5 Reasons I Don’t Practice Ashtanga Everyday

http://ashtangayogaathens.com/2014/08/healing-injuries-with-ashtanga-yoga/

I still practice Ashtanga.

Just not every day. I practiced every day while I was in India up until 3 months ago and when I began to travel. However, I stopped practicing every day and have gone back to a more diverse practice of general Hatha poses. But there are some major reasons why I stopped practicing Ashtanga every day and starting practicing it more like twice a week. You should know them

  1. Muscle mechanics – Muscles are designed to handle unforeseen obstacles, in fact they perform extremely well in a diverse landscape and require different types of movements than only the poses of the primary series to functioning optimally. We are not meant to walk on treadmills, we are meant to climb hills and rocks, ice and mountains. There are fundamental movements that are missing from Pattabhi Jois‘ method, originally prescribed by Krishnamacharya. Low lunges, certain types of sitting, abdominal exercises, and back lengthening are all missing from Krishnamacharya’s sequences, likely because they were as necessary in the lifestyles of young Indians at the time. With modern science, especially in the fields of anatomy and physiology, we can structure other exercises to compliment the poses of the primary series to make our practice of the old method more efficient.
  2. Injuries – It’s easy to get injured while practicing Ashtanga, especially while practicing every day. Some studies have posted numbers as high as 60% of people who practice Ashtanga get injured and I would be willing to bet a lot of the injuries are knees, ankles, and toes. When you practice the same routine every single day it is easy to become somewhat mindless in the practice and to allow things to move on autopilot. This is not necessarily very good for your muscles either because they get used to the same movements and over time try to create shortcuts. Muscle confusion is a good remedy for this.
  3. Sense of Progress – Ashtanga give the practitioner a false sense of progress every day. You become efficient and masterful at certain asanas while forgetting others and focusing on a non-existent path in Ashtanga. The path is the same whether you practice Ashtanga or not and being able to perform yoga poses should only lead to a sense of internal triumph, rather than comparative progress. Where is yoga taking you anyways?
  4. Time – Yoga is a huge time commitment. Ashtanga is oftentimes an even bigger one, with full sequencing and the need to warm up and prepare mentally. I like to take 2 hours to practice Ashtanga, it gives me plenty of time for headstand and the closing sequences and I don’t feel rushed. Did I mentioned I spent 10 breaths in a lot of poses?
  5. Variation is beautiful – Why practice only one style of yoga? We are born into an age with seemingly limitless traditions and styles to draw from, we should take advantage of this. Incredibly skilled teachers also seem to be popping out like daisies so take advantage while you can!

I also do other forms of exercises, like running, and climbing, hiking, and generally spend a lot of time outside. You should switch it up every once in a while, your body will love you for it!

 

See a few more articles about Ashtanga here:

  1. Is Ashtanga Dangerous?
  2. Injury Rates in 2008 (fishy…)
  3. Elephant Journal Drama
  4. Daily Ashtangi
  5. Ashtanga Injuries

Krishna Pattabhi Jois

k pattabhi jois

Krishna Pattabhi Jois is the founder of the Ashtanga style of yoga and one of the most influential yoga teachers to have brought yoga to the west through the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. I studied there in January 2015.

Jois was born on a full moon in 1915 in Kowshika in southern India. His father was a member of the Brahmin caste and Jois was taught rituals and Sanskrit from the age of 5. When he was 12 he attended a demonstration from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and became his student the following day. Jois never told his family that he was practicing yoga, but would wake up early, practice, then go to school.

When Jois was 15 he ran away from home to head to Mysore to study Sanskrit. 2 years later, he was reunited with Krishnamacharya in Mysore when the older teacher came to heal the Maharaja of a sickness that no one else could cure. He would accompany Krishnamacharya in demonstrations at the established palace shala and continued to teach the yoga sequence that he learned from Krishnamacharya, the Ashtanga yoga method and continued to study under Krishnamacharya until 1953. He also claimed to be BKS Iyengar’s guru, which Iyengar refuted.

