Ashtanga 101 : Maintenance Mode

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 forward. Instead, I go into maintenance mode to keep everything working so that I can turn the heat back on when the time is appropriate for both my practice and my life.

We’ve all heard the yoga sales pitch before - what happens on your mat is a metaphor for your life. But it gets said so much because it’s the truth. You can’t look at your practice without looking at the rest of your life, and the rest of your life should be supported by your yoga practice. If you’re trying to work your way through a new series in the middle of holiday travel, family commitments, and impossible work deadlines, well, that practice just might not be supporting the rest of your life right now. Maybe maintenance mode would be most beneficial approach for the time being.

When considering what your maintenance practice might look like, think first on what it is you are trying to maintain. Some examples might be backbends, hip mobility, strength, Second Series, or your sanity.

I make sure to take my natural strengths and challenges into consideration. I typically lose my backbends more easily than other parts of my practice, so I make sure to include them in my maintenance practice. But I avoid deep backbends that leave me feeling emotionally jarred or that physically activate a cranky part of my body.

Here are some of my personal favorite practices for maintenance mode:

  • Full Standing: Sometimes this is my entire practice when I’m in maintenance mode, doing longer holds and really focusing on leg strength. This may mean that I use the wall for resistance, and I might add extra standing postures like digasana or ardha chandrasana. I often add the first couple of seated postures of Primary, stopping at pursvottanasana followed by bridge. I would only do the last three seated postures here (instead of the full closing sequence, which is too hard for my neck).

  • Half or full Primary, and Pashasana through Ustrasana followed by Urdhva Dhanurasana and closing. For me, this keeps my practice feeling really tuned up. I feel safe with this practice, like I am not going to hurt anything, and I maintain fluidity in my spine by doing the first part of Second. If I feel tired, I might skip some of the vinyasas in Primary to make this practice feel better for my body.

  • Pashasana through ardha matsayendrasana followed by a few pigeons to keep my hips feeling good. From there, I go to urdhva dhanurasana and full closing. I typically would do full standing before this practice.

  • Primary with long holds on the postures starting at baddha konasana, maybe some extra backbends depending on how I feel, and closing. This is my favorite practice when I am pre-menstrual. I like the long holds at the end of primary. This feels apanic for me, as though it were encouraging my flow. I typically would do legs up the wall instead of the closing sequence, followed by the last three seated postures

  • An entire series, but at about 50%. Sometimes I want to maintain Third Series. I realize for a lot of people this sounds like an insane maintenance practice, but I approach it more softly - don’t go deep, don’t do a pose more than once, and skip things that I am not worried about maintaining at the current time.

  • Other examples of maintenance practice might be: Primary with a few extra backbends, half Primary and a few third series poses, second through eka pada sirsasana and then skipping ahead to pincha mayurasana before going to backbends and closing.

Again, it really comes down to the individual and what it is that you are maintaining. What might be maintenance for one person would absolutely never be a maintenance practice for another, so it really does depend on your body and your priorities.

The important takeaway is that maintenance practice is always available to you. It’s not all or nothing. If you feel tired, busy, rushed, emotional, or stressed, and it feels like practice is contributing to that in any way, now would be a great time to switch to maintenance mode. It’s not always about the practice at hand - it’s just as much about the practice down the road.

We all have to get through some periods of maintenance so that we can get to those times of transformation.


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