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  • Writer's picturenatalie lembeck

What is Ashtanga Yoga and Why Would Anyone Do It Ever?

My first experience with Ashtanga Yoga was in 2018 during my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program. I had a regular flow vinyasa practice but had never taken a strictly Ashtanga class. I figured it would be similar enough to other styles of yoga that I had practiced and that I would have an easy time with it, more or less. Well, let me tell you: I was wrong. Once we got to the seated postures, all I could think about was how many vinyasas are in this sequence?? and who would ever do this?? Of course, we all had the option to skip vinyasas and watch, but my stubborn ego was in the way and I kept trying and exhausting myself. I was so frustrated by the practice that I refused to attend another. It would have been another year and a half before I tried Ashtanga Yoga again.

Late in 2019, I was ready to become a yoga instructor myself. The manager of the studio I practiced at in Washington, DC interviewed me and invited me to take 2 weeks of yoga classes for free, encouraging me to try the Mysore room, as that was where many of the other instructors and owner practiced and taught. Even though it was out of my comfort zone, I thought it would be the best opportunity to get to know the owner and other instructors. The first time I poked my head into the Mysore room, I was astounded. It was nothing like any led yoga class I had ever experienced. Everyone was doing their own practice, the room was hot, and the only sound you could hear was the ujjayi-like breath of 20+ yogis. It was magical. So, I tried Ashtanga Yoga again -- this time expecting to practice for 2 weeks, get the offer to become an instructor, and return to my regular scheduled programming of led vinyasa classes. Oh, how wrong I was...again.

I fell in love with Ashtanga. The tradition, the philosophy, the way it presents you with the exact lesson you need to learn. The way you continually meet your ego and learn how to soften. The way it opens the body and reveals your wounds buried in your tissues -- sometimes gently, sometimes not. But always, always with the support of the practice to guide you deeper into your healing. And, while the physical practice can be impressive, it is never about the acrobatics. It is the process that brings you deeper into the real practice of Yoga. It is the tools of Ashtanga (eight limbs): Yamas (ethical restraints), Niyamas (duties or observances), Asana (posture) Pranayama (breath), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), and Dharana (concentration) that guide you to the one-pointed focus of the mind, Dhyana (mediation) and eventually to Ultimate Bliss, Samadhi, and Oneness with all that is, Yoga. It is truly accessible and available to anyone

if you allow it to be. The practice meets you where you are.

And as the saying goes, “Practice, and all is coming.”

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