This article will help you decide whether Ashtanga yoga class is a good choice for you in particular time of your life. It’s meant for beginners in yoga or yoga practitioners who have been doing different yoga styles and attending other yoga schools.
What is Ashtanga yoga
Ashtanga yoga is a type of hatha yoga, but much more physically demanding from the very beginning. Every ashtanga class is based on Ashtanga series called for example the primary series. It’s a sequence of asanas. Ashtanga class is usually repetitive so there is not much change in the structure of it. There are three main pillars of Ashtanga yoga:
Asana as a yoga posture. Drishti as the point you look at. Breath as a deep loud inhale or exhale through the nose. For those who are familiar with the theory called eight limbs of yoga:
- Asana practice is the third limb.
- Breath as the basis for Pranayama practice is the forth.
- Drishti, a focused gaze is a form of Pratyahara, sense withdrawal, and Dharana as the concentration of mind which is the fifth and sixth limb of yoga.
Ashtanga yoga ties breath and gaze to postural flow.
Is Ashtanga class a good choice for a beginner?
It depends upon beginner’s health and his or her physical activities. If a person does regularly other types of sport or fitness activity, ashtanga will be tough but suitable for her/him. Some of the Ashtanga asanas are quite difficult and demanding. Even for longtime practitioners impossible to achieve. But a good teacher usually offers asana variants in case students are not able to hold it.
However, there is a quite high risk of an injury to physically inactive beginners, who start practicing yoga and choose ashtanga school. The reason for this is simply the structure of Ashtanga class. It begins with at least three Sun Salutations A and B. So imagine, someone with back issues starting practice with this well-known sequence. They will get a lower back injury while doing urdhva mukha svanasana (upward dog) for sure.
You see, Ashtanga uses Sun Salutation sequence as its way of warming up the body. There are NO preparatory exercises at the beginning of a class. So I’m sure ashtanga yoga is not for people with back, knee issues or any joint issue in general.
The better choice for a yoga beginner with back pain is hatha or restorative yoga.
How does ashtanga yoga class look like
- Short opening mantra – Ashtanga teacher sings opening mantra. Students can join or just add OHM mantra during or at the end of the opening. If you wonder how the mantra sounds, here is a great instruction
video by Joey Miles.
- Surya Namaskar A – Sun Salutation is performed three to five times. The Adho Mukha Svanasana (down dog) is held for five breaths.
- Surya Namaskar B – Sun Salutation is performed three to five times. The B version combines A version with utkatasana and virabhadrasana one.
- Basic Sequence – asanas tagged as fundamental positions – series of forward bends, trikonasanas, parshvakonasanas.
- Yoga therapy or Primary Series or Yoga Cikitsaa consists of 41 standing or sitting postures. Every asana is held for at least five breaths. Of course, more advanced students do intermediate or advanced series instead of the Primary one. But they say, the most difficult one is still Yoga Cikitsaa.
- The Finishing sequence – rounds off Ashtanga class with 16 asanas held for at least 10 breaths.
- Short Finishing mantra
- Relaxation – usually not guided by a teacher. Students just lie down in Shavasana pose for at least five minutes for full body relaxation.
Ashtanga Yoga class lasts 90 minutes.