How an improv practice led to a couple Ashtanga ‘aha’ moments

Wednesday morning I was a bit of a bad Ashtangi.

I wasn’t an awful Ashtangi — I did practice. But I threw a little caution to the wind and decided to shake things up with an admittedly poorly planned improv practice. (Which I know I’m not qualified to do.)

Essentially, I wanted to throw in some inversions and arm balances. A handstand here. A pincha mayurasana there.

So I did, after moving through the standing poses and a few seated poses, I veered off.

And it went fine. I can’t recall the last time I did a handstand, but the sense and balance are still there. The pincha mayurasanas might have been a bit pinched, but nothing grotesque.

We’ll see if I’m sore or there’s any unexpected physical blowback.

Mentally, though, the practice was a struggle, and from that was the Wednesday Ashtanga “aha” moment.

Or moments. There might have been two, sort of intertwined:

  1. Although it often is cited as one of the major faults of Ashtanga, the routine of the sequence is a fundamental, necessary aspect to the practice. If you’re trying to quiet those vrittis, it is helpful if you don’t have to think. Learning and remembering the sequence so you can move from the one pose to the other without having to make a fuss is absolutely key to the stillness the Ashtanga can enable. (I know there are other asana practices with their own set sequences. But not when you’re getting yelled at by a Bikram teacher.) I know this, we all probably know it, but it is good to be reminded every now and again.
  2. The early morning practice time that’s recommended for Ashtanga, perhaps coincidentally, makes doing your own thing really hard. I don’t know about y’all, but even with my morning cup of prana, I’m still a little — or a lot — fuzzy when I raise my arms that initial time. (I also may still be fuzzy when I get to the seated poses and when I get to backbends. And when I “take rest.”) So just doing the same thing is kind of a relief when the brain is only firing on a few cylinders. Maybe improv is best left for those afternoon or evening practices — then you can be doubly bad, practicing late and practicing your own thing.

In other words, it is very cunning, this Ashtanga practice.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “How an improv practice led to a couple Ashtanga ‘aha’ moments”

  1. I am so appreciative of what you & Bobbi share about Ashtanga. I have a strong admiration for it & wish i had found its pure form in my youth when i had the physicality to do it. The irony is that in the 70s & 80s i was into Triathlons, Hanggliding, Windsurfing, & other ‘extreme’ sports. I used Yoga to stay flexible & focused, especially when i had injuries that kept me from my regular workouts.
    For many years, i have had my morning practice, but it is different every day. I do the Opening Prayer & then my body/mind seems to know what it needs to do. I usually start with the Five Tibetans & a lot of deep breathing, then the Flow begins. When i finish, every part of my body has been stretched & energized.
    Peace, Love, & Blessings to You! Namaste’

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