Ashtanga Yoga is known as a practice which follows the same sequence of poses every day. We build on more poses as strength and flexibility grow in our bodies and minds. The very first time I experienced an Ashtanga style class I thought it was unusual that between sun salutations there was a five breath hold in downward dog. All the vinyasa classes I was used to doing did all sorts of movements in the sun salutation and it was just so much different. I thought it was a bit boring to be honest. The difficulty level and the feeling I got after concentrating so much more on breathing still left me intrigued. Why the hell would anyone want to put themselves through this? I wanted to learn more about it and more strangely, I wanted to experience it further. That is how it began.
So what is it about Ashtanga, why is it so captivating?
I believe it is the Trishtana as it creates harmony within, that grasps our desire to go further than dipping your toe in the water…
The Tristhana in Ashtanga is a focus on three places of attention. These are breath, drishti and posture.
The breath literally guides movement in Ashtanga. Even moving between poses have assigned inhale or exhales to maintain the deep methodical breathing utilized, creating heat and focus. The breath is what gives rise to our ability to create effort. When I am doing a very difficult pose, my teacher will remind me to breathe so that I may continue to do the work necessary to continue on. On to discover the next place where I will challenge my limits.
The drishti is the gazing point. Each pose has a gazing point but the eyes are not really focused on any particular place. There are nine different drishti and it depends on the pose as to which is used. As the pose sequence, the drishti do not change and are practiced with each pose daily. When I am using drishti, my attention turns inward and my meditation becomes firmly planted in that moment in time. I feel and hear my breath. I feel more deeply into my body. Where do I feel the earth beneath me? I notice the effort I am using. Gosh, I forget how much it takes until I bring it back into my awareness. As much as my practice can be physically exhausting, the soulful bond I restore with my internal being is continually nourished and invigorated with each and every breath I take.
The third of the Tristhana is posture and it includes the asana and also the bandhas or energy locks. Particularly mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. These refer to the muscles of the pelvic floor and the low belly. Mula bandha has often been described to me as the muscles which stop the flow of urine. My teacher has another way to describe it, which is to squeeze the anus. Graphic right? Honestly, I have been able to connect more with this squeezing than the pee thing, lol. The uddiyana bandha is activated by drawing the low belly in. The strength created by utilizing these two muscle locks is the seat of power for every pose. Having a background in ballet dancing, I recognized the same feeling in my body when I danced. It is like the entire inner line of the legs from the base of the big toe right up into the solar plexus is involved in this energetic synergy. The grace that is made to look so effortless in both ballet dancing and yoga comes from this place. Perhaps it is the familiarity of remembering something I loved very much that solidified my love for Yoga from the very beginning.
Together these three points of attention are what bring Ashtanga Yoga practitioners into a state of moving meditation. Our gaze turns inward and the magical awareness of the moment in time being experienced ~ Right. Now.~ is sometimes like slow motion Matrix movie perception. Everything slows down, breath is deep and rhythmic, sweat drips slowly down onto the mat, muscles flex and the body moves through space like a graceful and perfectly orchestrated dance. It may not look as such but it can feel this way on the best of days. Other days, I can feel like an old rusty tin man trying desperately to locate the nearest oil can. But that is the nature of being human. We fluctuate, our bodies and minds fluctuate.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjail states in the Samadhi Pada:
This is translated to mean that yoga is the removal of the fluctuations of the mind. This is really an ideal with which we are working towards by practicing yoga. For me, the seemingly short distance of just under ten years has already provided some impressive breakthroughs in my own personal journey. Knowing how tiny that really is actually serves as a motivation! If my experiences on this level have been so profound to me, I can only imagine what could be ahead for my soul in the wide expanse of time.
Every day, when I step onto my mat and look down to my feet, I feel gratitude. I am grateful to be alive, a being on this earth. I have been fortunate enough to find the gift of Ashtanga Yoga among other powerful gifts in my life. It is a blessing to be here and it is a privilege for me to share this gift. I know now that I am truly ready to teach yoga. I want to create a place for others to see that glimpse of light that I caught and then watch them nurture it and see it grow.
Taught my first class on Thursday in a few years and I’m in such a great place to teach from now. Years ago when I first taught, I thought about how difficult my class should be and if people will like me. These were not the right things to be worrying about. I then went to Thailand and learned so much that I felt humbled to the point of feeling like I should not teach. I felt that I knew so little that it would be wrong to try and teach anyone else. Now that I have had some years, around seven have passed, I am feeling more confident that I have something to share with others. It feels right and my first class back at it was totally fabulous! Wishing you all joy and happiness always😊
Love & Light,