FACTS AND GUIDELINES ABOUT WYC ISHTANGA SESSIONS:
Ishtanga is our name for a similarly named traditional practice. We renamed it because we’ve always taught Ashtanga differently than the disgraced East Indian man who popularized it. Our classes are Ashtanga-ish. Hence, the Ishtanga name. We have improved everything about Ashtanga by giving more mindful adjustments, respecting student agency, and encouraging communication (even during class). Like the first American Ashtangi, David Williams, we believe that having fun defines real yoga practice. He said, “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.” We definitely have fun. And maybe we love practicing all the more as a result. But our ideology is different. We emphasize an experience of yoga that we refer to as “teacher-level.” We connect Ishtanga to our renown teacher training program so that everyone in our group can share the practice with friends. We’re a fun-loving group of friends. That deepens our involvement in the practice and has helped us have a very different kind of yoga culture. We talk in class. Compared to the way Ashtanga has been and still is conducted in other groups, we de-emphasize teacher authority. We all teach each other. 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, 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 main 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.
CLICK HERE TO SEE A VIDEO OF SCOTT’S TEACHERS DOING THE “LED” VERSION OF THE PRIMARY SERIES. It includes the Ashtanga Chant. The man leading the class is the disgraced so-called teacher mentioned above.
WYC ISHTANGA GUIDELINES:
Even if you have never done Ishtanga before, you are welcome on Sunday at 9:00. During the summer, there is a 10:45 Intro class. Once you’ve done one of those classes you can come to a weekday class. Your first weekday class will be a very new experience, With the help of the teacher, you do everything at your own pace, while everyone is going at their own pace. So eventually, it’s independent practice with guidance. The teacher helps with everything in the beginning. You develop your independence gradually, sticking the best you can 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 Ishtanga. 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.
Ishtanga is meant to sensitize you in relation to a full and whole experience of your life-force. Everything we do 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 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 muscles in a kind of overall “squeeze” 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, yoga creates a positive vulnerability. Feelings run deep, and they run very deep in WYC’s style Ishtanga classes. If that works for you, great. If not, that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you or your practice.
At the end of every class, take a long final resting pose (Savasana) so the energetic effects of practice can settle deeply.
Come regularly. It’s okay to practice 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” ISHTANGA:
WYC is focused on developing teachers. Ishtanga 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 and have no intention of being Ashtanga teachers. That’s fine. The sequence repetition helps everyone understand what they’re doing, and also helps teachers in training apprehend instructional points. It’s like the musical scales. Every musician benefits from practicing scales. Ishtanga teaches the scales of yoga.
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 the real Ashtanga Yoga (from the Yoga Sutras) require increasing amounts of “transpersonal” awareness and no one gains transpersonal awareness without transcending personal-level concern.
So to really do yoga is to become a teacher. You don’t have to become a yoga instructor but if you really practice yoga, you 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 not just more religious that way, it’s 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, or even a God, 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.” Here it is written out phonetically:
AUM WAAN-DAY GURU-NAAM CHAAR-AH-NAAR-AH-VIN-DAY
SAAN-DAAR-AH-SHEETA SWAAD-MAA SOO-KAA-VAA BOE-DAY
NEE SHREY-AH-SEY JAAN-GAA-LEE-KIE-YAA-MAA-NEY
SAAM-SAAR-AH HAAL-AH-HAAL-AH MOE-HA-SHAAN-TEE-YEY
SAA-HAA-SRAA SHEAR-AH-SAAM SVEY-TAAM
PRAAN-AH-MAA-MEE PAAT-AN-JA-LEEM AUM
The chant is done collectively at the beginning of the Sunday 9:00 class. We recite the chant silently to ourselves at the beginning of our weekday practices. We also do a closing chant. You can do your own closing chant when you finish practice. The chanting is part of how Ishtanga 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. We hope to see you in class on a regular basis, but in any case, you can also receive our “Meet-up” announcements. Just join Western Yoga College at MeetUp.com