Taking it EASY in Ashtanga

I know that might seem like a total contradiction – but that was my goal (and the result) of my practice today – and it was GLORIOUS.  Yesterday wiped me out! I had a hard practice in the morning (but with my easiest drop-backs yet! hoorah!), I taught 2 yoga classes, took a NIA class (just for fun – and it was!), had a job interview of sorts, visited a friend and babysat a fabulous 13 month old boy for 3 hours.  I woke up this morning (even after 8 hours of sleep) feeling destroyed though.  In fact – come to think of it, I don’t remember waking up this morning…so I probably slept walked into the shower and up to the studio.  The full moon is tomorrow and I have just started the prelude to my moon cycle – so for that reason too I really needed to have an easy, chill practice this morning.

Ashtanga is still relatively new to me.  It is a challenging, rewarding and totally engrossing practice.  Normally I practice the full primary series with no real modifications 6 days a week and I only take breaks on moon days and on my “ladies holiday” for 3 days.  But today I really had to honor what my body was saying to me and work with the practice in new ways.  I wasn’t really sure what to do honestly.  How can one “take it easy” in such a challenging practice? Well, first off, I had to SLOW IT DOWN and KEEP MY FEET ON THE GROUND.  No jumping around today for me.  I asked my teacher how I should practice today given my condition.  She advised me to practice Surya Namaskars to build a little heat and then the Standing Poses only if I had the energy and then to bring it down to the floor for yin, passive, restorative poses.  She encouraged me to focus on the hips and my breathing.

So here’s what I did – All 10 Surya Namaskars but no jumping back or forward.  I took them slow, focusing on slow, long deep breathing.  Throughout these and the Standing Poses I strove to assume the correct positions with proper alignment but once I found my asana I really softened to it.  No tight bandhas or intense striving – just gently holding and breathing with it.  I kept my focus on rooting down through my feet and breathing into my pelvic bowl – grounding my energy.   Between each posture I stepped to samastithi and stood still for a full breath cycle or two.  I held a few poses, like trikonasana for 10 breaths rather than 5.   In utthita hasta padangustasana, normally a challenging one for me, I really just went through the motions and I didn’t even try to extend my leg in the 3rd part, instead I just put it down and moved on (that’s just what I needed to do today).  After the warrior sequence I moved to the floor for a long, gentle pascimottanasana, an extended wide-knee child’s pose (really focusing my breath into my hips) and then a wonderful pigeon resting my head on the floor and surrendering into my hips.  Letting my hips release slowly felt so good and very soothing this morning.  I practiced a double pigeon, and then practiced gomukhasana folding forward, resting on my forearms for a few minutes each side.  This one really releases the piriformis and was a bit intense, but it was good intense.  Then I set up for supta badha konasana with a strap pulling my heels in close to open the knees wide.  I rested my back over a bolster.  I love this restorative pose and like to spend a good 5-7 minutes deepening into it.  Next I practiced supta virasan resting over a bolster again.  After a short child’s pose I moved to the wall and spent a few minutes with my legs up the wall.  I finished with badha padmasana for 10 breaths and then sat in padmasana with gyan mudra for a nice long while, focusing on my breathing.  I rested in savasana and then walked home feeling soft, fluid and very peaceful.

Ashtanga yoga gets a bad rep sometimes for being “too intense”, “too hard”, “too masculine”, “pitta-aggravating”, “rigid” etc., etc.,   I’ve heard some really good arguments disputing these claims (for example, check out David Garrigue’s post) and I tend to agree with them, at this point.  I think the beauty of a conscious, dedicated, daily yoga practice is that you can learn to adapt your energy to meet the practice where you are at that very moment.  Today I spent over an hour and a half on my mat, bathing myself in my breath, grounding my energy down, loving on myself and my practice.  It was such a gift.  No, I didn’t practice full primary. Yes, I did do modifications and some poses that are not in the series, but I approached my practice from the tradition while listening to what my body really needed at this time.  I am very grateful to have been able to explore a new way to take rest and take refuge in my yoga practice today.

On a side note, dear readers – I am off to the mountains for a long weekend of relaxation with my mother and our respective sweeties – lots of cooking, reading, chilling by the fire, long walks and longer saunas!  No internet so I am signing off now ’til next week.

Have a BEAUTIFUL and PEACEFUL weekend.





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