This post was co-written with Cory Bryant.
What if I told you that there was one single most important pose in your practice? I know, I know – that probably seems to contradict everything I’ve said up to this point, but it doesn’t and it’s the truth. And it’s the pose that probably gets the least attention of all, from yogis and teachers alike. Have you guessed it yet? That’s right – beloved, relaxing śavāsana. As the last post in this series, I want to address a crucial part of the practice that we really don’t talk about enough: Rest.
I mostly wanted to address the importance of taking rest as the last blog post in this series because it is so easily skipped or rushed over. We finish our practices and are so eager to rush to coffee, breakfast, work, or just “to get on with our day” that we forget to put the same thought and intentionality into śavāsana that we put into the rest of our practices.
Śavāsana might look like...
Here’s a warning: A lot comes up in the first year of an Ashtanga practice. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. For many people, starting a daily practice is the first step on a spiritual path, but it’s a first step focused on the physical body. This includes the physical practice itself, changes to how the body feels and works, and changes to diet and lifestyle.
In the first year of practice, your body begins to purge old patterns – patterns that have been with you for years or decades or maybe even lifetimes. It’s very likely that you will tweak something, and you will probably have a moment (or two) when your body will pump the brakes. Different things will arise depending on your unique anatomy and your life prior to beginning an Ashtanga practice. Ashtanga is very rarely the actual cause of any of this, but will more often than not bring these issues to the surface. This is an argument for going slowly and only adding new postures once...
Now that you’ve learned your sun salutations, let’s talk about the etiquette of Ashtanga. I encourage students to follow the House Rules, meaning to follow the etiquette of the shala or Mysore room that you practice in. If anything is confusing or unclear to you, check in with a teacher or assistant to get the lowdown.
In the meantime, here are some general guidelines to help you mind your manners.
Show up to your yoga practice clean. Showering before practice is a general courtesy to your fellow practitioners and teachers, but it also sets a tone for the practice that this is not a workout. This is something that you show up to clean and put together for because it is a spiritual practice for both yourself and those around you.
When you are practicing first thing in the morning, a cold shower can be invigorating and help to wake you up, while a hot shower can help to warm up your muscles and get you ready for practice. Either way, a shower helps to physically prepare...
Here’s the truth: Starting an Ashtanga practice is hard. Yoga is often misrepresented as being all happy feelings and pretty asanas, or my personal favorite “relaxing.” But the fact is that getting serious about your practice is a challenging endeavor. The thing is, though, that that’s the case with starting anything new. It makes us feel awkward and frustrated and challenged. Starting something new is a struggle.
A big part of an Ashtanga practice is learning to honor the struggle.
Unfortunately, the struggle is a hard sell. Yoga is sold as a feel-good, relaxing experience, when the truth is that a daily Ashtanga practice will make you work. There will be a lot of difficult steps along the way and there will probably be days that you don’t want to practice.
The benefits of an Ashtanga practice, though, far outweigh the struggles that they grow from. If you engage wholeheartedly, your practice will change you – first it will change your...
In Ashtanga the way we get into and out of poses matters as much as the pose itself.
Transitions keep us focused. They keep us invested in every action of the practice. They remind us that the end point is NOT the goal.
Oh, and they can be fun!
Mayurasana is part of the challenging arm balancing section of second series. Intermediate series has periodic checks for lightness - maybe thats why so many of the poses are named after birds!
Watch the video for some of my tips on Mayurasana. There aren't any shortcuts for this pose, you have to do the work. But hopefully some of these cues will resonate with you.
Here is my modified sun salutation. I always try to incorporate what the PT tells me into my practice. I also like to help my students do the same.
Today, in between poses I did a roll down as the vinyasa because it strengthens my core, builds heat, and I can stay off my wrist. Sometimes you have to be creative!
Maybe overcoming barriers to practice is the practice.
Let's face it, we all have them.
Recently I've polled Ashtanga practitioners on what their most common barriers are to practice, and thought I’d share some thoughts on what their responses and solutions were.
The fact of the matter is, the solutions to injury suck. What’s worse, though, is letting that stop you from practicing at all. For better or worse, you have to decide: do you modify and change your practice to work with whatever new challenge you’re up against, or do you just stop practicing?
To me, that doesn’t seem like much of a choice at all. Here’s something I’ve learned in almost twenty years of practice and more than fifteen of teaching: the practice, when done correctly, heals us. Avoiding practice because of an injury (and, of course, there are exceptions to this) usually doesn’t help anything. When done correctly, the practice heals. It keeps our joints moving, it gets our blood circulating, it calms us and helps us...
Today marks the beginning of my third month in Encinitas. And, so far (as I should perhaps have expected somehow, although it’s naturally impossible to expect this) nothing has gone as I planned. I realize now, though, that perhaps I’m not the one doing the planning.
When I announced to my community that I would be taking a sabbatical and leaving DC to study with Tim Miller for a year, I told them to keep doing their practice. We all need to remember that practicing because of an attachment to a teacher is a dead end. In fact, to practice for any reason other than a love for the practice is a dead end. Practicing because you love a teacher is like looking for something you’ll never find - teachers can give us a false sense of permanency, especially considering how formative a good teacher can be, but one of the most crucial things this practice teaches us every day is that nothing is permanent.
I certainly didn’t think that I would get here and be...
Janu Sirsasana C is one of the most challenging poses of Primary Series. It's very confusing and scary to new students. This video talks about some techniques for approaching this pose.
Remember for this one, its the hip joint and the ankle that rotate - not your knee. Your knee is open about 75 degrees to the side - and there should be no pressure on your knee. It should all originate from the HIP JOINT - but people with tight hips tent to recruit flexibility from the knee here. Additionally, it is one of the deepest flexions of the knee in primary series.
I use a bench or windowsill to teach this pose to new students. This helps the student understand what the foot and hip are doing in the pose - because when the student is standing its much easier to open the hips. It also gives the student a lot more space to work with.
Want to learn more about opening your hips? Check out my online course Be Hippy!