There is a cloud of mystery surrounding Ashtanga yoga that has been provoking feelings of curiosity, but also fear and respect for this traditional practice. Myths and legends surrounding this transformative method have been keeping many people from ever trying it or getting to know it better.
Also, these misconceptions are, like all the others in life, a mix of fear and misunderstanding, that many times comes from lack of knowledge and poor teaching.
Here are some of the most common myths about Ashtanga yoga and a few facts that might or might not change your mind about it:
#1- Ashtanga yoga is only for the strong, the young and the flexible
One of the first misconceptions about Ashtanga yoga is that this practice is only suitable for super-fit, young and athletic people. But whatever it seems to you, this traditional method can be practiced by EVERYONE. Beginners start by learning the sun salutations and are slowly and gradually introduced to new asanas (postures). There will be people who will find sun salutations almost impossible and there will be people who will find difficulties later in primary series. For sure there will be postures that will challenge you physically (and mentally), as such is the nature of the system.
Many of the physical limitations, however, are connected to mental limits that we set to ourselves and many physical blocks are only the mirror of our mental blockades.
Although this transformative practice might seem to be suitable only for a certain type of people, it is much more individualized in comparison with some other types of yoga. As you grow, Ashtanga yoga will grow with you!
#2- Ashtanga yoga is hard(core)
Well, it’s definitely not easy, but so worth the initial effort!
The protocol that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois created was quite intensive – to practice 6 days per week, early in the morning is no joke! This concept, however, was established for some Indian young boys who had too much energy and didn’t know what to do with it.
Today in the West, the story is obviously quite different. With a lifestyle we follow, it is usually impossible to dedicate two hours at the sunrise and practice six days per week. Which is totally fine!
To practice as much as you can, or even better, as much as you feel like is totally ok, as long as you try to dedicate at least few minutes per day to do your practice.
When it comes to this question, I always feel like there needs to be some discipline in order to keep up with your dedication and enjoy all the benefits of this transformative practice.
Ashtanga yoga is always here for you – available to adapt to your way of life and to your current state of body and mind.
#3- Ashtanga yoga is only about the physical
Yes, Ashtanga yoga is a pretty physical practice with the aim to purify your body (and mind) through Ujjayi breathing and different postures connected to each other with Vinyasa (transitions). Many of you would ask: why not to start with some other of the 8 limbs of yoga? And here is what I’d reply:
In this time and space of the busier the merrier mentality, the majority of us live in total disconnection with our body. People barely feel where their own knees are and they can’t be more surprised when they figure out what moving their wrist mindfully really feels like. That is why, I believe, the physical practice represents the first door to Yoga. Before diving into more subtle aspects of Yoga, it is important to elevate our body consciousness so that this vehicle will no longer represent an obstacle on our journey to the deeper levels of the Self.
So: We need to quiet our body first in order to quiet our mind.
#4- Ashtanga yoga is too rigid
It’s true that there is a whole lot of repetitiveness, sequences, and structures, but there is also a very clear goal behind it: allowing you to progressively work up your way over weaknesses and anxieties. Where every move is determined with inhalation or exhalation, where all the postures are pre-sequenced, the atmosphere gets limited and filled with freedom at the same time. Now you’re going to eat me alive!
What I’m thinking here is that when there is a sequence already made for you, you get even more space, more freedom to experiment with the subtle aspects of yoga (go read the myth #3 again!). As you don’t need to constantly watch or listen to your teacher, because you know the sequence by heart, you can put more focus on your breath and become more aware of yourSelf. Once you learn your postures, Ashtanga becomes a Moving Meditation.
The “rigid” structure also brings the necessity to face and work through every pose – especially the ones you dislike the most, as it doesn’t allow you to move on until you make friends with it.
Ashtanga yoga can be the softest practice if you take it that way. If you put your ego aside, there will be no hardcorness, no injuries and no need to write this kind of articles.
Let this powerful practice serves to each of us as a tool that, when used properly, can bring us connection, clarity and joyjoyjoy!