Most folks are familiar with the postures of yoga, the asanas; they are typically what gets folks through the door and onto a yoga mat. However, in order to develop a deeper understanding of yoga, one must cultivate abhyasa: a sincere, effortful and consistent practice, without interruption, over a long period of time. AAbhyasa is what creates a sustainable practice that students can rely on year-after-year. In turn, it is this deeper connection that creates meaning, inspiration, self-knowledge, and the curiosity to learn more.
The Ashtanga system encourages daily practice. It is my belief that each student must work with their teacher to determine the frequency that is appropriate for them depending upon age, work/school commitments, family, stress level, current state of health, etc. It is important the asana practice nourishes, not depletes, the body, heart, and mind. Too often students become attached to the rigidity of a six day per week practice at the expense of their wellness. Too often students become so attached that rather than practice less, they stop practicing all together. Six days per week of practice is appropriate for many students, much of the time, but not for all students, all of the time.
Find a teacher who supports you and your practice by challenging you when you need to be challenged and allowing you to soften and back off when that is the correct path. If you understand this a practice for a lifetime, you will not feel rushed to get it all figured out today. No matter what life brings, keep practicing. Practice in joy and in grief. Practice when you're young and when you're old. Practice when falling in love and breaking up. Practice during times of ease and times of stress. Practice during pregnancy and birth, and also in the years of toddlers and teenagers.
Adjust the practice; don't quit the practice.
If you have decided to study with me, you will have many different options: foundation series*, led 1/2 primary, led full primary, 2nd series exploration** and mysore style. I like teaching these different offerings because they ALL have value.
Ashtanga Yoga is a vigorous flow style of yoga, linking breath with movement. It is a system designed to strengthen, align, and purify the entire body and mind from the lineage of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
The Foundation Series is designed for students new to the Ashtanga System or for students who like to continue delving into the beginner's mind. Students will learn the foundation of this traditional yoga system in this series. This is one of my favorite classes to teach because we are able to slow down and begin again many times over.
The Led 1/2 Primary class is for students who want a deep practice with less asanas. This class gives a little more time for finishing postures and works more deeply with the first half of the Primary Series.
The Led Full Primary class is for students with prior Ashtanga experience. It allows for students ready to delve into learning the second half of the primary series postures. It includes all poses in the primary series and is taught in a continuous manner without stopping. All classes encourage greater focus, endurance, and flexibility.
The 2nd Series Exploration class is for students experienced in the Primary Series who are ready to explore the Intermediate Series of Ashtanga. This class is based on the traditional Ashtanga practice, but veers from the traditional order at times for the benefit of understanding the postures and having fun.
In the Mysore Style class, each student receives individual attention and is guided at their own pace, depending on how much of the practice they have committed to memory. When the teacher feels the student is ready, the teacher will add additional poses for the student, slowly, over time. This allows the student time for integration of the poses while committing them to memory. Once the postures are memorized, the movements become smoother, and the breath comes more stable. This creates a meditative experience. New students are taught slowly, pose by pose, over time. The Mysore room is a calm and peaceful place for self-study with the guidance of a teacher.
*Foundation Series requires pre-registration. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to pre-register; see schedule page for dates
**2nd Series Exploration is not being taught at this time; if you are interested, please email Melanie
My personal practice is the Ashtanga practice. I practice six days per week at home. I was a student of Tim Miller's in the 90s and early 2000's. In 2001, I completed a month-long Ashtanga Teacher training with Tim when I was pregnant with my son, Noah, who is now off to college. I was a student of Sri K Pattabhi Jois many times. My primary teacher for the last two decades has been the beloved Dena Kingsberg, from Byron Bay, Australia. I have also studied with various Bay Area and international teachers over the years.
I have been given postures well into the Advanced series. My current practice balances between Intermediate and Primary series. They feel like home. After an injury in a yoga adjustment in Dwi Pada Sirsasana in 2014, which left me unable to do many of the asanas for several years, I backed off from the Advanced series to create more ease and heal. Honestly, for years I pushed myself incredibly hard in my asana practice. It has only been in the last year that I have stopped striving for more and instead started to settle. Settling has been good. Each road block, injury, difficulty, and moment of frustration has made me a smarter practitioner and a much better teacher.
To me, there is no way to teach without consistent practice. It is my own personal practice which feeds my teaching. It is what helps me understand the body and the science of yoga. It is what helps me understand humility and grief in the practice. It is what helps me know my elation and joy in postures. It is what helps me communicate about the postures in a clear and intelligent way. Without practice, my teaching would be shallow, mundane, and flat. I am steeped in gratitude that I have a strong body that carries me through, but not without fail. We must remember that the body is temporary, and we only have it for a short time. Prana (breath) is what sustains us and is what we will have much longer than mobility in the body. The breath is the most important part of the practice. It is our life force. It is what will leave us last. It is what we have with us all of the time. It helps us calm the mind, body, and emotions.
The historical definition of Ashtanga yoga is "eight-limbed yoga, " as originally outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras were written between 400 and 200 B.C., and is the primary text of the science of classical yoga in which Patanjali collated and systematized existing techniques and knowledge of yoga. Sutra has come to be known as a short phrase with a deep meaning. They were originally sung and passed down verbally as there was no written text. The eight limbs get introduced in the Yoga Sutras in Book 2:29: "Yama niyama pranayama prathayara dharana dhyana samadhayah astua angani."
