First Months

  • Asana Practice

    Once you have practiced the Surya Namaskars and can remember the order doing 5 of each without stopping,  it is time to start building the sandwich. You are ready to learn the Standing poses.  A teacher will tell you how far to go, but generally you will start with the first two or three poses in a lesson to practice for a week.  The next time another one or two might be added until eventually you will go from Padangusthasana (forward fold) to Virabhidrasana 2 (Warrior 2). I’ve listed these poses below in orange.   Again, it is important to pay attention when to inhale and exhale.  Each of the standing poses is held for 5 “ujjaiyi” breaths. (See links in Resource section below.)

    You will also begin to add more poses to the closing sequence.  I’ve listed new closing poses to add in pink.

    1. Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salute A), 5 in a row
    2. Surya Namaskar B (Sun Salute B), 5 in a row
    3. Padangusthasana and Padahastasana
    4. Utthita Tikonasana and Parivritta Trikonasana
    5. Utthita Parshvakonasana and Parivritta Pashvakonasan
    6. Prasarita Padottanasana A,B,C and D
    7. Parshvottanasana
    8. Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana A,B,C and D
    9. Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana
    10. Utkatasana
    11. Virabhadrasana A and B
    12. Bridge Prep sequence
    13. Salamba Sarvangasana
    14. Halasana
    15. Karna Pidansana
    16. Matsyasana (with straight legs)
    17. Shirsasan Prep sequence
    18. Yoga Mudra,  8 slow breaths
    19. Padmasana, 10 very deep, slow inhales and exhales.
    20. Tolasana (also called Uplitihi), hold for 10 breaths
    21. Shavasana, rest for 10 or more minutes to end your practice

    When you can add all those parts to the sandwich, it is time to move on.  This will likely take many months of practice both to memorize as well as have changes in your body to have physical access.

  • Opening Chant -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Also called the “invocation”… In ashtanga, you typically begin class (or *Mysore practice) as a group standing at the top of your mat.  The teacher will cue to say the opening chant after you take a collective inhale and “om”.

    Why do this?  I like one reason my teacher told me: it connects you into the energy of all others in the world who, at that moment, are also practicing.

    It is also typical in a Mysore practice to see individuals stand at the beginning of their individual practice and silently repeat the invocation.  I do this even when I am alone practicing at home.

    After I had done this for a while (several months) I noticed my body automatically lining itself up.  It’s kinda weird and cool: my hips, spine, chest, shoulders, neck and head find alignment in a way that goes beyond telling myself to “stand up straight”.  I’m tellin’ ya, it’s really worth adding this to your practice.  It’s like a free bonus.

    Here are some links to videos that can help you memorize and understand it. ————–

    This is the classic with K. Patabi Jois saying it call and response style with Sharath, his grandson, repeating it.  This is the most reliable pronunciation if that is important to you.   There is a little extra at the end.  The traditional chant ends at 46 seconds.     https://youtu.be/TotruQmxZPk

    This is an article that gives explanation and thorough translation of the chant. One thing I would add to her first line translation is that “the great Guru” could be whatever or whoever you understand God to be for you.  For me, the opening chant is a prayer to MY God as well as gratitude He lead me to teachers who have passed this practice along including Patanjali (the last word of the chant) who first wrote down the Yoga Sutras.  For me, it’s all about gratitude. https://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/10/the-ashtanga-opening-chant-melanie-cooper/

    This is a long tutorial with the words on the screen as you hear it and many, many repeats.  It is taken from  a video of KPJ teaching a class demo.  https://youtu.be/SrQKrt5Ji5U

    This is a song that repeats the opening chant that might like.  https://youtu.be/eO8qATYNHPg

    If this is not enough for you, just google “ashtanga yoga opening chant” and find what works for you.
    *Mysore style is a setting where people come “open house” style within a range of time (usually about 2 hours) and do their individual practice at their own pace.  The teacher is there to help each person learn what to do next to advance their practice.

Resources


Asana Video Instruction

  • David Swensen

    In this video David talks about ujjayi breath as well as Bandhas which has to do with the posture we need to learn to maintain in all poses.

    His book is also super helpful called Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual

  • Kino McGregor

    In this video Kino gives her take on Ujjayi breathing.

    In this video, Kino leads a class through the Surya Namaskars, all the standing poses and the last part of closing (the ones in black on the list above.)  It might be useful to you to see how these poses look different from person to person.

  • Standing Series Video by Finlay Wilson

    Here is a link to a video that shows each of the standing poses as listed in orange above. Most people need to modify the poses.  That’s where David Swensen’s book is a good resource.  He gives a variety of modifications that are accessible to many bodies for each pose.  That is also why you work with a teacher who can teach you appropriate modification.

    NOTE: Always begin with the Sury Namaskars before attempting any of these poses.

  • Here’s a link to cheat sheets that could be helpful.  

    Remember that the goal is to memorize the series, so try to think of the next pose before you look at cheat sheets.

Yoga Music, Books and Other Written Material

  • 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

    Here’s a link to a free online pdf of the Yoga Sutras.

     

    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

    If you studied the Niyamas you might remember the 4th one, Svadhyaya, refers to self study and the study of sacred texts. Hopefully you already have a practice of studying a text that is sacred to you (like the Bible for example.)  Don’t stop that study, but challenge yourself to add the Yoga Sutra.  It is not a religious text (although some Religions use it).  I was surprised how practical it is.  To me, it is more like reading a fascinating psychology book, and it helps me to study myself in a new way.  Here is a free, online pdf that I have enjoyed using.   This version is straight forward with little commentary.  You can find many translations and commentaries on the Yoga Sutra with a Google search.

  • Ashtanga Yoga Limbs 4, 5 and 6

    The next three limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are

    • Pranayama- Mindful Breathing
    • Pratyahara- Turning the senses inward
    • Dharana- Concentration

    These are all practiced during Asana practice.  Listen to your breath more as you learn more of the practice, that’s Pranayama.  You are also doing Pranyama each time you do the second to last pose, Padmasana, with the 10 deep, slow inhales and exhales.  If you want to learn more Pranayama, ask your teacher about it.

    The time I think most about Pratyahara during Asana practice is when I am in Shavasana (rest at the end), especially if there is noise when I’m home and my kids are in the next room.  Can I pull my senses in and focus on myself instead of them?  Obviously, this is a very useful practice in life off the mat too.

    When you first learn yoga, there might be a lot of talking and instruction.  As the practice is memorized, it is ideal to practice in silence and use Dharana- concentration (focus), through the practice.  Can you stay with your Asana practice without letting your mind wander off the mat?