In a previous post, Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series, I mentioned how it may be the perfect style for beginners. Through this post, I’ll tell you why. I’ll also provide the right method of Ashtanga Yoga for beginners, while keeping its hard and fast structure in mind. In addition to that, I’ll also offer some tips and tricks to help you get into the right state of mind so as to be able to practice such an intense style of yoga.
Alright, let’s get onto it.
Ashtanga Yoga (An all-in-one style of yoga)
Ashtanga Yoga is a progressive style of yoga. It starts with a primary series, followed by an intermediate series and ends with 3-4 advanced series. You must learn, practice, and master all the poses in the primary series before you could move on to the intermediate series. And there’s a good reason to it.
You see the Ashtanga yoga poses or asanas are arranged in such a way that the first one prepares you for the second, the second for the third, and so on. So, changing the prescribed sequence is out of the question. What you can do though is, try the easy versions of advanced poses if needed, so as to make the practice feasible. Once you get comfortable with the easy variance, you can practice the full pose.
Now since you’re going to be dealing with the same sequence daily, you might find it a bit boring every now and then. The trick here is not to focus on the pose entirely but the over-all experience so as to gain something new every time.
Most Ashtanga Yoga classes are carried out in Mysore style, in which, students are free to practice at their own pace. So even though it’s a group session, there’s no competition or fear of being left behind. You memorise the sequence and practice it, simple! The teacher/instructor keeps a close eye on each and every individual, and corrects the posture if needed. Apart from that, it’s pretty much like a self-learning practice.
Once you’ve gotten well-versed with the primary series, your teacher or instructor will let you know if you can move on to the intermediate series. Or you can keep up with the primary series if you like since that alone is good enough to bring all the positive changes you want in your life.
Ashtanga Yoga is known for its therapeutic effects. Specially, the primary series. Hence the name, Yoga therapy.
It’s the perfect blend of breath control and movement (aka the vinyasa system), postures or asanas, mudras (hand gestures), drishti (gazing or focus points) and mantras (chants), that gives Ashtanga Yoga the healing power it’s famed for.
Every single pose is meant to target some or other aspect of human life. Be it body, mind or soul. You can check out our previous post, Ashtanga Yoga Poses, for a rather more in-depth look at the features and benefits of Primary series poses. (Again, since that’s where you’ll be starting from.)
Get going with the Primary Series
Mastering the primary series isn’t going to be easy. Out of all the 6 series of Ashtanga Yoga, the primary series is the toughest. And again, for all the good reasons. Primary series prepares you mentally and gets you into shape physically for subsequent series. Without it, I’m afraid you can’t move up the ladder. So, to be able to practice and master it, you need to think like a student.
Start by memorising the sequence, or the one provided by your yoga guide. Once you’ve learnt it by heart, comes the harder part, waking up early!
Once you’ve met these 2 parameters, you can get started with your practice. Here are a few tips and tricks to get you going.
1. Prepare your mind to practice it every day (6 days a week) without fail. Because missing it even for a single day can affect you adversely in your course.
2. The key to having an effective session every day is in your mind. Therefore, practice it in your mind first. That way you’ll have a blueprint beforehand, which can be executed with patience, at your own pace.
3. But don’t expect too much in the beginning. Ashtanga Yoga is a physically active and energetic style of modern yoga. No matter how focused you are, there’ll be flaws. So, don’t fret upon it, it’s quite normal. Continue with your practice and you’ll definitely see improvements in your next session. Don’t get disheartened even if you don’t. Just follow the prescribed order without skipping any pose and that would be more than enough in bringing out the results. Gradually, you’ll have a better understanding of what each pose signifies, both literally and in practice.
4. Start slow initially and build up as you go. Even the easiest version of Ashtanga Yoga Primary series isn’t going to be easy. It takes about 90 minutes on average to practice the complete Primary Series. So, you might want to take one step at a time rather than trying the whole series.
Start by practicing the chants and the first sequence i.e., Sun Salutations A & B on your very first day. In a few days, you’ll be comfortable enough to try the standing postures and then the seated ones. Again, don’t hurry, take your time in getting the hold of all the poses in a sequence. Once you’re confident about a sequence, you can move on to the next. But make sure that you’re not leaving the prior sequence aside when practicing a succeeding one. You simply add it to your practice. No changes in the sequence, remember? The idea is to learn the whole series so as to be able to practice it in one go.
