6 Ways Ashtanga Yoga Transformed My Practice
After trying many different types of yoga, I found the one that had the most impact on my practice.
When I first started practicing yoga in 2017, I was a skeptic who had no idea about all the different types of yoga. As an office worker, I had too much stress and I didn’t exercise often enough. That combination of problems led me to yoga, but I only dipped my toes into the world of yoga at first.
I tried classes at different studios and different gyms, realized how drastically they varied, and slowly learned about the many different types of yoga that exist out there. I tried many different types of yoga, including vinyasa, yin, hatha, power, and restorative. I enjoyed them all, but I found myself looking for something different. Eventually, several studios later, I discovered ashtanga yoga.
Yoga Journal defines ashtanga yoga as a “dynamic, physically demanding practice synchronizes breath and movement to produce an internal heat designed to purify the body. Ashtanga yoga, with its many vinyasas, is great for building core strength and toning the body.”
For me, the heavy focus on moving with your breath helps me clear my mind during my yoga practice. While all types of yoga give attention to uniting movement and breath, ashtanga yoga teachers give it special attention. On top of that, the extra focus on strength building and toning the body tremendously transformed my yoga practice.
I don’t moan my way through difficult poses anymore.
Whenever it came time in class to do something tough like plank or chair, I would be part of the collective, silent moan. When these poses came up in my earlier vinyasa classes, I struggled. A lot of my yoga teachers made gentle jokes about this, dryly calling them everyone’s favorite pose, but reminding us of the importance of strengthening those body parts.
I certainly wasn’t the only one who dreaded them, but after a few months of strengthening myself with ashtanga yoga, I was able to hold poses like chair with new determination.
I want to get stronger.
In my first several months of yoga, I couldn't hold tree, or vriksasana, for more than a few seconds without falling over. Now, I’m strong enough to manage the balance with ease.
In ashtanga yoga classes, I realized that things I thought to be impossible like doing a handstand can actually be quite safe if you practice them carefully. The studio I currently practice at has a heavy focus on alignment and challenging participants in safe ways. It’s made me actually want to get stronger to deepen my practice.
I can find the beauty in mindful exertion.
In poses where I had to exert myself a little harder, I’d flounder. My mind would be chaotic and I would be kinda miserable. I couldn’t focus, I’d just huff and puff my way through until it was over. It was only through holding tough poses for long durations and doing it often that I improved. Slowly, I realized that I could breathe slowly and calm my thoughts, even when I was putting a tremendous amount of effort into holding a deep warrior or holding a plank. It takes practice, but it’s surprisingly doable.
One of my favorite parts of yoga is the focus on mindfulness and stress relief. Research has shown that people who practice yoga regularly have lower cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone. Even in the most stressful situations, I find myself able to center, calm down, and focus on what really matters through my yoga practice.
I've learned how to notch up the difficulty of common poses.
When I feel like it’s the right time, I know how to make things a little tougher for myself. I know when I can bring my shoulder blades closer together for better alignment, I know when my lunges can be deeper. When I’m at that point in a class where I feel thoroughly stretched and ready to challenge myself, I’m able to.
I have clearer goals for my yoga practice now.
My journey was a slow one, but honestly, I feel like it was the best pace for me. I’m not a person who jumps all into something at the drop of a hat. Since I started practicing ashtanga yoga, I’ve become more serious about my practice. I want to be able to (safely) perform a handstand someday.
On top of that, I also want to take part in teacher training. I don’t have aspirations of becoming a full-time yoga teacher, but I want to have the skills and knowledge to share yoga with my friends and family when they want to learn. I want to be someone who can share this thing that changed my life with other people.
I thought yoga was a ridiculous thing for rich women who had nothing better to do because it seemed expensive, upper-class, and I just flat out couldn’t afford yoga for most of my life. I want to be a certified teacher so that I can show the people I care about the ropes. I’ve seen the high price tag of yoga scare away for too many people who could tremendously benefit from it.
Ashtanga yoga shows you that you’re capable of a lot more than you think you are.
The place you practice does matter though. I did a one month trial at one yoga studio that was largely an ashtanga studio, but the instructors… left something to be desired. I hate to speak poorly of anyone, but in my first class, the teacher told everyone to get into a handstand. She saw me struggling and came over to help me do it against the wall, but my alignment was all wrong, I really wasn’t strong enough to get myself up there safely, and it’s frankly a miracle I didn’t hurt my back.
In my current studio, we’re slowly coached and slowly work up to things like handstand with a myriad of other movements that strengthen those muscles. On top of that, we aren’t pressured to do it if we don’t want to. It’s a delightful balance that I’m grateful for. Ashtanga yoga transformed my practice by showing me that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought I was.