First Days

  • Asana Practice

    Asana practice is the 3rd limb of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga and the part that most people think of when they think of yoga.  It is the physical practice –the poses.   As you learn the series pay attentions when to inhale and when to exhale.  There is an “inhale” or “exhale the goes with each movement.  Generally, upward movements are inhales and downward movements are exhales.

    The series of poses are to be memorized over time.  You can use a “cheat sheet” as you learn, but keep in mind you are trying to learn the order, so try to remember what is next before you peek at the sheet.

    The series is built like a sandwich.  First you will get two pieces of bread that will always begin and end every practice.  Later you will get the meat, cheese, tomato, lettuce, mustard, mayo etc.   The top piece of bread is 1 and 2 on this list.  The bottom piece of bread is 3, 4, 5 and 6.  I suggest David Swenson’s book to review the instructions on how to do each of these.

    1. Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salute A), 5 in a row
    2. Surya Namaskar B (Sun Salute B), 5 in a row
    3. Yoga Mudra,  8 slow breaths
    4. Padmasana, 10 very deep, slow inhales and exhales.
    5. Tolasana (also called Uplitihi), hold for 10 breaths
    6. Shavasana, rest for 10 or more minutes to end your practice

    Here is a video of me demonstrating the minimal Ashtanga practice as taught by David Williams at a workshop I attended in Kansas City.  There are slight differences from the above list: only 3 Suryas each, 10 breathes on Yoga Mudra (instad of 8), he counted 25 breaths on Padmasana (instead of 10), he taught a quick bhakti breaths during Tolasana working your way up to 100 fast breaths (think in sets of 10 or 20).  Try to get to 50 breaths at first then add 10 breaths each day as possible.  With this shorter practice, Shavasana does not need to last as long.


Asana Video Instruction

Yoga Music and a Book

  • Deva Primal

    We used a mantra in class last Wednesday to get our breath even on our Suryas.  The artist is Deva Primal

    Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha is the title and it is a chant to remove obstacles.  The chant is repeated 108 times (which is a number of significance.  Do a google search if you are curious.)  It’s nice to play it as you get your practice started to settle your mind.

    Om Shreem Mahalakshmiyei Namaha is one by the same artist that my first teacher, Tung, introduced to me at the same time.  It is a chant for abundance.  He would often play these back to back as we did sun salutes at the beginning of our practice.

    And this is one of my favorites by Snatam Kaur called Og Namo… it starts with English words “The rain is pouring down like all the souls You send here” and talks about “coming home”. This is a good one during shavasana if your need something to calm your mind.  Listen to the words.  They are beautiful.  And this one Long Time Sun.

  • Ashana

    Another musician I like to listen to as I go into meditation (or just to rest) is Ashana.  Her album “Jewels of Silence” has some nice music.  The song Heart of Gaia is particularly relaxing to me.  There are crystal bowl vibrations in this music and I can feel the vibrations in my body.  I especially notice it when the music stops.  It’s like my body continues to vibrate for a bit.  I feel deeply rested and calm afterwards


    How Yoga Works

    A fascinating story by Michael Roach that teaches the nature of yoga but never explains a single pose. This book motivated me to want to master all the limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.  Here is information about a discussion group reading this book in 2018.  We use Google Hangout once a month to connect.

  • Learn a little Sanskrit

    Work to learn Sanskrit names of poses. It may seem odd to be asked to learn poses in another language. Why is it important? If you really don’t want to, it’s OK, but I think it’s cool. Why? Because this is a practice learned all over the world. I can meet someone from Argentina, Germany, France, China or Alabama. I might not understand their language, but if I go to an Ashtanga studio, I will know the poses because we all learn the same Sanskrit words. Sort of like learning the Latin words for plants or medical terms so people can work together cross linguistically.

  • Ashtanga Yoga Limbs 1 and 2

    The first two limbs (out of 8) of Ashtanga Yoga are the Yamas, Niyamas. Some people liken these to the Ten Commandments. As you focus on these during your Asana practice, it changes the way you think about what you are doing with your body and how your experience on the yoga mat is like your life.

    • The 5 Yamas are:
      -Satya: truthfulness
      -Asteya: non-strealing
      -Bramacharya: focus energy toward the divine
      -Aparigraha: greedlessness
    • The 5 Niyamas are:
      -Saucha: purity
      -Santosha: contentment
      -Tapas: purifying practices
      -Svadhyaya: self study and the study of sacred texts
      -Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to the divine

    There is a lot written out there on the Yamas and Niyamas. Under the “About Yoga” tab you can find a paper I wrote for my yoga teacher training where I compare them to the Ten Commandments. Do a Google search under these words and you will come up with plenty to study and hopefully you will feel motivated to look at ways to gently train your mind to move toward these ideals

    Try this: Pick one of the Yamas or Niyamas to focus on during your asana practice and watch your mind. For example, if you choose Ahimsa (non-harming), watch if you tend to push too hard in a stretch that may lead to injury. Or, do you find yourself thinking “I’m not as good at this as that person.” Or, “That person thinks they are so hot. What a show-off.” Do you see how these kinds of actions or thoughts lead away from Ahimsa? Next practice, try a different Yama or Niyama to focus on until you have had a practice with all 10.