Re-beginning Ashtanga

So the “back to basics” theme apparently is in the air.

Bobbie and I started it over the weekend with an absolutely back to Square 1 plan for a month of very fundamental vinyasa for me. If you missed it, here’s how my ego and my body seem to be reacting initially.

On Tuesday, David Garrigues sent out a new newsletter focused on the importance of beginning Ashtanga again and working on Primary Series. A little excerpt:

Using a basic sequence like the Primary is the perfect place to refine the subtlety in your breathing, movement patterns and all the actions that you apply in the asanas.  The adjustments and choices that you make based on this more subtle internal awareness more readily available to the more mature student.

And by attaining more subtle knowledge of how you practice, you come even closer to the few essential techniques that form the fundemental elements of an Ashtanga practice.  By carefully sifting and re-sifting your awareness as you practice primary series you win knowledge of bandhas, pranyama, and the interior mental limbs of 6) dharana, 7) dhyana and 8) samadhi.

There are some important differences between what DG is describing and what I’m working on, however. And, frankly, I’m sure for most people reading this, DG’s is more valuable. For instance:

Additionally this first series offers the perfect balance of ‘challenge versus ease’ for this work to happen.  The poses in the sequence are difficult and require tremendous effort and skill to perform.  And yet, relaxation of that effort is also possible.

I’m not finding any ease with the steep breakdown of Primary. When I woke up on the Moon Day, my lower back hurt in a half-good way/ half-bad way. My hamstrings are unhappy (which is all good). I’ve got some aches and pains for not cheating my way through the asanas.

This all is the point, of course. To see what progress I’ll make over a month or so, to find some other avenues of insight, and to practice in a way that, likely, wouldn’t be all that welcomed in some Ashtanga shalas.

DG is speaking to people with more advanced (in the physical, if not other, sense) practices than I. There is no “relaxation of that effort” possible for me. But it may be for others, and so I’d suggest reading through DG’s thoughts if you haven’t.

On a related note, I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m no fan of “here’s what happened in my practice today” posts. All our practices are so individual that I have rarely found much illumination from such topics, unless there is a distilled point to be made. I also assume that if one remembers a lot from the practice then one wasn’t clearing the mind — one was focusing on what was happening and spinning the mind around to capture those moments.

In that sense, blogging doesn’t go well with yoga. (In many other senses, as well.)

All that goes double or triple for selfies and self-videos.

Which is why I intent to be conservative with sharing the next month’s worth of practices. From day two on Monday, I’ll just report: It was the modified Marichys that confounded my sense of alignment and body as I tried to keep legs straight, back straight and breathing correct. The other poses in the half-primary (which took an hour, so it is slower going than just moving into a “cheater” pose) all felt more natural and familiar.

For what that’s worth.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

6 thoughts on “Re-beginning Ashtanga”

  1. Just something to think about — You say there is no relaxation of effort for you. Perhaps this is an indicator that you are pushing too hard. As an experiment, perhaps try backing off until you can find a relaxation of effort. Indeed this may be a more appropriate/beneficial practice.

  2. The artist Edgar Degas said, “Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.” Perhaps in yoga, when you don’t know what you’re doing, your mind, focus and breath become best.

    It’s great how you are exploring the basics again.

  3. I read your blog every day because I’m into Ashtanga and appreciate your intelligence and enjoy your writing. That being said, I always feel bad for you when you comment how much it hurts when you practice. Since its coming up again, I feel compelled to comment. First, I think going back to the basics is a good idea. The way I understand it: Yoga is not supposed to hurt. I basically learned primary using Richard Freeman’s tape. Along with the tape was a little booklet (which I think is now posted on his web site) of practice guidelines. He makes the point that some muscle soreness is ok, but more intense pain is the result of misalignment (or something along those lines). After many years of practicing, I couldn’t agree more. Every injury I’ve suffered (and there have been plenty) came because I was doing a pose incorrectly. Each time, I’ve had to go back to square one and relearn what I thought I knew. So, I applaud your going back to basics. Stay with the breath and the bandhas. When you’ve lost the thread, you know you’ve gone too far and try to pull back. Gregor Maehle points out that the yoga sutras tell us to avoid future suffering.
    So,that’s my two cents. I hope I don’t offend, and if it seems meaningless, just delete!

    1. Hi Gary.

      As we’ve discovered covering the topic of pain, it’s a tricky one. What’s discomfort that’s OK vs. pain. Or do we call one “integrating” and the other “disintegrating.”

      I think I’m just the one who has to deal with a little more discomfort than I’d like!


      1. I think the definition of pain is kind of like the definition of porn, you know it when you see it!
        I agree that the path of Ashtanga yoga is filled with discomfort (like dragging my self out of bed every morning at 4:30, just for starters!) It’s just that life without yoga, for me, would be way more uncomfortable.

  4. This blog is a very excellent one and I keep referring to it frequently .Keep up the good work . Regarding going back to the basics ,this is what I have to say – to do an ashtanga yoga practice one needs to have lot of body /movement intelligence to do it correctly without injuring oneself , some people have natural body intelligence ,some acquire it through other body movements like dance etc .For the rest we have to learn body / movement intelligence step by step from the basics as a foundation before we involve in a intense movement practice like Ashtanga Vinaysa Yoga . I have seen that people who have come from an Iyengar Yoga background / Dance Background have a very excellent Ashtanga Yoga Practice .

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