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...

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Ashtanga 101: The Prop Talk

 

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...

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Ashtanga 101: How to Add Poses to Your Practice

ashtanga 101 Oct 04, 2019

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....

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Ashtanga 101: Practicing Yoga with an Injury

ashtanga 101 injury Feb 17, 2019

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These aren’t just the five stages of grief - they’re also the five stages of practicing through a yoga injury. Depending on the injury, it can feel like the same thing sometimes.

If you practice yoga for any length of time, it’s likely that you’ll have an injury sooner or later. Regardless of whether the injury occurred during your asana practice, the recovery period can be frustrating, scary, slow, and a range of other experiences and emotions. Ultimately, though, your practice can support your recovery if you modify appropriately, and the ability to adapt and maintain your practice through challenges and hard times is one of the most important mental disciplines in (and benefits of!) Ashtanga.

The factors underlying injury can be incredibly complex, and they vary from person to person. Ashtanga yoga is not inherently dangerous, but it’s also not 100% safe. It’s a physical activity that...

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Ashtanga 101: FAQ

So do I practice every single day? What if I don’t feel well?

This is actually such a common question that I wrote an entire blog on it, called When to Practice and When to Rest. And there are plenty of times when you should rest — like if you have a fever or an acute injury. But there are also plenty of times when you’ll probably feel like resting but should actually still practice, like when you are sore or tired.

 

Do you do anything other than yoga for exercise? (Or some variation of this.)

I always tell students to do what they love. Whether that’s climbing, surfing, riding, hiking, playing football, or staying out late dancing and drinking – by all means, do it. But just remember, like with anything in life, there are tradeoffs and what you do off the mat will have its effects on your practice. It’s important to remember this, and to be realistic about it. Pursuing other athletic endeavors might make you feel tight in certain places, or...

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Ashtanga 101: Take Rest

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...

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Ashtanga 101 : Dialing it Back

ashtanga 101 modify props Sep 21, 2018

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...

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Ashtanga 101 : Etiquette

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...

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Ashtanga 101: Welcome to Ashtanga

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...

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