To ashtanga or not to ashtanga?

Lately, I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the idea of taking up an ashtanga practice. As much as I adore my vinyasa classes (there’s a pretty decent overlap between the two, asana-wise, except vinyasa is basically a freestyle ashtanga, where as ashtanga has a very set order of poses.) I’m starting to like the idea of really honing my discipline and focus by concentrating on mindfully moving through the primary series and really working pose by pose before progressing to the next one.

I have a tendency to lose focus mid-anything and would love to learn how to harness that focus. It seems like it would also be very beneficial for exercising patience and non-attachment (aparigraha.) I’d like to learn how to stick with the pose and get it right instead of getting frustrated and moving on to something else that I find easier or more comfortable.

So, what is stopping me? Well, apparently, I’m still feeling a little resistant to the discipline of a 6 days/week practice, working on the same series. I can easily manage 6 days of vinyasa because you never know what sequence you’re going to get next. With ashtanga, I’m going to get the same.damn.series every day. I’m also hung up on the idea that maybe I’m too old? Many of these practitioners started out in their 20s, so by the time they’re my age, they’ve been at it for 20 years. It’s humbling. Yowza. I was living a life of next to zero discipline in my 20s.

Fortunately, I’ve found a few other ashtangis online that have discussed their foray into the practice in their 40s. If they can do it, I can do it. There is one fellow who was quite overweight and chronicled his journey and the difference a few years made was truly astonishing.

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Kino is amazing. I can totally do this….not.

And then there’s Kino MacGregor, ashtangi extraordinaire. I am awaiting the arrival of her book, The Power of Ashtanga Yoga, which should arrive any day now. I just adore her. She moves with such control and grace and seems really down-to-earth and straightforward in her instructional videos. She’s definitely a huge inspiration for me.

This whole paragraph from her blog REALLY resonated with me and I’m going to say it’s been my strongest impetus to go ashtanga.

“The recommendation to take on a six day a week practice is often hard to accept for new students, so new students can easily build up to a full six day a week practice by starting with three days a week. Then once that level of regularity is established one additional day a week can be added every six months until the full six days a week is within reach. One other crucial shift must happen in order to facilitate the transition into full immersion in the yoga tradition. You must make the transition from a fitness oriented approach to yoga into a devotional one. By getting this subtle shift you will gain consistency and regularity in the way that you do your practice. A daily spiritual ritual where you take time to connect internally to a deep sense of yourself requires dedication. The requirement to practice six days a week is meant to develop the kind of mental, spiritual and devotional determination needed in order make progress along the internal path of yoga. If yoga is meant to be a life long commitment to inner peace it behooves yoga practitioners to practice as much as they can. If you only practice when it is convenient or when you feel good then yoga is more of a hobby then a lifestyle. But sincere spiritual practice has never been a leisurely activity if it is to produce the results of awakening. True spiritual practice is an unbroken commitment to do everything it takes to see the deepest truth there is. It is not something you can choose to look at only on Monday and Wednesday for an hour and pretend it does not exist for the rest of the week.”

Hopefully, putting it out there means it’s too late to back out now! Wish me luck and yoga on!

Kundalini Yoga….It’s What’s For Breakfast

Kundalini

Kundalini (Photo credit: vaXzine)

I realize the title’s a bit silly, but every morning for the past week, while I’m drinking my coffee/eating breakfast,  I’ve been reading from one of the assigned textbooks for my teacher training, The 8 Human Talents, by Kundalini yoga teacher, Gurmukh.

I’ll be perfectly frank, my verdict is still out on Kundalini. I’d had no experience with that yoga system prior to starting my teacher training (aside from one DVD by Ana Brett that I tried approximately once…) One of the studio owners is this lovely little pixie sprite, whose delicate size belies a powerhouse of strength. She has trained with Gurmukh and incorporates Kundalini in her classes.

Here’s a little of what we’ve come to expect in her Thursday night class: Hold plank for 3 minutes (try it,  3 minutes in plank is a LOOOOONG time), your shoulders are burning, your arms are shaking, you think about dying, then she’ll instruct you to go into half chaturanga and…. BACK TO PLANK! Since our shoulders are already broken, why not throw in some dolphin? And then…back to plank. I hurt just thinking about it (and I’m actually fairly strong.) This sequence isn’t particularly Kundalini in nature, but more an illustration of the focus and determination this teacher is trying to instill in us.

It’s hard to even describe Kundalini, since it was quite different from the vinyasa flow classes I am partial to. For one thing, there were no sun salutation sequences. It felt a lot like pilates. A lot of repetitive, fast movement linked to breath. We were working on some 3rd chakra exercises, which relate to personality, self-esteem and ego. My teacher warned us that some of the exercises might bring up some emotion. I was skeptical. I’ve been practicing yoga for 6 years and I had yet to encounter a practice that evoked an emotional response, though I’ve heard it happens.

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After about half an hour, we moved on to one sequence that involved placing your fingers on your shoulders, thumbs to the back, fingers to the front (see picture above!) You then twist from side to side, inhaling to one side, exhaling to the other, keeping your elbows shoulder height. She instructed us to close our eyes and focus upward, where we imagined our third eye to be. This movement was done at a fairly rapid pace and I felt like that thing in washing machines that spins the clothes. All of a sudden, I felt this tightness in my chest, a lump in my throat and my eyes were getting a little moist. Damn it, I felt like crying. It was quite the experience.

These past mornings, reading Gurmukh’s book, I’m really getting into her explanations of the physical application of Kundalini. I’m starting to gain a deeper understanding of the chakra system and the physical ways we can address blockages via movement and breath. It’s also made me understand the exercises in class, why they’re so different from other vinyasa classes and the intention behind our teacher’s sequences. I’m intrigued to see where this leads!