A new FREE class for adults is starting very soon at 3 House Cub: an entry level Ashtanga Yoga Class. It certainly looks as if the Yoga craze is more than just a craze. No longer something that is practiced only by alternative types coming back from long trips to India, Yoga, it seems, is here to stay. With studios and clothing stores cropping up left, right and centre, and more styles of practice than I care to mention (Bikram, Hot, Iyengar, Yin, Power, Prenatal, Postnatal etc.), it's perfectly natural to wonder, wait, which one is Ashtanga again?
Let's have a quick look at it before rolling out our yoga mats.
Ashtanga - full name: Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga - is a style of Hatha Yoga, or "forceful Yoga", in other words Yoga of the body. This distinction is quite important, as Yoga in its totality is actually a much wider system of ancient Liberation teachings and practices which has influenced many Indian religions over the centuries. Ashtanga Yoga, meaning "Eight-limbed" Yoga, borrows its name from one of the key texts of the Yoga school of Hindu thought, the Yoga Sutras, in which an eight-step path is laid out leading on to spiritual freedom. The practice of asanas, or poses, is one step of this path.
Ashtanga Yoga in its modern form was developed in the earlier part of the last century by an Indian man from Mysore in southern India, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (simply Guruji to his students). Jois was a Sanskrit and Advaita Vedanta student, the latter being a sub-tradition of the larger school of Hindu philosophy of Vedanta. From a young age, Jois studied under the guidance of Krishnamacharya, known as "The Father of Modern Yoga", himself a learned Sanskrit scholar who mastered numerous asanas from a teacher whom he sought out in a cave in Tibet, Ramamohana Brahmachari.
Krishnamacharya may have been the "Father of Modern Yoga", but it was Jois who later developed his own sequences of Yoga poses based on what he had learned, thus creating Ashtanga Yoga as we know it today. He devised a system of six sequences of increasing difficulty, starting with the so-called Primary Series, and working all the way up to Advanced D. Due to the increasing difficulty of the sequences, it is likely that the number of students practicing Advanced D in the world can probably be counted on one's own two hands!
Not to worry! The series that we will be working on in this new class - as do the vast majority of people practicing this style of Yoga in the world - is the Primary Series, otherwise known as Yoga Chikitsa, or "Yoga therapy". Therapy? Sounds nice doesn't it?! Don't let this fool you however. It may be therapy for the body and mind, but even the Primary Series is far from being a Spa-like experience. It will give you plenty to chew on for plenty of time.
Ashtanga Yoga is noted for its distinct athleticism an dynamism. Contemporary forms of "Power Yoga", and even the ubiquitous "Vinyasa Flow", own a lot to their older relative, Ashtanga. This form of Yoga will famously get you warm (and sweating) quite quickly, without the use of heated-up rooms. One generates heat from the inside using a very specific breathing technique and by keeping up a steady flow of the movements, each one movement linked to a breath-cycle (Vinyasa). The heat generated from the breath helps one develop the flexibility needed to progress to more advanced poses, while the breath itself gives the mind a stable object to focus on, essentially making it a practice of moving meditation. The poses themselves are arranged in a pre-meditated order that allows one to gradually open up to ever more challenging parts of the practice. This pose prepare you for the next, which in turn prepares you for the one after that, and so on. Traditionally, a student will stop at whichever pose he/she is working on, and not move on until this pose has been mastered. Very few, if any, props such as blocks and straps are used, as the focus is placed on developing strength from the inside, relying on the systematic application of various "energy locks", or bandhas, inside the body. In the most traditional form, Ashtanga is practiced in the so-called Mysore Style, that is, a self-lead practice in the company of other Yogis, with a teacher assisting silently throughout. This is how Jois taught, how Ashtanga is still taught nowadays in Mysore, and indeed all over the world.
Due to the nature of our different backgrounds and commitments, the class at 3 House Club will vary slightly from tradition. This will be a set lead class, open to all levels, and in it we will make the use props, if needed, in order to access as much of the practice as possible. While beginners - even those totally new to any form of Yoga - will find they can reap many benefits from working of the Primary Series at whatever level, the class is designed to take even regular practitioners of Yoga of whichever style through a challenging, fun and fast-paced hour of authentic Ashtanga.
Ashtanga has to offer the more obvious benefits of a stronger, more flexible and more toned body that is increasingly free of knots and stiffness, and also a taste of a subtler form of freedom. This freedom comes when we attend to the experience of what it is like to really inhabit our body and to challenge it, thus challenging our mind and its habitual leanings. In doing so with a non-judgemental attitude, we gradually learn more about ourselves, how our mind-body complex functions, and in understanding its mechanics, how we can awake to a wiser way of being in the world.
I hope to see you there, mats rolled out and ready. Namaste. 🕉️
Classes run Thursdays from June 8. No class June 15.
75 mins, from 12pm-1.15pm.
All levels welcome. Mats and props provided.