Jois married at 18 and in 1948 moved to Lakshmipuram (a beautiful suburb of Mysore) where they had three children: Saraswathi (who I studied with in Mysore), Manju, and Ramesh. Jois was a professor at the Sanskrit college, but eventually left to teach yoga full-time. In 1964, a Belgian named André Van Lysebeth wrote a text called “j’apprends le Yoga” (I taught myself yoga) and this is what started the spread of yoga to the West. Students from all over the world would come to study with Jois including Richard Freeman, Chuck Miller, David Life, Larry Schutlz, Bryan Kest, Gwyneth Paltrow, and even Sting. Many of these people would bring yoga into the west in their own forms of the Ashtanga yoga practice.

Eventually Jois moved from his 8 person shala in Lakshmipuram to a larger shala in Gokulam, which is where I studied with Saraswathi Jois. He wrote several books and died of natural causes on May 9th, 2009 at age 93.

Jois will forever have a footprint on the world of yoga; indeed many practitioners continue to study with his grandson Sharath Jois and daughter Saraswathi at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Gokulam.

Many have claimed that Jois was inappropriate with his adjustments, but this could have been a result of major cultural differences between the cultural standards of the US and Jois’ traditional upbringing. However, it is confirmed that Jois injured several students with his adjustments, including one woman who he broke both meniscus’.

The Ashtanga method is well known for its high rate of injury, most likely due to its optimization around the Indian body type, from which there are quite large deviations, especially in the west. One survey put the rate of injury rate at 62% for Ashtanga practitioners, however, Bikram Yoga and Iyengar Yoga have both had serious backlash from the media for causing injury. Iyengar’s students also incurred injuries such as one student who wrote a letter to William J Broad for his book, The Science of Yoga: “One of the saddest and most thoughtful letters came from an elderly man who studied with Iyengar in India for 16 years. His list of personal injuries included torn ligaments, damaged vertebrae, slipped disks, deformed knees and ruptured blood vessels in his brain.” Bikram, in particular, has been known to cause large amounts of injury and the founder himself has two rape charges against him. It is undoubtable that the competitive spirit of yoga in the west contributes to this high rate of injury and lack of respect for the body’s limitations.

Pattabhi Jois helped to spread yoga to the west as one of the pioneers of the exercise. His memory will be forever remembered by the tradition he began and the students whose lives he changed with his spiritual practice of the Ashtanga method and philosophical Hindu and Sanskrit doctrines accompanying the physical yoga that he taught.

 

Less is More

Less is more

I am always nostalgic when I see someone struggling to breath on the mat. I remember when I would grunt and push and breath through my mouth at times just to get specific movements in, or to do that extra pushup and chest lift. People are trying to change themselves, to transform, rather than accepting what is and learning to love that!

But the truth is that this strenuous exercise is counterproductive within the yoga practice. It really should be kind of easy(most of the time), flowing, and it should feel amazing, kind of like you get to hug yourself in all those places that never get a hug. You can fill those places with your breathing. And really, the harder you are on your body, the quicker you will wear it out. Breathe into spaces deeply and sensuously to make it sweet and enjoyable.

Its simple logic really, you only have so many steps, breathes, and heartbeats in your body and this number is constantly dwindling because you are using them up. So isn’t of trying to force yourself to look like some exotic pretzel, or maybe a pterodactyl in your practice, just find that sweet spot with your breathing and bring some conscious attention to it.

So be gentle and maybe fill your stretches and postures with a little love and maybe, a little gratitude. These are the things that make you lighter and more free, not forcing your body to do grueling and exhausting exercise so you can be “healthy”. Mental state is so important, but give yourself some appreciation, some love!

After all, you are the only person in the whole universe who can possibly discern how you feel, and even then its a lot of work to uncover those deep and unseen feelings that we have about the people and the things in our lives. Just keep riding that edge into uncertainty and be gentle; trying harder does not burn more calories.

In fact, yin yoga and restorative stretches like sulpine spinal twists (on your back) and happy baby, pidgeon, child’s pose, etc actually burns more calories because you are not activating your sympathetic nervous system, therefore slowly burning fat rather than calories. The same is true of walking versus running; walking for a few hours a day will burn far more fat than a 30 minute run.

So stop working harder and work smarter, with some love and compassion for yourself so that you can learn to discern how you feel, instead of judging yourself for what you find, love it. You are the only person who can know what you are thinking and feeling so own it! So you can get to that place where you feel literally amazing!

Restorative Poses

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