Ashtanga Yoga - Same Is Not The Same
Ashtanga Yoga Mysore Practice may appear to be a boring and repetitive routine; however, the same practice is never the same each time I step on my mat. This is one of many reasons I love Ashtanga.
As much as I like Ashtanga yoga, it may not be everyone. Although all levels are welcome to Ashtanga, the intensity and discipline can be intimidating and push or scare some people away. Being an Ashtangi, you are supposed to do the same postures in the same order every day except for Saturdays and Moon days. You are also not allowed to do any pose that is not given to you by your teacher. Those who prefer free flow vinyasa yoga most likely won't enjoy Ashtanga due to it rigidity. I was one of them when I first started yoga. After four years of the practice, more and more friends got into Ashtanga and I decided to give it a shot. I kept an open mind and signed up a six-week long Moving Into Mysore workshop in 2014 (the class was only held on Sunday afternoon, but I practiced at least three days a week). Since then, I am hooked to Ashtanga, especially the method and discipline.
The practice seems to be the same every day. By paying more attention to the body and listening closely to the breath, the same posture and sequence are never the same. The same Surya Namaskar A I do at the beginning of the practice never changes (ekam - inhale, dwe - exhale), yet it's not the same each time I do it. The length of my breath is different. Certain days I feel more grounded and my breaths are longer; while other days I breathe shallower. The tightness / openness of my body varies each day. There are days I feel super open, but other days my body is sore and tight, especially the day after the weight lifting. Also, I may feel more energetic one day but tired the next day. There is no way to expect practice to be the same everyday. Forget about fluctuations of the physical body and the mental state. With a consistent practice, shouldn't we be making progress over time? The "PROGRESS" is "THE DIFFERENCE." For example, I change the technique of jump backing to chaturanga and jumping forward from adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) to ardha uttanasana (standing half forward bend) from time to time depending on what I want to work on. My practice is constantly changing and evolving. There are many ways to get in and out of the pose and how / what I engage in the pose. Since postures and sequences are fixed in Ashtanga, I can focus more on "techniques" and "breathes" rather than on coming up with the sequence.
It is the samo Kapotasana, but there are endless ways to practice it.
I have been putting lots of effort on kapotasana for the past two years. I am not trying to achieve an end goal or perfect the pose if there is such thing called perfect. I simply want to work on things I am not good at and enjoy the journey. The pose, kapotasana, has always been the same. It is a deep backbend posture in the intermediate series; however, my experience in the pose constantly changes.
Pictures above document my journey of kapotasana. The pose I am in, kapotasana, is the same, but the experiences and expressions aren't. The most obvious difference is that I've made a lot of progress over time from barely touching my toes with the hands to catching the heels. It is very rewarding seeing the progress I've made in two years, but that's not all. I witness differences and fluctuations of the breath, the mind and the body every time I am in this asana. Backbends stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, fight or flight response, resulting in a shallow and fast breath. Sometimes, I even catch yourself holding the breath. It is also important to "watch" what is going through with my mind in a such uncomfortable or challenging position. Regardless what I experience, my inner voice constantly reminds me to breathe and tells me that everything is okay. Physical asana practice itself is fun and challenging, but what keeps me going is the self awareness and the mind-body connection that I experience.
Let's look at two different approaches using the wall to get into kapotasana.
The first video was taken in Sept 2017 when I just started practicing kapotasana. My shoulders weren't as open as they are today. Using the wall is a great approach to open the shoulders and to get deeper in to the posture.
The second video was taken in Sept 2019, two years after the first video. Lots of progresses are made in two year. I modify the practice accordingly to target the area I need to work on. You may notice that I stay (kneel) much closer to the wall. The distance is about the length of my forearm when catching the heel. The concept of this drill is similar to the previous one. Instead of walking hands down, I walk the elbows down until the hands catch the heels. My wrists / lower forearms are set on either side of the head to keep my hands apart. This position helps me to catch the heels easier. It also allows me to keep the elbows in.
Don't stop practicing. The samo postures in Ashtanga yoga may seem to be repetitive, but it is that repetition helps me to grow and progress. Don't let the SAME fool you.
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