When I first started going to yoga classes I really didn’t know what the different kinds of yoga were. I’ve learned so much since I’ve started even though I know I still have a lot more growing to do. I thought I’d start a yoga series on the blog. I’ll be writing about everything from different styles to my favorite equipment – basically the kinds of things I wish I had known when I started.
To kick off this series I thought I’d write about my favorite kind of yoga, ashtanga.
Ashtanga is a very “athletic” kind of yoga. Within about 5 minutes I’m sweating like crazy! Within ashtanga there are several series of movements that are linked together. The standing ones are called sun salutations or surya namaskara. There’s actually two slightly different variations (surya namaskara A and B). The second adds a few more postures. An ashtanga class starts with several sun solutions to warm up the body. Vinyasas are similar to sun salutations, but they’re done in between the sitting postures.
The postures between the opening sun salutations and the closing postures can vary, depending on what series you’re doing. There are six different series: primary, intermediate, A, B, C, and D. The primary series is done in most classes. The idea is that you master each series before you move onto the next one. Doing this usually requires years of practice and determination.
If you’re new to yoga, I’d recommend you go to a few classes before trying ashtanga on your own. Getting the sun salutations and vinyasas down is essential, as they’re done so many times throughout the practice.
There’s a lot of emphasis on breath in ashtanga yoga. Essentially every breath has a movement associated with it in the sun salutations and vinyasas. My teachers always say that it’s more important to stay with the breath instead of getting further into the posture and lose the connection with the breath. Staying with your even, steady breath is the most important thing.
Every pose in ashtanga has a specific gazing point or drishti. Depending on the pose, it could be the tip of your nose, your palm, or your big toe. The idea is that once you get into a posture you focus on the drishti and breathe. The more you practice, the more your awareness comes down to what’s happening on your mat instead of the room around you.
Ashtanga yoga follows a set series of postures, so every class will essentially be the same (there are of course variations in terms of beginner versus advanced classes). The more you practice ashtanga, the more you’ll become familiar with the postures and their order. The goal is for it to become automatic – you go from posture to posture without thinking about it – so it becomes sort of like a moving meditation.
Following the sun salutations, the standing postures are done. One those are finished, the sitting postures are done. To keep the body heated, between each sitting posture you do a vinyasa. According to my teachers you’re supposed to do vinyasas between each sitting posture, as well as between doing sides (right and left).
After the sitting postures, some back bending poses are done. I promise that’s not as scary as it sounds! The final few postures are the closing poses. I’m usually pretty tired by this point, so by the time savasana comes I’m more than ready to thoroughly enjoy it.
Have you ever tried ashtanga? What’s your favourite form of yoga?