IS ASHTANGA YOGA HARD?
I’m often asked this and the answer is that it depends what you mean….Ashtanga is always the same sequence and within that I give lots of options to cater for the large range of abilities and ages that attend my classes (I’m super proud of the many over 60s and 70s that attend) So, over time, as students familiarise themselves with the series, they can use it as a framework to do whatever suits them on any particular day. But without challenge there can’t be growth. And we need some challenge to keep our attention and focus, but it’s up to us to decide how much effort we need to put into our practice to keep us engaged in the process. If we could immediately do everything perfectly the same internal awareness might be possible, but we would quickly lose interest. But the challenge must always suit us. As I always say in class, it’s our body, our practice. Ashtanga probably got a rep for being ‘hard’ as the first western classes could be very rigid and bootcamp like, but this was never the original intention and I believe it’s important to remember that the series is just a blueprint, an ideal, and a source of inspiration and encouragement to keep us motivated. We don’t go to a Spanish class already fluent in Spanish. We don’t run a marathon as our very first steps. Likewise, we don’t ‘master’ every posture immediately and we are all limited by our own genetic strengths and weaknesses…..Every Body is different. And as scientific research has shown, the ability to stay peaceful with a calm, steady breath and mind when challenged in our practice helps us to develop some control over the sympathetic nervous system (associated with the fight or flight response), resulting in greater strength and resilience of the nervous system and a lesser reaction to stress.....we increase our ability to stay calm during challenges in our everyday life…. This is why I love inversions and other challenging postures…I feel mentally better after a dynamic practice. Ashtanga literally balances me out. I’ve learnt how to calm my nervous system, how to breathe properly, how to release tension in my body and how to calm my mind. Ashtanga yoga has shown me that I am strong, that I can feel peaceful, and that nothing is permanent… But it took a long time to feel this way. I don’t have a background in gymnastics or dance, so I struggled with many postures when I first tried Ashtanga in my 40s. I couldn’t comfortably bind, balance, backbend or headstand but over several months of regular practice, I stated to progress. One of the advantages of the repetition of the series turning the practice into a ‘moving meditation’ (as when we don't have to think about what may be coming next, the mind can be completely free) is that practitioners start to see progress quite quickly. And headstand is now my absolute favourite posture and I love holding it for as long as possible….
But as they say “everything is hard until it is easy”