Sunday Morning Ashtanga


Sunday morning at 9:00 we have our most important class of the week. It’s critical to what we do because of it’s connection to Teacher Training. People can come into this class to get a sense of how we do things when it comes to not just active yoga, but what we call a “sensitizing” yoga style. Anyone coming into our Sunday class at 9:00 gets a feel for what that means. That in itself is a big deal since most yoga styles do not focus on energy experiences the way Ashtanga does. That’s why do it. To be frank, there are problems connected to Ashtanga practice. Fortunately, the problems have nothing to do with the actual practice of it. They are social concerns. We have nothing to do with Ashtanga outside of our way of practicing it. We have no connection to the person who popularized it and do not honor his memory, and that’s why it’s now called WYC Ashtanga on our schedule.

Our WYC Ashtanga practices are actually harder physically (especially on a level of endurance) than the pose work in Teacher Training sessions. But unlike the lengthy Teacher Training sessions, regular Ashtanga classes are only an hour and a half long. So even active, adventurous beginners can come in and give it a try. Just know that Ashtanga can be challenging on all levels, and lots of long-time practitioners attend.  The good news is that Ashtanga practices teaches us not only how to do the poses in the most yogic ways there are, but it also teaches how to teach them. Really, no style comes close Ashtanga when it comes to experiencing and sharing the “energetic” methodologies involved in serious yoga practice.  We do yogic breathing the whole session, but at the same time we connect yogic ideas to the practice.  That way we develop understanding as well as strength and flexibility.  You can read all the Ashtanga guidelines on the Daily Open Session link.

FACTS ABOUT WYC-STYLE ASHTANGA SESSIONS:

WYC Ashtanga sessions utilize the same pose sequencing that is now popular around the world. So you can watch videos of it online. We have our own videos and soon they will be embedded on this website. Until then, please keep in mind our way of doing Ashtanga is different.  Primarily, we have fun.  At the same time, because Ashtanga was originally more of a teaching-tool than a control-oriented practice, we emphasize an experience of yoga that we refer to as “teacher-level.”  Really, it’s a light-hearted rekindling of an emphasis on doing yoga as a way of sharing it with friends.  All of the first American Ashtanga students became great, world class teachers for a reason.  They were a fun-loving group of close friends.  Having practiced with all of them, WYC Director, Scott Miller, can attest to how fun-loving they were.  They became great teachers as a result of community support.  They altered the course of yoga on this planet, and at WYC, we don’t just “practice, practice.”  We “teach, teach.”  All of us become teachers and that helps us not fall into the problems that also occurred in the Ashtanga world. There was too much guru-worship. It sank the ship eventually,. W

Anyway, we believe that to do yoga is to teach yoga.  We believe that to do yoga is to share yoga.  We have to share it in order to know what it is, and through the sharing of what we love, we experience yoga physically, physically, emotionally, mentally, soulfully, and spiritually.  That’s teacher-level yoga, and some beginners–even some first time people–have as much actual conscious connection to soul and spirit as any instructor.  The only really important advantage that instructors have is their knowledge of yogic-breathing.  So we share that and help everyone else learn how to share it.  Then our students are teachers too.

WYC ASHTANGA GUIDELINES:

If anything feels wrong, don’t do it. Respectfully speak up about anything that isn’t working for you. Stay with your experience of what we call “the energetic pleasure of the practice” as long as it working and let it be your guide to the extent that feels right. Notice what feels-good and let that feeling spread and affect you. If things go well, the rest will follow. We believe in the old adage about taking serious things lightly and light things seriously. Have fun with with this serious yoga practice, and while the pose work is happening, also be involved in the humorous teacher-level yogic discourse.

Learn Ashtanga’s set sequences (what’s called “The Primary Series) over time. Let the learning happen gradually. You can come on Sundays to do the practice in the “led” way, but it’s okay to only come during the week and not know the sequence for a long time. Don’t worry about it. After you learn the poses from the instructor first, you can use the pose-sequence sheet supplied in this folder. Eventually, you won’t need the sheet. It makes a significant difference to be able to do the sequence in a flowing, natural way without hesitation or thought. Once that’s possible, you won’t be thinking about it. You’ll just be having energetic fun.

The instructor may be able to help you progress according to your physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, soulful, and spiritual ability. It all counts. Ashtanga affects all those things, and it can be de-stabilizing on any of those levels. Yogically speaking, that’s a good thing, but it’s important to communicate with your teacher. It will help him or her determine how to help you practice. And remember that the advanced poses are not just physically challenging. They happen on all levels, and patience is a key. There’s never anything wrong with going slow and steady, and in any case, you will be discouraged from aggressive practice. You will be encouraged to have fun and feel energetic pleasure. Ashtanga is meant to sensitize you in relation to a full and whole experience of your life-force. Everything we do in Ashtanga should relate to that idea.

