Mondays for me have recently become Ashtanga Mondays. It’s a relief, a sense of supreme joy to know that I can come to the mat, get an amazing practice in, become immersed in a deep meditation through my own personal practice, without having to think about what posture should come next. The sequences are ingrained in my mind and my body and breath flows fluidly through the postures, from the opening prayer and first sun salutation to the closing prayer and then the blessed savasana. (Click here to read more about Ashtanga Yoga.)
My relationship with Ashtanga has not always been this ecstatic. I did practice Ashtanga maybe once weekly, or every other week, for about a year (or maybe more accurately on and off once weekly for about a year) until I became pregnant with my first child. As soon I became pregnant, reflecting back, I’m thinking that I probably used the pregnancy as an excuse to remove this physically and mentally demanding practice from my routine. I mean, how can you do all those up-dogs, all those chaturangas, all those half-lotus and lotus forward folds with a growing human in your abdomen? It’s not physically possible, right?
The interesting thing is that while I started Ashtanga Mondays in January this year, I found it even more comforting to continue once I found out I was pregnant with our second child (big pregnancy bomb drop there) in early March. What a relief to know that during my daughter’s afternoon nap time, I am guaranteed a quieter time to myself than most of my other Vinyasa home practices can grant me. During my Ashtanga practice, I don’t play music, except every so often a repetitive chant that continues the length of the practice, I’m not mentally preparing sequences for body, I’m not focusing on a particular posture or body part. Every inch of me is involved meditatively, which, I’m assuming, is exactly what Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois would want from their students.
Ashtanga can often be thought of as an unforgiving practice. A demanding practice for the body known to cause injury to the shoulders, knees and hips. But what has brought me closer and deeper to this practice has been practicing with this “limitation” of pregnancy. There are strict Ashtanga teachers who might lean deeply on the backs of their students or crank their arms into binds to bring them fully into the posture, but now more so than ever I have learned that being kind to our bodies each time we step on the mat should always be more important than tackling and pretzeling into the deepest of twists and binds.
This doesn’t sound like mind-blowing, original yoga fodder, here. I realize that. But even we as teachers can say this to our students until we are blue in the face, but I’m not sure how many of us heed our own advice 100% of the time. I know I am guilty of pushing myself beyond my limits. In a Vinyasa practice, since there is that element of the unknown, not knowing which posture is about to come next, which is so seductive about that style, a posture might seem like a good thing to attempt, but because it might be new to us or our bodies might not be warmed up enough, we enter incorrectly, or go in too deeply which could potentially cause some crankiness or worse.
Again, not super-authentic writing going on, but I will make the case that Ashtanga Yoga has brought me to a new level of understanding my body and my practice that I had yet to discover in my regular Vinyasa practice. Because the posture progression and sequences are so methodically thought out, and because it’s the same postures every time I step to the mat, I’ve been able to better gauge how tight or strong my muscles feel that day and work within the parameters of modifications so I can complete the practice in its entirety. It has helped me hear my breath as a louder mantra than in any other practice. It has more effectively erased the the sporadic babbling in my mind.
And this not to say I can’t get to these blissful places in my Vinyasa practice, but the stronger connection between my mind and my body that arose during my weekly Ashtanga supplement have translated quickly to my Vinyasa practice, making each session even more valuable than it was before. I’m not sure if I could have experienced Ashtanga so euphorically without the feeling as if I was practicing for two (that statement works here, unlike the phrase, “eating for two”). Unlike those practicing for one who feel stronger and more flexible as he or she practices Ashtanga, the humbleness I feel as I cut out some vinyasas, or loose a bind one week or kukkutasana another week because of my changing body, has made me appreciate the entire practice of yoga, all styles and on and off the mat, at a new level.