7 Reasons Why Ashtanga Yoga Is Not Hard

When I first started practicing Ashtanga Yoga I would switch between Darby's primary series DVD and Freeman's intermediate series. Monday for Darby's, Tuesday for Freeman.  I had never done ashtanga before, so I thought I could breeze through the different series.  Was I deluded? Completely!

When I see James (a complete beginner) come out of one of the led classes expressionless other than using enough muscle to say: "brutal", then it looks hard.  Let's also point out that He, just like me, has been bitten by the "wanting to do it all at once" bug.  It is in the air.


Then I wondered: who, initially, among us follows the system exactly as intended and with a good teacher?

I am one of those people who wants everything fast, or at least I did. But I did not know that when I began, I wanted those advacned poses like pincha mayurasana and the flip flops, I wanted to be Boodiba on class three. Hey I even had an Excel chart!

Frank puts it nicely when he says in the comments to yesterday's post that "it requires getting over the idea that it will be boring".  Wow, I actually never had this problem, it was never boring to me, but I can relate to how the repetition can be unsettling.

Back in Mysore earlier this year James asked repeatedly whether the exercising of the same group of muscles would not be an issue.  But as I see it, the deeper we go, no matter how long in a plateau of poses, there is always a new pose at the end of the tunnel, and a new group of muscles.  There is also the going deeper within the poses we already have. The thing with 6 series is that there is really no end. It is infinite.

Grimmly brought up that perhaps all this business of the practice is like giving birth, one of those things that you forget and romanticize. Point taken, It is hard isn't it?

The issue of the teacher is important. Nobel mentions how he finally came to find a good teacher, and although he only sees her when on tour it is a key part of his practice.  Yes, finding a good teacher that will go along, respect our limitations, and work with our mental fluctuations is critical! Not everyone is that lucky.

Yogicory is a mom with three boys at home, God bless her!, she says that Ashtanga's discipline is a huge part of her life, the discipline, which mirrors her life, sometimes good practice sometimes not so good.

I will confess to one part that I found very hard in the beginning, it was the moment when you are practicing and the instant before you start to sweat.  I hated that moment, I did not like getting wet and dirty, I did not like to feel the burn.  And THAT is actually the purification part.  I had a resistance to the cleansing.  Funny.

So, these are my gatherings about what the hard parts in Ashtanga Yoga are:
  1. The boredom factor
  2. The pushing to go faster because we all want to be good on day one, OK maybe not you, but I did (although not any more)
  3. The sweating. Who likes to sweat?
  4. The enormous commitment.  Guruji would say you practice over a long time meaning 30 years? 40 years?
  5. Having the stamina to remain with the practice until it becomes a discipline that grounds us
  6. Keeping motivated. Especially if we do not have a good teacher nearby/cannot make it to Mysore
  7. Before starting the practice: dealing with the "perception" that it is hard
  8. Finding a good teacher that will help us find our edge and slow our mental fanatical desire to go further.  Also, avoiding a teacher that could hurt us.
Finding a good teacher is difficult, whether in person or online, or through workshops, coming across the right soul, that is hard indeed.  But can you see how all the other points in the list reside in the mind of the beholder?

It is not easy, but it is not hard.


Body is not stiff, mind is.  K.P.Jois

Pictures in this post link to their source.

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20 comments:

  1. I keep reminding myself to learn like a little kid as I develop my practice. "Look at all these people around me, they can walk no problem, they can even RUN and I can't even take one step!" But they don't decide it's too hard and move onto something else... they just keep trying to put one foot in front of the other and trust that all is coming.

    I love your excel spreadsheet, too funny :)

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  2. Hi Jen, that is a very nice metaphore, loved it! good thing to keep in mind.. yes. Welcome back from India by the way, and thanks for your comment :-)

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  3. By the way.... in your honor will attempt to meditate twice today, I am so grateful for all those talks we had in Mysore over the daily hour sitting...

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  4. Great post! Interesting that you hated that moment right before you start to sweat. I had the same experience when I first started practicing yoga. It wasn't Ashtanga at the time, but nonetheless, that moment right before the sweat broke through was always really intense, like right before a rainstorm when the atmospheric pressure is super low so the internal pressure feels high.

    Come to think of it, that moment is still really intense. Once the sweat breaks, I can feel the breeze and continue to build heat internally, but until then, it builds to a point of extreme heat and pressure.

    Also, I have to wonder: how could anyone find the practice boring?? Sure, we may practice the same postures every day, but the internal landscape changes dramatically from day to day, moment to moment. There is always something new to face on the mat.

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  5. Thanks Mega, relieved to hear I am not the only one on the sweating, or rather the pre-sweating moment. I agree with you on it being different every day but there are lots of people who do find the repetition a bit, well, repetitive... guess it adds spice to life... thanks for your comment.

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  6. Great post, Claudia. Yes, I think a lot of frustration with Ashtanga arises from that desire that many people have to want to be "perfect" on Day One.

    I like that Kapotasana adjustment that Krishnamacharya is giving in that picture. How come I never got that adjustment? Maybe he's the only person authorized to give it? Ah... what am I missing by not going to Mysore? :-)

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  7. I should say that I think it's tougher to find the practice boring once you've been doing it for a certain period of time (will will vary from person to person). The issue is that people think it will be boring before they even try it. Get them to come in for a month or 3, and they will see that it's not boring. The real hurdle is getting people in the door in the first place--and not just once, but enough times to see the practice's systematic, progressive nature and to see growth or change.

