The Truth About My Own Practice, and My Flirtations with Ashtanga Yoga

My home yoga practice fell to the wayside the past few months. It’s a thing that happens. Sometimes I’m a good little yogi for a while, practicing at home, and then I lose it. There’s usually a pattern–I fall off the wagon when I try to turn the practice into something other than taking care of myself, which recently has been practicing only to plan my classes and lessons, or trying to commit to some number-of-days yoga-doing challenge, which for me is always a thinly-veiled “maybe this time I’ll actually lose the weight and not be a fat failure anymore” sentiment.

The class-planning practicing is a means to an end, and the challenge-fraught practicing is just destructive, and then I take a day or two off and just don’t do it for a while. And then another few days, and suddenly it’s been weeks or more.

But I always come back. Sometimes it takes a while, and sometimes I do other things (cycling!) but then I come back. Now is a time when I’m getting back to practicing, and I was thinking tonight about what works for me and what doesn’t, and how I can make my own practice serve my needs. This is the complete point of yoga practice. Serving your own needs–when people talk about yoga being empowering, this is what they mean.

So, in the spirit of putting it all out there in case it helps someone working their way through their own practice, here’s my thought process for my practice these days (I mean, starting today and going for the next few weeks or months–I’m a big believer in seasonality with these things):

  • It’s cold. Seriously, I was warm when I was in bed this morning, and I took a hot shower and that was good, but otherwise I’ve been cold for the past 12 hours. This is also related to all the windows that insulate our apartment so poorly, but I can’t fix that today.
  • I’ve been sitting all day doing research, so my back is stiff and my hips are cranky.

Clearly I need an active, warming practice.

I read the piece in YogaDork today, “Why I Stopped Practicing Ashtanga Yoga,” and I can certainly see why dedicated Ashtangis would take issue with it, but it inspired me to pull out my Ashtanga dvd, which I love and highly recommend if you’re looking for a Primary Series dvd–Ease Into Ashtanga with Yoga Hawaii.

I was pleasantly surprised that the sun salutations were not the endurance challenge I’ve found them to be in the past (I’ve been cycling more the past few months than I have in years), though I still can’t manage all the chaturangas in quick succession, so I put my knees down as necessary.

As I remembered, the video hops through the standing poses quickly, and before I knew it, there we were in Dandasana. And then it all started the go off the rails, the way it always does.

You see, most of the seated postures in the Primary Series I can’t do, and not in a like, “someday when my practice progresses” way, but just in a “my shoulder doesn’t bend that way and/or my arms aren’t long enough” way. I don’t have a whole lot of shoulder flexibility, so I’m limited in many of them. It has never ceased to bug me that the Primary Series doesn’t include any variations on pigeon pose, which I think is a wonderful thing to do when you spend a lot of time sitting. I also love backbends, both gentle and somewhat ambitious ones. And to this day, regular old crow pose is a struggle for me, let alone any of the inevitably more fancy arm balances.

So, as the video talked through the seated poses, I spent some time in pigeon, bound angle pose, virasana, malasana, and a nice long downward dog. I took some vinyasas in between and made an attempt at crow pose.

I prefer to lie on my back to find my deep core muscles over doing boat pose, so I skipped the boats and did what I wanted. Then I skipped straight to a nice long headstand, child’s pose, and savasana.

So, tonight, I was reminded of why I’m so conflicted about the Ashtanga practice, what I love about it (being forced into a good long warmup, which I have trouble making myself do when I’m cold), and what I hate about it (five breaths is not enough for me in most seated poses, so many of the ones in the series are unavailable for me, and it skips over most of the ones I love). So, here’s what I decided to do this winter:

As many days as I can manage, allowing for days when I’m too busy or if the weather is nice enough for a long bike ride and I don’t manage to do both, I’m going to get back to my asana practice. I’m going to do that by using the Ashtanga video to prod and pace me through the sun salutations and standing poses, and then switch over to my own music collection to accompany the second half-or-so of my practice, which will be self-directed. Maybe more standing poses or seated. Whatever I feel. But knowing myself, having the structure and direction to get me warm and moving will get me into a good place for the real work of the second half.

I think the most important thing with a home yoga practice is to make sure it serves us. This can mean having a seat on the mat and just doing whatever feels good, or when we’re in a place where we know we need a little extra structure, finding a way to bring that in that allows us to get what we need from it.

How about you? What do you struggle with in your home practice?



One thought on “The Truth About My Own Practice, and My Flirtations with Ashtanga Yoga

  1. Kathy Walton says:

    Being new to yoga I am unfamiliar with many of the poses and different types of yoga you mention in your post, but I can certainly identify with your body struggling to move or bend a certain way. I like the way you listen to your body and let it be your guide as you work through your sessions. According to Dr. Oz, making small changes consistently over time will yield big benefits. Because of the holes in my myelin sheath, my naturopath tells me that the electric current that flows through my body is leaking out through the open holes and “frying” the surrounding muscle fibers. This of course weakens the muscles and causes pain. To combat this, I go to the gym several times a week to try and rebuild the fraying muscles by using weight bearing machines. I hate the exercise. It never feels good. No runners high. But I do it consistently, week after week, and the payoff is less pain and weakness. The frayed muscles also release toxic acids into my body, so I follow a gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free diet to help remove the toxins. So much for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner!! I also drink special high ph water to help counterbalance the acids. I admire you for sticking to your own exercise routines Abby and know that you too will reap great benefits. Namaste.

    Sent from my iPad


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