Ashtanga Yoga

22 Apr 2013yoga

When we lived in Canada, we exercised a lot: mountain and road biking, running, sea kayaking, CrossFit. That dropped off in France, but I managed to do some gymnastics and basic conditioning, which continued for the first summer here in Austria (lots of gymnastics: I even managed to do a few muscle-ups on my rings!).

Over the winter in Igls, I’ve not been doing a whole lot, partially for lack of time (I keep telling myself that three hours of dog-walking a day has to be worth something), partially for lack of inclination, and partially because the pull-up bar is too cold to hold onto in the mornings when it’s -10°C outside (that sounds like a better excuse than “lack of inclination”!). I’d been thinking for a while that I needed to start doing something again, and Rita had a yoga book lying around, so I thought I’d give that a go, if only for a while.

I spent a few weeks doing a mixture of things out of this little book and it was kind of fun, but I didn’t really know where I was going with it. I was looking around for videos and websites one day, and I found Kino MacGregor’s site. “Heh, that’s funny,” I thought. “She looks more like a CrossFitter than anything else.”

Kino has been doing Ashtanga yoga for fourteen years. Ashtanga is usually described as a “vigorous” style of yoga, which seems to mean that it’s excruciatingly hard, you sweat like a pig (even without that wacky hot room that Bikram yoga uses...), and it will take you years to be able to do some of the postures in the “Primary Series”. Sounds like fun!

Convenience dictates that this is mostly going to be self-guided: the likelihood of practising regularly is much higher if all that’s needed is to unroll your mat and start; getting on a bus into town to a class is a bit of a barrier. So, I ordered some books and made a plan.

So far, it’s going pretty well. I’ve been practising nearly every day for three weeks and have built up to doing a bunch of Sun Salutations, all of the standing postures and about half of the closing sequence. The Ashtanga practice is made of four parts: two kinds of Sun Salutations, a series of fundamental standing postures, either the “Primary” or “Intermediate” series of seated postures, then a closing sequence involving a mixture of backbends and inversions. The Intermediate series isn’t something to be tackled until after a couple of years of work on the Primary series: the Primary series already has some postures that look nearly impossible...

I’m planning to do 30 practises with my current setup (I’m up to 13 so far), then gradually to add the Primary series postures and the rest of the closing sequence to build up to the full sequence. The two books I’m following are pretty good, as they show a lot of variations for the more difficult postures. And as a beginner, you really do need the variations. For example, there are a number of postures that require you to “bind” a foot, which means putting it in half-lotus position then reaching around your back with the opposite hand to grab the foot. I don’t quite know whether it’s hip flexibility or shoulder flexibility that’s needed for this, but I don’t have enough of either yet!