How a half-Ashtanga practice can still kick your asana

Warning: A post about one of our practices coming.


Specifically, it’s a post about my practice, which I guess I promised to kick up today with the Moon Day’s coming tomorrow.

So how did that go?

Good and bad. I only went up to Navasana. Yeah, you’re thinking, he really kicked it up.

But I did, actually.

With both my psoas and hips (and knee, of course) all feeling a bit raggedy, I thought the “Back Nine” of the Primary Series — aka all those poses after Navasana — probably could use a break from me. But rather than end up with a 45-minute practice, I remembered something Tim Miller told me, probably back in Tulum in Winter 2011: Hold the standing poses for 10 breaths.

I’ve done this off and on since. It’s been a while, though, so … a few reflections (which I hope are useful):

  • I suspect this is a result of our picking up the pace of our practice (and cutting out the dinking around) but I certainly discovered a lot more aches, twinges, pains and even comfortable positions when holding the standing poses those extra breaths. If you think about it (and perhaps admit it), a regular five-pose breath, if you aren’t being careful (I’m pointing the finger at myself here), can break down to: one breath settling in, three breaths in the pose, one breath starting move. Today, I was in the pose for more like seven or eight breaths. A big difference, a serious “check-in” on where things are. Honestly, I’m wondering if this isn’t worth my doing once a week or at least one every few weeks? (Maybe the day before every Moon Day?)
  • In much the same vein, the dristi challenge is greater — but it also was easier. There is more time spent still, and that seemed to translate to a still and focused gaze, as well.
  • The challenging poses are really obvious. I know the Prasaritas are tough on me and my poor hamstrings, but I maybe wasn’t quite sure how tough. Now, after spending all that time in the poses, I know. (And I bet I’ll feel it tomorrow.)
  • There’s time to go deeper. This one is perhaps a “no duh” observation, but that extra time affords the opportunity to push through and stretch things a bit more. (And then the tapasya comes roaring in like a wild horse.)
  • On the flip side, it becomes clear when you aren’t pushing yourself. If, like me, you can reduce the time spent in the post down to three breaths, you might be missing the feeling of ease or casualness that could be suggesting you’re sort of going through the motions. I’m pretty sure I am able to mask when I’m not giving it all I should be. But today? There was zero doubt when I was half-assing a pose. (Half-asana?)

OK, you’re saying. All that’s great. But you still think I phoned it in, right? Well, I also held the seated poses up to Navasana for twice as long (approximately) as I normally do. And since I tend to hold these poses longer than five breaths to begin with (striving for that extra stretch), I was in some poses for 30 or so breaths.

As a result: You can take all the above lessons and double or triple them. (News flash: Janu B hurts!)

So, do I think I kicked the practice up today? Despite the feeling here that I’m protesting too much, yeah, yeah, I do. And I think I earned tomorrow as a day off. Or as a day to think about what the practice is teaching me lately.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “How a half-Ashtanga practice can still kick your asana”

  1. I love to linger in poses – if it is really hitting why cut it short?? It feels sooooo good and I can tell I am safely riding the edge, especially because the breath becomes so naturally strong and full yet easeful. I studied Iyengar Yoga previously and find their intensely detailed alignment an invaluable base for the study of Ashtanga Yoga. I think many Ashtangi’s would benefit from static study of the poses offered in Iyengar or Hatha Classes. As David Swenson said – you may not want to mix traditions – “Ashtengar” it tends to water down both(however I know I give more alignment instructions than most Ashtanga teachers); but he also said he doesn’t care what you do in your own home practice – such freedom!!!

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