Why Ashtanga Yoga IS for Beginners

Reading descriptions online about the style of yoga that I practice would lead many to believe that Ashtanga Yoga is only for intermediate to advanced yogis. The current narrative is pretty misleading to the new yogi looking to find a class or style that is right for them.
Sure, Ashtanga does have some advanced asanas that are in the fourth through sixth series, I’ll admit that. I’m here to let you know though, that Ashtanga is great for beginners as well.

History of Ashtanga

Ashtanga can be traced back to the father – or grandfather, depending on how you look at it – of modern yoga, T. Krishnamacharya. He was the teacher of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Indra Devi, to name a few. Pretty much any style of yoga that is taught today can be traced back to Krishnamacharya.
After Krishnamacharya left Mysore, India, Pattabhi Jois taught what would become Ashtanga Yoga until 1973. By that time, Ashtanga had become known throughout India and had been discovered by people in Europe and the U.S. as well. That same year, Guruji (Pattabhi Jois) would be invited to Brazil to teach and do demonstrations. This would be his first trip abroad to teach, and definitely would not be his last.
Throughout the years, Ashtanga has spread across the U.S. and around the world, picking up countless followers and devoted yogis. There are many Ashtangis that made yearly trips to practice with Pattabhi Jois until his passing in 2009. Now, yogis travel to practice and learn from Sharath Jois – Pattabhi’s grandson and current figurehead of Ashtanga.

The Ashtanga Tradition and Teaching Style

Traditional Ashtanga is made up of six series of asanas, increasing in difficulty as you progress through the different series. The series are the primary, intermediate, and the four advanced series. Each series builds upon the last series to prepare you for the next.
Each asana in the different series is designed to build on the last to prepare you for the next asana as well. The Ashtanga system is a set progression that you will do each time you practice. This system is also a great way to develop a home practice.
There are two different teaching methods for the Ashtanga series too. One is the Mysore style class and the other is a more typically led class. The led classes usually focus on the primary series, which are the foundational poses.
The Mysore style class – which are the classes that I attend – is not actively led by the instructor. Instead, you do your practice at your own pace. With Mysore classes, you have a teacher there that comes around for assists and alignment adjustments. The teacher can also give you more personalized instruction and ideas to improve your practice. The teacher will add new asanas as you become more proficient in the previous asanas.
The level of each student’s practice will vary in a Mysore class depending on where they are in their individual practice. It’s not uncommon to see someone working through the primary series next to someone that’s working through one of the advanced series.
Traditionally, the schedule for Ashtanga is typically early morning, but you will find most studios offer classes throughout the day to accommodate everyone. The Ashtanga tradition is a six day a week practice with one day of rest, but that’s something you can work up to if you wish to build your practice gradually.
There are plenty of yogis that maintain a practice of two to four days a week. Another aspect of the tradition is that they follow the cycle of the moon. On moon days, you typically take an extra day of rest as well.


For the Beginners

So – is Ashtanga for the beginner yogi? Absolutely! Whether you’re taking a led class or you choose to do the Mysore style class, beginners will find that the system is for everyone. The teacher will guide you through the primary series and offer adjustments or modifications as needed. It doesn’t matter what your age, body type, or fitness level is – the teacher will work with you so you can get the most out of your practice.
Ashtanga is also a great way to incorporate the meditative side of yoga. By having a set progression throughout the practice, you are able to focus more on the breath. That focus will let you feel out your body and where you are that day. One day you may be able to push yourself further, and the next you may want to back off a little. The meditative aspect of the practice lets you become more in tune with yourself.
The Ashtanga Yoga tradition is great for beginners and seasoned yogis alike. Try a led class or the traditional Mysore style and see for yourself. You may just become addicted like I did . . .

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Chris Amedy

Chris Amedy is a writer, musician, and Buddhist Ashtangi. Through both his Buddhist and Ashtanga practice, he hopes to inspire people to become the best person they can be. He maintains a regular Mysore practice, a full-time job and writes regularly while saving for teacher training. You can check him out on his blog: ripplesintheuniverse.com


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