The teacher will be adjusting your breathing and poses accordingly. He or she will help you increase your energetic sensitivity through a combination of life-force techniques (collectively referred to as pranayama). The specific breathing technique we do with Ashstanga is called Ujjayi. It’s a respiratory throat engagement that allows the practitioner to draw in and extend out an “ebb of the ocean” sounding breath. Along with Ujjayi breathing, the life-force techniques include energy binding holds (called bandhas), and eye gazes (called drishtis).

You’ll be taught how to engage your leg muscles especially when the teacher applies physical pressure. There will be some discomfort. Speak up if it hurts. Also, the instructor is helping a lot of people in class (some of whom are doing risky poses) and you may have to wait for help. While you wait, you should continue to breathe well, staying with your yogic breath. Be patient. It’s okay to ask for help, but be mindful about the timing of your request and understand that the teacher is trying to help everyone on lots of levels. He or she will be open to discussing all aspects of yogic life, but discussions may have to be conducted after class. Please respect the fact that as loose, and fun-loving as WYC’s session structures are, it’s a vulnerable space. Feelings run deep in Ashtanga, and they run very deep in WYC’s style Ashtanga classes. You’ll adjust.

Take a long final resting pose (Savasana) so the energetic effects of practice can settle deeply.

Come regularly. It’s okay to practice Ashtanga as little as once a week, but it works better to come more often. That may seem challenging, but you’ll be amazed how quickly things change. Again, just have fun and see if it makes sense eventually for you to come to class at least three times a week. And a short practice is better than none. Come, have fun, and when things get heavy—as they will at some point—let the instructor know. It’s all part of our common journey together. Again, the higher practices of yoga are done in relation to transpersonal unifications.

MORE ON “TEACHER-LEVEL” ASHTANGA:

The person who popularized Ashtanga never taught separate teacher training programs because Ashtanga is itself a kind of teacher training program. At WYC, we just make sure that it works for everyone, including students who are completely new to practicing yoga.  It’s easy. The sequence repetition helps new students understand what they’re doing, and also helps teachers in training apprehend instructional points.

And it only makes sense for everyone practicing yoga to learn the Sanskrit pose and concept names.  The memorization is not just for identification purposes, but also for spiritual knowledge. For example, the word “Ashtanga” means “eight-limbs.” That tells us there are eight yogic practices. The first two are behavioral practices called the Yamas and Niyamas. You can read about them on a separate page. In class, you’ll learn how to practice them “energetically.” That means it involves energy experiencing. You will also be taught how to do the Pose Practice (Asana) in connection with energy experiencing.

You will also be taught how to practice not just in relation to yourself, but in relation to others. That’s important whether or not you have any interest in being a yoga instructor because the higher limbs of Ashtanga Yoga require increasing amounts of “transpersonal” awareness and no one gets without making yogic progress through the most difficult part of our being. The internal dialogue we hear in our head all the time is generally negative. Our ego structure is gripped. We help those parts of us out and our personal-level concerns ease up on us, making room for transpersonal experiencing (also known as spirituality).

So we believe that to do really yoga you must become a teacher. You don’t have to become a yoga instructor but you must become a teacher, at least to yourself. That’s what we pray for, and to help things work on a teacher-level understanding of prayerfulness itself, we do the Ashtanga chant (recorded on the WYC CD you now own) with the idea of it connecting us to the energy of Prayer Itself. It’s much less religious, and more scientific that way. We have no problem with religion, but it’s impossible to good at religiosity if you can’t even be good at science. With our chant, then, we’re not praying to God, we’re praying for the energy of Prayer Itself to fall into our experience and the Sanskrit word for Fallen Prayer is Patanajali. Most Ashtanga people think of Patanjali as a god or a man, but we don’t. Patanjali is an Indian name, but at WYC, we look at it as a concept—a beautiful energetic concept.

You can learn the chant from listening to the CD. The words are “Om. Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde, Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe, Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane, Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai, Abahu Purushakaram, Shankhacakrasi Dharinam, Sahasra Sirasam Svetam, Pranamami Patanjalim. Om.”

The chant is done every Sunday at the beginning of the 9:00 class. Once you know the chant by heart, during the week, you can recite it silently to yourself at the start of practice. We also do a closing chant. The chanting is part of how Ashtanga practitioners create strong communal connections. We chant in all kinds of ways that support a more authentic yoga way of living based on diverse beliefs and freedom of mind. Ashtanga is not owned by anyone. Thankfully, the style name is not copyrighted. Although some Ashtanga teachers hold to set ideas of how the practice is “supposed” to be taught, Ashtanga continues to evolve, and the origin of Ashtanga practice is more mystically phenomenal than has been publically reported and commonly understood.

We hope to see you in class on a regular basis, but in any case, you can receive Ashtanga community emails about our regular get-togethers and kirtans (yoga music concerts).