Liberation from the Gym: The Magic of Ashtanga Yoga

“Practice and all is coming.”
-Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga Guru)
Ashtanga yoga is the closest feeling to being HOME that I have ever experienced. This challenging yet infinitely rewarding style of yoga has changed my life in so many unforeseen ways for the last eighteen years and continues to do so every time I step on my yoga mat.

I began ashtanga yoga while working as an exercise physiologist and a personal trainer in 1997. I had been practicing more gentle styles of yoga for two years previously and was making very little progress in my practice. Fifteen years of compulsive cardiovascular and weight training exercise had left my body and my being, in what I now feel was a crippled state of existence. I had created so many imbalances in my body from conventional exercise and was paying the price of tight muscles, injured knees and an unfulfilled sense of Self. Therefore, I took a great leap into the unknown and let go of my controlling mind, which had dictated my exercise behavior for half my life and decided to do a pilot study on myself, by just practicing Ashtanga yoga, without any other form of exercise for one month. After all, if I was going to exercise for two hours a day, I wanted to be doing something I enjoyed and was meaningful to my personal and spiritual growth. In that defining moment I was liberated from my previous gym mentality, which was the best choice I have ever made concerning my health and longevity. I haven’t been to a gym since 1999!

As a health professional, I whole-heartedly believe that Ashtanga yoga is the most effective and thorough form of yoga, exercise, weight management, addiction recovery, physical therapy and psychotherapy. It truly is magical! On the physical level, Ashtanga yoga has made me feel like a little kid again. I feel stronger and more flexible in my 40’s than I ever have in my life. Years of conventional exercise had left my body in a bulky shape, that made me unrecognizable to myself. Ashtanga yoga has reinstated my body to its’ natural shape, with longer, leaner and more flexible muscles. Oh the joy of being free from a tight body! Ashtanga yoga uses your body weight as resistance, very similar to gymnastics, so your entire body is working synergistically; using muscles you never knew you had, making you equally strong and flexible throughout your body.

Ashtanga yoga continuously flows in a vinyasa style of movement, from one pose to the next, making the system a moving meditation, or prayer in motion. Once your body becomes familiar with the set series of sequential poses, you feel like you are truly channeling thru the Ashtanga system, instead of struggling. This is mainly due to the utilization of deep Ujjayi breath and the energy locks, called bandhas. The breath and bandhas help you connect to Spirit and tap into to your energy body, so you are working your practice, from the inside out. In time, your practice will appear more effortless than muscular; allowing you to do poses you never dreamed possible! In my yoga teaching I am a huge proponent of encouraging students to step out of the box of their comfort zone. My intention and hope is that they will then take the internal power cultivated on their yoga mat and apply it to their personal lives, allowing them to live their life with less fear and more courage and self-esteem.

On an emotional and spiritual level, Ashtanga yoga has helped deepen my connection to myself and to God which has given me the strength and insight to make the following positive changes in my life: opening Maya Yoga solo, after my first studio burned down, became vegan, lost 10 lbs, moved to Los Angeles to find my husband, thank goodness it worked (met him IN an asthanga class!), quit drinking alcohol and a 20 year coffee/caffeine addiction and initiated contact with my biological parents, whew! Most importantly, Ashtanga yoga helped give me absolute faith in God’s will for my life. It has also helped me deal with life’s challenges like the unexpected death of my father, who just didn’t wake up on Easter morning.

Ashtanga yoga has been a major life line in my life. I’m afraid of where I would be today without this transformative practice that continues to feed my soul and my life daily. I believe Ashtanga yoga was designed to be initially unattainable, with the positive intention of bringing you back to the mat daily, helping you to GROW in your practice and in your life. It is a discipline and commitment to getting honest with your Self and the GOD of your knowing.

Ashtanga Yoga Compared to Other Styles of Yoga

Styles of Yoga:
Hatha – Physical (Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Bikram, Iyengar, Sivananda, Viniyoga, Kripalu)
Raja – Mental
Bhakti – Devotional
Kundalini – Energy
Karma – Selfless Service
Jana – Knowledge

Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga continuously flow from one posture to the next, in a vinyasa style of movement. This style of movement helps increase the efficiency of the cardiovascular and respiratory system, giving the practice an “aerobic” quality.Other styles of hatha yoga, like Iyengar yoga and Bikram Yoga (Hot yoga), traditionally do not flow from one pose to the next, and use more of a stop start form of movement.
Ashtanga yoga holds most postures 5-7 deep breaths, with the exception of a few postures, which are held longer.Other styles of hatha yoga tend to hold postures longer than 5-7 breaths.
Ashtanga yoga primarily focuses on the invisible or internal aspect of the practice, the deep ujjayi breath and energy locks called bandhas, adding a strong element of kundalini yoga (energy) to the practice.Keep in mind that one of the many definitions of yoga states: “Yoga is the CESSATION of the fluctuations of the mind.” -Patajali’s Yoga Sutras.
Therefore, yoga is not about adding more chatter to the mind.

Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga produce an INTERNAL heat thru the utilization of vinyasa movement, ujjayi breath and the bandhas, which help to detoxify the body from the inside out. This internal fire (agni) purifies the internal organs and increases metabolism, thyroid function and muscular strength, flexibility and endurance. This fire also acts as a spiritual fire to help clear the mind and body of any stress, tension and fear based thought patterns, allowing for a more peaceful sense of well-being, on and off the mat.Bikram yoga (Hot Yoga) uses EXTERNAL heat in its’ system of yoga.
Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga have a strong emphasis on increasing upper body and core strength continuously throughout the class, more than other styles of hatha yoga.
Ashtanga, Sivananda and Bikram Yoga are all SYSTEMS of yoga, which utilize a SET series of postures in a sequential order. Vinyasa yoga does not use a set series of postures, therefore the practitioner does not know which pose is next in the sequence, which can add a sense of variety to the practice.
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