I practice and teach all styles of yoga. Before starting my yoga practice, I always ask myself a few questions: What are the needs of my physical body? What are the needs of my mind? What are the needs of my spirit? Answers to these questions determine if my practice will be vinyasa yoga, Yin yoga, Ashtanga yoga, flow yoga (Viniyoga), Iyengar yoga, power yoga, restorative yoga, or meditation.
One of my favorite styles of yoga is Ashtanga, which means "eight-limbed yoga," and is a vigorous style that combines flowing and static postures. There are six series of postures in this practice, and the idea is for every student to master each posture and series before moving on to the next.
10 things I love about Ashtanga:
1. The teacher calls for 5 steady breaths for every pose. Five even inhalations and exhalations for every pose keep me in close touch with my breath. Strong teachers pace the breath calls in a progressive way to help stretch each inhale and exhale.
2. It’s a disciplined practice. In a led-Ashtanga class students practice in synchronicity and maintain extraordinary focus, which enhances the connectivity I feel with others in the room and the universe at large.
3. It’s a hard-core physical challenge. All of the Ashtanga series require enormous strength and flexibility. Ashtanga keeps me on the ball and gives me an incredible total body workout. People often ask me how I get my muscle tone. Ashtanga-inspired yoga is one of the ways I tone-up.
4. The practice demands deep concentration. I can’t tune out while doing Ashtanga yoga. To keep pace and protect my body from injury, there is nothing else I can think about other than what I am doing at any given moment. It’s key to pay close attention to alignment in this practice because the emphasis of Ashtanga tends to be more on flow and breath and less on alignment. (This is where Iyengar yoga, which is completely alignment-focused, helps a lot).
5. Ashtanga makes me sweat. It creates awesome internal body heat; there’s no need for external sources of warmth to induce a ridiculous sweat. In addition to enhancing my circulation and making me feel light and strong, the elevation of my body temperature makes my muscles more pliable enhancing my flexibility.
6. The repetition of postures improves my muscle memory. There is a certain amount of repetition throughout the Ashtanga practice, which greatly improves my muscle memory. The result? What seems difficult at first quickly gets easier over time.
7. It’s a balanced practice. Ashtanga sequences are replete with salutations, standing poses, seated postures, forward bends, twists, back bends, hip openers, inversions, arm balances, leg extension and flexion, and shoulder opening. There isn’t a single part of my body that ever feels left out of this practice.
8. The power of the inward journey. With Ashtanga yoga I can truly be with my self and get to know my spirit because pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, enables me to shut out everything external to my mind and body.
9. The teacher often reminds the practitioner to find and keep his/her eyes on a single point. The focused soft gaze is a significant part of the Ashtanga practice. An astute Drishti (point of focus, the gaze) keeps my eyes from wandering, which prevents a large amount of distraction (80% of what we perceive through our senses comes through our eyes; and, our memories are 80% imagery).
10. There’s always room for improvement. Regardless of how advanced a practice may be, Ashtanga is a life-long practice. Most bodies and certainly my own (which is quite strong and very flexible), need at least a lifetime to beautifully master the practice.