but you do want to proceed with caution.
Learn the Opening and Closing Chants
vande gurūṇām caraṇāravinde
sandarśita svātma suhkāva bodhe
saṁsāra hālāhala moha śāntyai
śankha cakrāsi dhāriṇam
sahasra śirasam śvetaṁ
svasti prajābhyaḥ paripālayantāṁ
nyāyena mārgeṇa mahīm mahīśāḥ
gobrāmaṇebyaḥ śubhamastu nityaṁ
lokāsamastā sukhino bhavantu
Frequently Asked Questions
So do I practice every single day? What if I don’t feel well?
Do you do anything other than yoga for exercise? (Or some variation of this.)
Can I practice other styles of yoga?
I cannot wake up in the morning — help!
How do I go to bed early?
What does it mean to split your practice?
Why do teachers “give” you poses?
How do I practice when I am on the road?
Can I eat before practice?
Do I have to be vegetarian?
What’s the deal with not drinking water during practice?
What is the opening mantra? Do I have to say it? How do I learn it?
What type of mat should I use?
Can I have more than one teacher?
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