Sunday Morning Ashtanga


Sunday morning All-Level led Ashtanga begins at 9:00 and ends around 10:30.  What makes it “led” is that students follow the Teachers timing for the poses in Ashtanga’s Primary Series.  So students do the poses together at the same time.  That’s not the way Ashtanga is practiced during the week, when we do the WYC version of “Mysore” style Ashtanga.  Sunday’s led session is open to active, adventurous beginners.  The session is challenging on an endurance level, and lots of long-time practitioners attend.  This is also the session that includes the most yogic theory.  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 was taught to Krishnamacharya and then Pattabhi Jois.  The way we practice Ashtanga, however, in 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 Pattabhi Jois’ first students became teachers.  They were a fun-loving group of friends.  Having practiced with all of them, WYC Director, Scott Miller, can attest to how fun-loving they were.  They were also great teachers.  They altered the course of yoga on this planet, and at WYC, we don’t just “practice, practice.”  We teach, teach.  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:

Let the instructor help you do the poses effectively in relationship to energy and just stick with your experience of what we call “energetic pleasure.” Notice what feels-good and let that feeling spread and affect you. The rest will follow, and the old adage about taking serious things lightly applies to the WYC way of doing Ashtanga. Have fun with it, 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.

Let the instructor 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:

Pattabhi Jois 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 everyone practicing yoga needs to know 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 gains transpersonal awareness without transcending personal-level concern.

So to do yoga you must become a teacher. You don’t have to become a yoga instructor but you must become a teacher. 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 so much religious that way, but scientific. 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 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 collectively around 6:20. If you miss the chant you can recite it silently to yourself before practice. We also usually do a closing chant at 9:00. If you leave earlier than that, which most people do, you can do your own closing chant when you finish practice. 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. It’s a practice that Pattabhi Jois was most responsible for popularizing, but 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).