There has been lots of talk doing the rounds about why you should not try Ashtanga Yoga. While the popularity of this style of Yoga has increased exponentially over the years, so has a community of people grown around it that disapprove of Ashtanga. Often there is a cloud of myth and mystery that surrounds the practice and keeps people from indulging in this transformative practice. More often than not, the myths are perpetrated and nurtured by a combination of fear, misunderstanding and poor teaching.
‘Ashtanga’ literally translates into eight limbs, and hence the Ashtanga yoga as originally conceived by the sage Patanjali describes an eight-limbed path, which when practiced with devotion and dedication, eventually leads one to realization of the truth and the inner-self. The system is a unique combination of sound breathing called Ujjayi, deep, slightly audible nostril breathing, Bandhas, internal energy locks and Drishti, specific eye gaze points in specific sequences of asanas linked by vinyasa, coordinating breath with movement.
The key to attainment of its full benefits or rather its true liberating experience is indeed the consistency and diligence that Ashtanga Yoga calls for. The style demands a pre-determined sequence that every Ashtangi has to follow. The repetitiveness is precisely one of the reasons most people find it annoying, as they feel they are kept stuck in their most disliked poses for days or months or years. However, the repetitiveness and pre-sequencing is deliberately intended to progressively allow yogis to work their way up over their weaknesses, slowly and gradually. Human nature is inherently fashioned to skip or avoid things that it finds painful, difficult or challenging. The benefit of a set sequence is that students cannot avoid encountering their own limitations, thus they are forced to face and learn to overcome those constraints.
Unlike other styles of Yoga, Ashtanga is not all about getting into a particular posture, or being able to coil into a pretzel. The proficiency is as much about the correct maintenance of bandhas, drishti and proper breathing as it is about being able to perform an asana. The sequence is set so as to build up your strength and flexibility for the next level or asana. Students often fall into the trap of going beyond their current abilities, forcing their bodies into more difficult asanas. Competing with their own yoga practice, they hurriedly attempt uncomfortable poses causing injury. This in turn, often leads to unpleasant associations with one’s Yoga practice. One must remember that Ashtanga is all about gradual and gentle progression and the system should not be applied too rigidly and too rapidly so as to make it injurious or unpleasant.
The limitations that are encountered during yoga practice reflect our personal inhibitions and psychological blocks that prevent us from experiencing real freedom and contentment. With steady practice, as we move past our physical and mental blocks, the self unfolds. The experience of self-practice is unparalleled as it is the only way to that which leads one to meditation via asana practice and discovery of self-consciousness.
Contrary to what the title of this article reads, Ashtanga yoga is for everyone. It is a life-long practice that demands diligence, commitment, perseverance and consistency on the part of yogi. Ashtanga is an ascetic practice that voluntarily involves undergoing adversities, pain and challenge in the beginning, but ultimately leads one to the blissful path of self-realization.