Transitions are without a doubt one of the most challenging parts of a yoga practice. They build heat in the body, which helps us to bend; more importantly, though, transitions build strength and discipline.
Transitions put our skills into action. The vinyasas of the Ashtanga yoga system keep us invested in every action that we do from start to finish, which keeps our minds focused throughout the duration of our practice – deliberate transitions maintain the thread of intentionality from one asana to the next.
For some students, transitions will be the most physically difficult part of a yoga practice – be skillful in your attempts, and remember: it's not about the endpoint, but the action.
Blocks are also a fantastic tool to develop strength for jump-backs and jump-throughs. Watch the video and give it a try!
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...
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...