What exactly IS the difference between Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga? It’s a commonly asked question. To answer this question, let’s start with what the word Vinyasa means in Sanskrit.
‘Vi’ is the prefix of the word ; it means an intensification. ‘Nyas’ is the root and translates as “to put” or “to place”. ‘Vinyasa’ then means “to place something in a special or ritualized way, or a set of actions done in a prescribed order”.
The concept of vinyasa extends well beyond the context of yoga. In India people circumambulate temples in a ritualized set of actions that may look random to an onlooker, but their prostrations are themselves a vinyasa.
In Ashtanga Yoga asanas are performed in a fixed sequence. Every movement, breath, and gaze is counted and prescribed. Every movement of the entire practice has a correlating inhale or exhale. There is a certain way to get into and out of each posture....
It can be hard sometimes not to carry around an idea in your head of what a yoga practice is “supposed” to look like. Between social media, yoga and wellness magazines, and the popular idea of just what yoga is, it can be hard not to get lost in expectations of some kind of impossible perfection we think we’re supposed to achieve. But here’s the thing about yoga: the perfection is in the imperfection. And even more to the point, this idea of a “perfect” yoga practice based on appearance is literally the most flawed and incomplete a representation of yoga as you can get.
As beautiful as photos can make the practice look, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s honestly much more of a beautiful mess. Nobody can tell you about the inside of yoga, because it’s such an internal experience. But, if you’re reading this, I bet you’ve already realized some kind of change from yoga and you’ve noticed that it’s already...
My practice buddies: Paul and Hampi. Note, Hampi is only here for the savasana.
There’s a question I’ve gotten a lot over the years, and I’ve gotten it a lot more over the last few months: How do I stay motivated? It can be hard to stay motivated in any practice and under any circumstances, but it’s become that much more of a challenge recently with the adjustments we’ve all needed to make to adapt to quarantine. I'm here to tell you that there are a lot of mornings when I wake up and I would rather roll back over and fall asleep than get on my mat and practice. It's not always pretty, I don't always want to, and it doesn't even feel good sometimes. My point is, practice is hard. Staying motivated it hard. Here's what helps me.
There’s something Tim Miller said to me once at a training that’s stuck with me ever since: It’s much easier to adapt the posture for the body than it is to adapt the body for the posture. Although people might think this is unusual in Ashtanga, I’ve seen Tim pass out blankets and grab straps for his students, and props were always welcome in his room, and the same is true for other teachers I’ve worked with - David Garrigues recently said that everyone in his Mysore group had implicitly agreed to use blankets for shoulder stand just by signing up for his class. Richard and Mary use blankets, blocks, and straps in their teaching regularly.
So why is it that Ashtanga continues to have a reputation as being inaccessible? And how can that reputation be changed to reflect the practice that I know and love, the style that I teach?
I started thinking a while ago about this question - how can Ashtanga be made more accessible to more people? How can we make the...
The last few months have been difficult for so many people in so many ways. I’ve received a lot of questions from students over the past two months about maintaining a home practice, dealing with negative thoughts, and coping with isolation at home, as well as frustration with the world at large.
I try to teach with Yoga Sutras when I can, because they’re authoritative and timeless. Even though the sutras are two-thousand years old, they provide a map of the mind and the consciousness and give a greater context to our practice.
That’s why I want to attempt to discuss three that I think are very relevant right now.
YS 1.20 śraddhā-vīrya-smṛti-samādhi-prajñā-pūrvaka itareṣām
Some people are lucky and samadhi happens naturally. The rest of us need to help this practice along by relying on certain techniques:
Sraddhā - Faith in what we are doing, conviction, embodied trust.
Vīrya - Enthusiasm, energy, vitality, strength.
Smṛti - Memory. More specifically,...
I always love to talk about how beneficial the practice of yoga can be during uncertain times, times of change, times of upheavals big and small. Whether it’s massive life changes or day-to-day disruptions, yoga grounds us, it calms the nervous system and it gives us energy to handle the unknown (download my grounding meditation and pranayama).
As unprecedented as the times we’re living through may feel, the fact remains that all of the lessons that were available to us before this are still available now, and they’re as useful and applicable as ever. The Coronavirus pandemic may have turned all of our lives upside-down, but yoga gives us the tools to weather every storm.
I know as well as anybody, though, that the truth of that can be easy to forget. When you’re up against massive existential fears and doubts, it can be hard to remember your own strength. That’s why I’ve put together these Five Lessons Learned from Practicing Through a...
We all know that these are fragile times. I’ve heard so many people saying that one of the hardest things to deal with right now is the anxiety that feels like it’s coming at us from all angles - and many have been asking how to use yoga to manage it. I’ve dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and I know as well as anyone what a terrible cycle it is and how impossible it can feel to pull yourself out. The world is always an uncertain place, but with so much anxiety afflicting the day to day lives of every single person on earth, I wanted to share with you some of the strategies I use in my own life and my practice.
It often doesn’t make sense to people that someone with a regular yoga practice can struggle with anxiety. Aren’t yogis supposed to be relaxed? And sure, a regular yoga practice can be incredibly helpful for anxiety - but, unfortunately, anxiety can make it difficult to do most of the regular things in your life, especially when...
Ever lie in bed on a Monday morning after hitting snooze and make excuses for why you should skip practice? I know how hard it can be to get started. In my years practicing and teaching I’ve met some people who spring out of bed prioritizing practice above all else, and others to whom the practice never really sticks. I think most people fall somewhere in the middle where accountability for practice can be a challenge.
One really incredible thing about yoga is that you’re ultimately accountable only to yourself. Your practice is YOUR practice, while this is ultimately an incredibly freeing truth, many of us are supremely challenged by holding ourselves accountable. This is just one more of the ways that our practices and our lives mirror each other.
The fact is, accountability is hard - it’s even harder when you’re the only person you’re answering to! Because holding ourselves accountable is such a central challenge, it’s also a great opportunity...
In my last blog post I wrote about why I think Ashtanga Yoga is dangerous. There are a lot of injuries that can happen in the Ashtanga practice from either pushing too hard, carelessness or misinformation. And talking injuries can be a bit of a taboo subject. Students don’t tell the teacher that they are hurt, either because they don’t realize it until later, there is a shame regarding the injury, or my personal pet peeve - they don’t want to make the teacher feel badly.
There seems to be a common misconception in contemporary Ashtanga that injury is an acceptable, expected, or even glorified part of the practice. I think there’s a fairly open dialogue about it these days - the teachers in many workshops and trainings I’ve been to have talked about their goals of having no injuries, and I absolutely believe that we can accomplish a 0% injury rate in Ashtanga. While the system is a physically rigorous one, a holistic practice should be geared toward...