Ashtanga Yoga is gaining popularity
Ashtanga seems to become more integrated in the class offer of yoga studios and is becoming more and more popular among students.
However, compared to other styles of yoga the Ashtanga classes are not (yet) always fully booked. Many yogis seem to play around with the idea of discovering Ashtanga yoga, but are not yet taking the step to try it. My personal theory about this phenomena is that the unkown is almost always intimidating.
What is Ashtanga yoga?
Ashtanga yoga is a Yang style of yoga. It's practised in a flow, which means that the postured seamlessly flow over to the next, in which the Ujjayi-breathing is leading. Ashtanga is a traditional series of asanas (postures) that are always done in the exact same sequence. A dynamic form of yoga, in which you tighten your muscles instead of relaxing them such as in Yin yoga. After a while, you'll feel that you are also able to relax in a posture, which happens once you've gained more body awareness. You'll notice that the postures become easier, the more you practise. Many practitioners however stop before reaching this state, because the practise requires lots of strength, discipline and willpower. The more subtle feeling and the more flowing movements (read: Yin with less effort) of this practise comes after many repetitions and lots of experience. In the beginning Ashtanga yoga can feel like a bit of a rigid form of yoga, because of the ever repeating sequence with many vinyasas/chaturangas. After a while it becomes a dynamic meditation in which you will feel more and more and will notice that the posteres take less effort. This will bring more depth into your practise, which will allow you to work on and feel deeper layers.
What can you expect in a Ashtanga class?
Let's say structure. You will know exactly what to expect from a Ashtanga class, whether you go Tokyo or to Castricum. Every breath, transition and even the points of focus (dristhi) are fixed per posture. Sounds repetitive? Absolutely. Sounds boring? Well, that's where you might be wrong.
Ashtanga yoga can sound quite intimidating for some yogis who haven't tried it yet, because of the intensity and the power required for the practise. After a sequence of standing postures, sitting postures follow, inbetween which you will do a vinyasa (sequence of movements) to connect the postures. Inversions such as the Wheel (Urdvha Dhanurasana), the Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) and the Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana) are also part of the sequence. When you can participate in a Vinyasa class, you're physically also capable to participate in an Ashtanga class.
It could be that you experience the Ashtanga class are more intense because it can really bring you into a deeper state of conciousness. Without the music in the background, you will hear your own breathing and the intstructions of the teacher even better. You can follow a led class in which you will follow the instructions of the teacher together with the other practitioners or you can choose to follow a Mysore class, in which you will practise the sequence by yourself and a teacher will help you with adjustments. In a Mysore class you stick to your own pace to build up the series of postures.
This can bring you into a more meditative state. Mysore is very suitable for everyone and for every age group, especially if you experience the length and the postures in a led class as quite intense.
Deepening and transformation in your yoga practise
Yogis who are looking for a transformative experience, or who want to embrace yoga as a part of their live, can experience Ashtanga as a very satisfying practise. Why? Simply put, in Vinyasa it's all about breathing and flowing through the postures. A dancing meditation. Ashtanga yoga means the eight limbs of yoga. Of which the asanas are one part. The other seven limbs are about living in a fiendly, pure way, breathing, focus, meditation and in ultimately reaching a lasting state of happiness.
Because the real Ashtangi practises six time per week, you can imagine that yoga really becomes a part of your live. Ashtanga really becomes fun when you pracise it a lot, you know the series well and you are able to find more depth in your practise. The chaotic, dreamy and nochalant person in me loves the structure, the serious look in the face of the teacher and his instruction and the discipline that is required for the practise.
By the time you're more familiar with the Ashtanga sequence, it's of course a great practise to do outside, by which you will experience even more depth and gounding! Enjoy!
She also teaches weekly outdoor classes in Castricum; if the weather allows it her Wednesday evening Flow4U class takes place on the rooftopterrace of Huis van Hilde.
*Photography by Edgar van Kesteren