If you're a runner, cyclist, skier, rider, climber, swimmer, or have a Type A, high-energy, can't-sit-still kind of personality, sign yourself up for Ashtanga yoga. This type of yoga is challenging, quick-paced, and just the thing to open your tight hamstrings, hips, and shoulders. Before heading to your first class, here are some things you should know.
I'm not talking Bikram-yoga hot, but it's pretty darn hot. Most studios turn on the heat, so expect to be in a room that's about 80 to 90 degrees. This means you'll probably get pretty sweaty, so it's best to wear long pants to absorb your sweat and to prevent drips of sweat from puddling on your mat, making it dangerously slick. Pants will also add traction for poses where you're touching your legs, as in Crow, so you don't slip out of the pose and hurt yourself. A rug or yoga towel placed on your regular sticky mat is also a must. You might want to bring a hand towel to class as well to wipe the perspiration off your face and arms.
Depending on how strict the instructor is, they might encourage you not to drink water during the practice, since you're working so hard to build the fire inside you, and the water will "put the fire out." So make sure you drink throughout the day before you practice to prevent dehydration.
Ashtanga yoga has been taught by the late Pattabhi Jois since 1948, and it involves a set sequence of poses that a practitioner follows in the exact same order every time. Most studios offer Primary Series or Intermediate Series classes. Most ashtanga yogis are practicing Primary Series, which follows this sequence: Five Sun Salutation As, Five Sun Salutation Bs, the Standing Sequence, the Primary Series (Seated Postures), and the Closing Sequence. The beauty of the repetition is that since each class is the same, you can visit any studio in the world, and you'll be able to do the exact same class you do at home. Or once you memorize the sequence, you can practice on your own at home. Some people love the repetition since it can act as a form of moving meditation, while others may see it as boring.
The Instructor Doesn't Usually Demonstrate, and Probably Will Touch You
If you're not a touchy-feely person, it might shock you when you show up to an Ashtanga class and the instructor sits on you in a Seated Forward Bend. Ashtanga teachers spend a tremendous amount of time learning what's called "assists," where they press, pull, and twist your body to help you get deeper into postures. If the instructor has magical hands and experience, these assists will feel amazing, and they might be the reason you keep coming back. On the other hand, some instructors can be a little too aggressive on the assisting front and push you deeper than your body was made to go, causing injuries. Know that you have every right to request that the instructor not assist you. Just politely tell them at the beginning of class or the first time they approach you.
It's Fast-Paced With a Lot of Movement
An Ashtanga class always starts out with 10 Sun Salutations to warm you up, and once you hit the seated postures, you're doing what's called vinyasas (mini Sun Salutations) between each posture. This keeps your body warm, which enables you to get deeper into poses. Vinyasas are the link between postures that make this type of yoga more like a fluid dance, and the constant moving not only works your muscles but also helps to quiet your mind.
It's Quiet, Yet Loud
There's no music and no talking amongst practitioners, but what you will hear is the instructor calling out names of poses (usually in Sanskrit) and the unmistakable sound of the hissing ujjayi breath. It's an audible, even breath you create by bringing your breath into the back of your throat, and hearing it helps you connect your movements with each inhale and exhalation.
You might hear your teacher mention your bandhas, and what they're referring to are the two main "locks" or "seals" you hold: mula bandha is the anal lock, and uddiyana bandha is the lower abdominal lock. The first one is like a kegel, where you engage your pelvic floor. It's the muscles you'd use if you were urinating and someone walked in on you and you suddenly needed to stop. The second bandha is all about engaging your lower abs, drawing your naval toward your spine. Ideally you're supposed to hold these two locks throughout the entire practice to encourage energy to flow upward through your nadis (energy channels).
It's All About Forward Bends
Primary Series is all about different variations of folding in half, whether you're standing or sitting down. That means it's a great complement to other types of exercise where you tend to have tight hamstrings or a lower back. This also means you need to be careful and not let your competitive nature cause you to push too hard and pull a hammy.
Mysore Style Classes Aren't the Best Option If You're New to Ashtanga
This style of Ashtanga yoga is self-led. You walk into a quiet room, lay out your mat, and work your way through the 90-minute practice without any instructor telling you which poses to do. You need to have memorized the sequence, and as you go from pose to pose, the instructor assists you.
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