5. Read & watch
Another way to get familiar with the practice, specially the asanas is to read. By reading about poses, breathing technique and other important principles of Ashtanga Yoga, you can understand what it all means on a much deeper level.
Watching tutorials is another great way to get savvy with the practice. It can also motivate you when you’re low on your spirits.
Here’s a self-help guide to get you started with Ashtanga Yoga the right way- Ashtanga Yoga for Beginner’s Mind by Kim Roberts. This book has everything a beginner might need such as, poses, instructions, commentary and what not. The methods described in this book have taken total beginners into traditional postures in a surprisingly short period of time.
6. Focus on your breath, not the poses
Poses are not everything, they are just meaning to gaining control over your breath. So, make sure that you’re attentive of your breathing at all times. If you can shift your focus from poses to breathing, then it won’t matter which pose you’re doing. Controlled breathing is what aligns your mind, body and soul. It’s what links your conscious and sub-conscious mind together so as to become aware of all the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of your life.
7. Be aware of your body
Okay, let me say that again, poses are not the endgame here. They are meant to clean the system, and prepare the mind and body for intense meditation. The true purpose of yoga is to connect with yourself on a deeper level. It is to understand your bodily functions, and bring awareness into every cell in your body. So, feel your body while you do the practice. You can do that with any basic pose not just the advanced ones. Try not to lose your focus when doing the same pose over and over again. Put your mind into it and it’s going to be a fresh and enlightening experience for you every day.
8. Stay within your limits (Avoid Injuries)
Ashtanga Yoga is an individual experience. You don’t have to match, compare or compete with anyone else. Everyone has a different mindset and physical capabilities. So, stay in your limits and do not force yourself into any pose. There are ample of bends, twists, and folds, etc. in Ashtanga Yoga. Therefore, by forcefully trying to do a pose, you will only give way to an injury or an accident. Please avoid that at all costs.
Doing more poses won’t get you anywhere, until and unless you’re doing it all mindfully. It’s the internal growth that we’re after, not the external. And you can do all that inner work with just a limited number of poses at your disposal. More poses never mean more benefits.
9. Take it as an adventure (There is no destination anyway)
Yoga has no final destination. So, don’t even aim for it. Rather try to enjoy the journey and the experience as much as you can. Devote yourself completely on the sequence at hand and don’t think about what comes after. You’ll be amazed to see your own progress when you look back at your journey after a month or two.
Being satisfied with what you have rather than frowning upon what you don’t is one of the key goals of yoga and meditation. That’s how you can also achieve inner peace and calmness.
10. Don’t give up when you feel like giving up. There may be times when you’d be so overwhelmed with the intense nature of Ashtanga Yoga, that you’d want to quit. And that’s exactly when you’re not supposed to quit. Think of all the steps you’ve taken and what you’ve accomplished. Tap your back with pride for all the progress you’ve made so as to quit the idea of quitting and motivate yourself for further practice.
By taking these baby steps, you can get started with Ashtanga Yoga the right way without putting yourself at risk. Gradually, you’ll be able to practice the full primary series with ease. But remember, even the most expert yogis may have a bad day so take it easy if you fail to practice the way you expected.
Ashtanga Yoga is a transformative and enlightening practice. As tedious and frightening as it may be, it can be equally fun and joyful for someone who has an open and curious mind.
Let me state what makes it the perfect style for beginners once again.
- It is a complete and well-furnished system of yoga for all ages and genders.
- Ashtanga Yoga is a self-practice.
- It is a progressive style of yoga wherein the former pose informs and connects the latter.
- Ashtanga Yoga classes are conducted in Mysore style which means more one-on-one guidance and follow-up.
- There are multiple variances of many advanced poses so you can try the easy version in case the advanced version is too much.
- Therapeutic in nature.
- You can keep up at your own pace and as much as your body allows.
Tip: Start by sparing 10 minutes initially and then slowly increase the duration by adding 1-2 more poses into your practice every day. This way you can gradually move up the ladder without compromising on the experience.
It’s the experience that matters after all!
So, what’re you waiting for? Get your mat ready. Namaste.