YAMA: At the beginning of the eight limbs, lays the YAMAS (moral observance): the moral, ethical and societal guidelines for the practicing yogi. These affirmative guidelines explain how the practicing yogi behaves and relates to the world when truly immersed in the unifying state of yoga. The yamas let us know that a pure state is attainable. Even though that idea may seem far fetched, the Yamas are still highly relevant and valued guides to lead a conscious, honest, and ethical life. They are easily relatable to current life. Patanjali considered the Yamas the great, mighty and universal vows. He instructs us that they should be practiced on all levels (thoughts, actions, words) and that they are not confined to class, location, time or concept of duty (Yoga Sutras 2:31).
There are five YAMAS (just like there are five breaths in each posture in the Ashtanga System). They are ahimsa (non-harm); sathya (truthfulness); asteya (non-stealing); brahmacharya (moderation); aparigraha (non-attachment).
NIYAMA: The second limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga system contains the five internal practices of NIYAMA (inner integrity). These practices extend the ethical codes of conduct provided in the first limb, to the practicing yogi’s internal environment of body, mind and spirit. The practice of Niyama helps us maintain a positive environment in which to grow, and gives us the self-discipline and inner-strength necessary to progress along the path of yoga (Yoga Sutras 2:32).
There are also five NIYAMAS . They are soucha (cleanliness); santosha (contentment); tapas (discipline); svadhyaya (self-study); ishvara pranidhana (devotion).
ASANA (postures): The third limb, asana, is introduced in Book 2:46 "Sthira sukham asanam" - yoga postures are meant to embody steadiness and sweetness. Steadiness will anchor the physical body, as well as the mind. Having sweetness or ease in the postures will encourage practicing them over and over again. Ease can encompass sweet pain or discomfort, but there is no place for injurious pain or force in the practice. The various asanas in the Ashtanga system provide an entryway to the development of the energy body. Savasana at the end of the asana practice is extremely important for nourishing the nervous system and keeping the physical body health.
PRANAYAMA (breath control): The fourth limb, pranayama, is introduced in Book 2:49 "Tasmin sati svasa prasvasyayor vicchedah pranayamah" - after asana is learned and mastered, breath regulation can be practiced - replacing unconscious breathing patterns with controlled inhalation and exhalation. Prana is our life force. It is ultimately the most important part of the practice. Guruji used to say that we only have so many breaths in this lifetime and it's up to you if you choose to take them quickly or slowly. The sound of your breath in your practice will teach you a lot about yourself.
In the Ashtanga system, we practice Ujayii breath. The nostrils are flared on the inhale as the breath comes in, as if you are drinking in the breath through a straw at the back of the throat.
PRATYAHARA (sensory withdrawal): The fifth limb, pratyahara, is introduced in Book 2:54. It is explained here that turning the senses away from the external and toward the internal, will help quiet the mind and calm our reactions to life. Pratyahara offers us the ability to pause and have more self-control and use intention in our actions, instead of reacting out of old patterns and habits. This in turn helps the senses see the purity of mind and won't take on the mood of the world. The senses are like a mirror: turn outward and they reflect the outside; turn inward and they reflect the pure light of purusha. If you are free from your senses, nothing can bind you. Not reacting to the external and not being led only by your senses, will decrease suffering.
DHARANA (concentration): The sixth limb, dharana, is introduced in Book 3:1, the title of which is "The Extraordinary Powers." This title tells us something about the difficulty of concentrating the mind. Dharana is the binding of consciousness to a single object, idea or place. Training the mind to stay in one place is an extraordinary feat and takes more time and practice than the mastery of asana. It is through the practice of steady postures, with the use of steady breath, while turning inward, that allows for concentration to be attained. This is the beginning of meditation. The training part of meditation is dharana. It takes patience and perseverance.
DHYANA (meditation): The seventh limb, dhyana, is introduced in Book 3:2. Dhyana is the continuous flow of consciousness with a single object without interruption. Most of us spend much of our time traning the mind, pulling it back to our focus over and over again. This is still the practice of dharana. Once the mind stays fixed on the object (breath, for example) and there is no longer the pulling back, then dharana becomes dhyana - concentration becomes meditation. The concentration is the doing, and meditation is the state that results. When a true state of meditation is experienced, there is no time or space felt.
SAMADHI (ultimate contemplation or complete absorption): The last limb, samadhi, is introduced in Book 3:3: "Tad evarthamatra nirbhasam svaurpa sunyam iva samadhi" - when only the essential nature of the ojbect shines forth, integration (formlessness) has arisen. This is a limb that can not be practiced or cultivated. It is instead a state or experience that results from the practice of the previous seven limbs. You cannot practice samadhi. Meditation culminates in a state of samadhi. Our effort serves us up to meditation and then the efforts dissolve and only the fruits of the efforts exist.
The eight limbs are an intentional and important part of the Ashtanga system, and hopefully any yoga system. They are what creates the whole package, touching much more than the physical asana practice. They are what allow us to dive deeper and take the yoga off the mat and into our lives.