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  8. Nobel, I know you go to Kino. Have you practiced with her husband Tim? I went to him a couple of weeks ago, and while he did not stand on me in Kapo, he gave me a pretty wild adjustment into a deeper version that I don't think is really part of the standard practice but is way cool (basically bending the legs from Kapo B so the feet go onto the head and then past it). I was like, "Where did that come from?" Had never seen that before. It was quite exhilarating, though. On the other hand, the adjustment in the picture looks like one that I'm not really sure I want. I saw a certified teacher give this adjustment on youtube (haven't been able to find it recently, though). I find it intriguing, but I can't say I'm envious... :-)

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  9. I love your summary Claudia! When I heard about the system of Ashtanga (before I've seen or tried a class) I thought it sounded like the most boring practice ever. You never actually know until you try it.

    What Megan said sounds like my friend who doesn't sweat easily. I don't have a pre-sweating moment. When the teacher tells us to put our hands together in front of our heart to start the opening chat, that's when I feel my first drip of sweat going from my right armpit down to my right elbow. Happens almost every class. The first time it happened I felt embarrassed, then I figured no one can see it anyways (unless the person right behind me stares at my right arm intensely at the beginning of class).

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  10. Thank you Nobel, now, unlike you I am not yet sure I would ever want that adjustment... hee hee, but I am sure I will change my mind!

    Frank, that is true, it is in the repetition that we eventually find that it is not boring, good point... I also appreciate the tip you gave Nobel, I hope to practice with Kino and Tim at some point.

    Yyogini, really? at the prayer time already? wow! that happens to me, say, only in the summer, and sometimes, or if they have the heat really hard at pureyoga... you are lucky that you are purifying from the very first moment...

    I have also found out that the deeper we breathe the easier it is for the sweating to start, not sure why this just came to me, but it did.

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  11. I struggle with #2 and #5 all the time, just came out of the #1 phase and now working through #6, partly because I'm searching for #8. Ashtanga is like a never-ending jigsaw puzzle, there's always something new to work on, whether an asana or our frame of mind. In that sense, it is hard, but also very rewarding.

    Another great list!

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  12. Frank, I got an adjustment from Tim in Prasarita Padottanasana B or C at a workshop a couple of years ago. At that time, I was still new to Ashtanga and was doing primary only, so I did not get any further adjustments from him. And that was the only time I have ever been in a workshop with him. That kapo B adjustment sounds really exhilarating. I've heard many good things about Tim. Hopefully, I'll get to take another workshop with him soon.

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  13. Claudia: Actually, I'm not sure I would really want somebody standing on my chest either, come to think of it :-)

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  14. Savasanaddict, I love your going through the list and describing your process, very honest of you! I agree on the rewarding part and the puzzle, yes, good analogy. There is always something new, something interesting, something to undergo... something to surrender to.

    Nobel, ha ha, yeah, unless of course it was T.K. himself... in which case who would say no?

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  15. Hmm. I must confess that the reason why I did Ashtanga then and now has changed. Before, it was just another thing to do. Hence, boredom sat in without proper guidance. Now, it's a painkiller for my problems with scoliosis. Relief is always sweet.

    And that is enough to change perception. It's like a woman who's undergoing contractions. If you don't understand how the contractions help you to birth the baby, you wouldn't view it kindly. It would be a "horrible pain" like it was for my mother (who chooses to remember the pain of childbirth after all these years - i'm 36 btw - over the joy of having us). But if you understood that contractions acted as a mechanism to push the baby out, then you may view it differently.

    So you can view it as a pain in the ass (literally), or hugs of love to the little one residing within and whom you will hold and love more than anything else in the world soon.

    Powerful, this change in perception is.

    So while I previously viewed it as another activity, obviously it wasn't going to work. But now that I have to work the back to keep from being in chronic pain, I chose to look at it as a journey.

    After all, it's getting it right that matter. it's the journey getting there that matters right now. :)

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  16. i mean it's not all about getting it right. it's about the journey getting there :P

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  17. Yes Yoginicory you bring up a good point, once you understand the why then it becomes more clear. Very much so, I feel that way too.

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  19. So, I'm going to stand by my statement that Asthanga is in fact hard--really hard. It is designed to take you to your limit and asks you to walk what seems the edge of the possible. Now, I suppose you don't have to approach it that way; you could back off, of course. But by design, Ashtanga is designed to challenge you progressively. And, honestly, if Ashtanga weren't hard, I wouldn't be doing it.

    Now, what I will say is that Ashtanga is not *advanced". It is a popular perception that Ashtanga is only for advanced people. I mean, look at even just the Primary Series. Supta Kurmasana looks "advanced" even to rather experienced practioners of Vinyasa yoga (and "crazy!" to beginners), and headstand looks humanly impossible to a beginner. I think that many people simply don't believe the notion that it's possible for everyone to practice at their own level (especially if their experience with Asthanga has only been in a led class--those people think that they'll be expected to do all of Primary and to its fullest expression right away, which is of course not the case). I think ashtangis need to have ways of reaching people who are not immediately receptive to the notion of a Mysore-style class being for everyone (and I will add that it is unfortunate that at some studios Mysore style is not for newcomers). I'm sure that many teachers have had to deal with this (often unsuccessfully, no doubt), but I think students need to know how to deal with it as well.

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  20. Frank, point taken, glad to hear you are standing by your statement and I see your point.

    I like the way you say it is not "advanced" and that access to Mysore should be for everyone. If anything this leaves me wondering more... I am never one of those people to try to preach, I just talk about my own walk, and about the incredible blessings this practice has brought to my life, including, after many years, being able to do somewhat of a kurmasana...

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