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...
I was recently asked if Ashtanga Yoga is dangerous. My immediate response was a vehement “of course not!”
And then I thought about it a little more.
I realized that my initial reaction was a conditioned response rather than a considered answer. It was knee jerk reaction rooted in defense of a practice that I love and have devoted my life to. If I had been asked this same question 15 years ago, I would have had the same response and then gone on to explain that safety is all in the way the practice is approached.
Today, after years of practice and teaching, my views have softened. My experience of practice has changed. I’ve weathered injuries and I’ve witnessed injuries. This has changed both my approach to teaching and my view on whether Ashtanga is dangerous, meaning precarious, perilous, or risky. Ashtanga yoga certainly involves the chance of injury or harm unless dealt with carefully.
Over the years I have had the occasional student accidentally...
What I love about the New Year is that it’s filled with so much possibility. What I love about the end of the year is the beautiful opportunity to reflect on what went right over the past 365 days and what I can do better in the New Year. I like to get really clear about what I want and put it on paper to make it more real and more achievable.
As a yoga teacher the New Year is one of the busiest times for me. Classes are full and everyone is anxious to make good on their resolutions. Twelve months later in December, only the diehards remain.
So what happens to our New Year’s resolutions between January and December? How can we make them stick?
I’ve spent a lot of time studying how to build good habits and systems and goal setting to help students stick to practice. Here are some ideas for you to improve your practice this year:
As the holiday season kicks into full swing, I want to talk about a question that’s an annual challenge for a lot of people – how do I fit my practice into all this travel? Whether you’re on the go, staying with friends or family, or even feeling uprooted within your own home during the holidays, it’s hard not to worry about your practice getting thrown off. Luckily, I’ve got some tips for you!
First, make sure to bring a yoga mat, clothes, and any other essentials you need to make your practice happen. You don’t need to create any new reasons not to practice – getting a travel mat and having everything you need prepared in advance is an easy way to break down that particular barrier to your practice.
Second, find your space to practice! I know this can be challenging. Maybe you’re staying with family, or in a too-small hotel room, or sharing a room with someone – there can be all sorts of obstacles to finding a space for your...
Have you heard yogis talking about “maintenance mode” and wondered what the heck it means?
Well, ultimately, a maintenance practice is different for everyone, because what it looks like is determined by what it is you’re trying to maintain. With maintenance practice, you are essentially setting yourself up for better practices to come - later in the week, later in the month, and in the coming months.
There are many different situations where maintenance practice might be appropriate. I typically do a maintenance practice when I’m traveling or when I have a very heavy teaching schedule (for instance, when I am teaching intensive studies or workshop weekends). I’ll also often do maintenance practices during big life transitions like a move or starting a new job, as well as right before or after ladies holiday. In short, I switch to maintenance mode when the rest of my life is too chaotic or unsteady for me to reliably get onto my mat knowing I can push...
Traditionally in Ashtanga, many teachers will teach with absolutely no props. I think there’s some benefit to that but, personally, I like using props when I teach (and in my own practice). I think they foster independence and can be extremely helpful learning tools. Props can create space when we don’t have it naturally, and they can help us to repattern, and I would say that these are the two main times when we want to use props.
So, what does that mean? When I say creating space (or taking space away, maybe). It could mean helping you catch a bind, it could mean helping you shift forward to catch a bind, it could mean helping you make more space for your shoulders, or something along those lines. What it comes down to is this: if you cannot do the posture without the prop, use the prop – especially if you’re practicing at home and don’t have someone to help you!
The other time to use props is when you’re working on repatterning, and an example...
I get a lot of questions about what I think of "continuing education" in yoga - workshops, immersions, in-depth studies, teacher trainings, retreats; basically anything outside of the Mysore room or led class.
There is so much pressure to do that it can be difficult to know how to judge whether a learning opportunity will be beneficial to us. I'm going to broadly say "workshops" to talk about this, but I think the lessons of this post and livestream really are applicable to most continuing education opportunities.
On a community level, I think that workshops and other continuing education offerings can be a great way to strengthen bonds with your existing community, as well as a great way to expand it. Workshops give you a chance to connect with your teachers and fellow yogis in ways that there just isn't the space for in the day-to-day practice. If supporting your community is something that's important to you, workshops can also be an especially great way to do that with...
In my last Ashtanga 101 blog I wrote about when is the right time to start a new series. Read it here.
This of course raises the question, how do you go about adding postures?
Personally, I am a fan of adding one pose at a time to the end of the current series. For example, a student would continue to practice all of Primary first to lead into the addition of Second Series postures. After setu bandhasana, Second Series postures would be added one by one. When a student finishes the last posture of their current Second Series practice, it’s time for backbends and closing sequence - this always remains at the very end of the practice.
There are occasions when I teach new postures in pairs, but I generally try not to overwhelm students with multiple new postures at once. There are exceptions when it just makes sense - like dhanurasana and parsva dhanurasana. It’s beneficial to sit with a pose and really incorporate it into the body and practice before adding the next....
Ashtanga 101: When is it time to start a new series? And how do you do it?
A question that I hear a lot is, how do I know if it’s time to start a new series? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of when (or how) to move onto a new series. It would be best to ask a teacher who you’ve worked with personally and who knows your practice, but I can share some of the things I take into consideration when I introduce a student to a new series.
A relevant starting point when you’re wondering about this is Patanjali’s yoga sutra 2.46 – sthira-sukham asanam, most commonly translated to mean that posture (asana) [should be] stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha).
Sthira is the ability to “hold steady” in an asana, not only in the body but in your mind and in your energy – all three of these things need to be in balance for an asana to be considered steady. Muscles would be evenly engaged, you wouldn’t be losing your...