Ashtanga yoga is my daily practice…my sacred space. It is my moving meditation: an invitation I extend to myself to be present and grounded every day. This practice is how I check-in with myself. And it's how I come to know and understand myself better than I ever have before. It has given me greater health, a stronger body and a much more peaceful mind. It is how I connect my individual self with the Universal Self. This practice has changed how I live and be…both in the physical world and within myself.
How can so much come from 90 sweaty minutes of moving my body into shapes…at 5.30am...on a rectangular mat that is usually squished between my bed & my dresser?...This is the MAGIC of Ashtanga yoga.
Yes, Ashtanga yoga has a magic in it, but also a science, a culture and a lineage of teaching that goes back a few thousand years. It had the dedication and commitment of one special man, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, who made it his life's work to share Ashtanga yoga with the world. Because it is systemised, it offers a blueprint for anyone wanting to undertake this journey. But it is not a journey that is simple, easy or short. We are told that this practice requires sustained effort, commitment and belief over a long period of time. (perhaps…many lifetimes?)
Ashtanga yoga is based on the knowledge that the body & the mind are connected. The physical body is an expression of the mind and the spirit. By working with the physical body, we also indirectly, but powerfully, work with our minds and our spirits.
The goal of Ashtanga yoga? Very simply, the goal of this practice is mind control. By quieting the mind, by making the body supple and strong, we are then able to sit and approach a state of meditation. It is from the state of meditation that sometimes, without trying, we slip into a state called 'Samadhi'. In Samadi, the meditator and the object of meditation become one. All that is left is pure consciousness…bliss…or, said another way, a connection with the divine.
How does practicing Ashtanga asana work? How does a physically demanding practice become a meditation leading to transformation of the body, mind and spirit? The magical key lies in something called the Tristana method. In Ashtanga, the breath, the posture and the drishti (the looking place or gaze) are linked. Ignore one of these three and the practice breaks down. Unite these three and the asana practice reveals itself to transform the practitioner. What does Tristana really mean in the practice?
1. Posture or movement - the physical placement of the body into a shape. In Asthanga the sequence of postures is defined and each prepares the body for the next. It is important to master the first posture before moving to the second. It is also important to truly understand the technique of each posture. By practicing this way, it is possible to avoid injury.
2. Breath - free-breathing with sound, sometimes called Ujjayi (but not the practice of Ujjayi pranyama). In Ashtanga, we breath in through the nose and out through the nose. By breathing this way, we work with prana (energy) and we heat the body. By heating the body, and working with breath, we are better able to move deeply, but safely into the postures. The breath helps us to work on both a physical and emotional level. It becomes a metronome for the practice. If the breath becomes laboured, it is a sign to ease off, rest and work gently until that posture is mastered.
3. Drishti - Gaze or looking place. Every posture has a drishti. By focusing the eyes on the drishti, we begin the process of concentrating the attention and directing the mind to a single point. Along with the breath, drishti is another way of accessing meditation. Physically the drishti, also has a purpose as where we look affects the physical manifestation, intention and energy of each posture.
This week in every class, we will be exploring Ashtanga yoga. I can't wait to share this with you. See you on the mat!