I admit it. I’m an ashtanga snob. I love Ashtanga and no other style really matches up. Once in a while I’ll do yin or hatha, or even anusara online, but nothing really measures up on a consistent basis.
Ever since the first time I walked into White Orchid Yoga and and took my first class with Ally Ford teaching the primary series, I’ve been hooked. No other style of yoga makes me feel quite the way Ashtanga does.
If you’ve never tried Ashtanga, you might wonder what it is that makes it so unique. Allow me to get on my ashtanga soapbox for a moment.
First, there is the long history of ashtanga. From Krishnamacharya first creating the sequence in the early 1900s then passing it down to Sri Pattabi Jois and then him passing it on to Sharath, the role of the teacher is pure. Unlike many styles today, Ashtanga’s basis is in the beauty and benefits of the practice, not just a way to make money as it seems so many styles out there today are based on. (We’ll just ignore the whole John Friend drama that came out a few weeks ago…)
Then, there are the are eight limbs that are the ingredients of Asthanga:
1. Yama – the moral code
2. Niyama – self study
3. Asana – postures
4. Pranayama – breath control
5. Pratyahara – sense control
6. Dharana – concentration
7. Diyana – meditation
8. Samadhi – Bliss (ahhhh… at the end, there is a bliss; absorption into the Universal)
I find that so powerful. It’s not just about getting a ‘workout’. It’s about eventually being so pure in one’s way of being that they become one with the universe.
And then there are the postures that make up the series, each with its benefits as described in Yoga Mala, each building on a previous posture to help cleanse and detoxify the body to prevent disease (or dis-ease as is really the case). Some work the organs, some burn fat, and some, well, let’s just say some make it easier to remove waste from the body and help the organs involved in those function.
The other beauty of Ashtanga is the consistency of it – well, sort of. No matter where you are, an ashtanga practice is relatively universal. There is the opening chant that is so beautiful and sets the stage for the practice. Then there is the sequence which, assuming it’s a traditional practice, is going to be the same postures, in the same order, all done the same way (I’ll get back to why I love this so much in a moment) and then, like most other yoga practices, there’s savasana to seal it all in. But, again, Ashtanga, unlike other styles where the teacher generally shares his/her thoughts or reads from the writings of another yogi, ends with a closing chant. The vibrations of the sounds are felt deep within the practitioner and unite the energies in the room like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
Yoga is intended to be a moving meditation, and ashtanga’s consistent sequence allows that to happen in a unique way. Unlike typical “flow” classes where the students are waiting with baited breath to find out what position the teacher is going to instruct them to move into next, which makes focusing on each pose slightly more challenging, at least for me, with ashtanga, the sequence becomes habit. You know where you’re moving next, allowing you to really focus on each posture and get deeper into it.
Earlier I made a comment where I said the practice is the same each time “sort of”. Let me take a moment to expound on the ‘sort of’. I am far from the first to say this, but I can certainly attest to it, that each time you step on the mat, the practice is different. There are days where an attempt at a balancing posture feels more like trying to stand on a surf board in rough water, and there are times when those same balance postures are completely solid. There are days when you fold forward into padahastasana and your hands plant firmly on the ground, and other days when it feels like every fiber of your hamstring is resistant to being stretched.
But with all that said, there is one statement I can make that holds true from one practice to the next, everytime I step off the mat after doing an asthanga practice, I feel better than when I started, and I can’t say that about other styles of yoga.