FAQ’s and Concerns about Ashtanga Yoga

Can I practice Ashtanga Yoga? I feel intimidated, and I’ve heard its hard!

Ashtanga Yoga can be enjoyed by nearly anyone. There is no other place to start but at the beginning. Be curious and courageous. Open the door. Find a spot on the floor that feels good to you and claim your space. Roll out your mat. It is not an uncommon experience to be overtaken by anxiety or feel intimidated by the thought of walking into a room of people who all seem to know exactly what they are doing. But everyone in the room has stood where you stand, at the beginning, at the first inhale no matter how advanced their practice may be. Just know that hundreds of thousands of people have learned Ashtanga Yoga in this way. The teacher works with you directly during class to find a way of practicing that is therapeutic for you.

What will my first class be like?
When you arrive for your first Mysore class you will be asked to simply observe the room for a bit, many of your questions will be answered just by watching the dynamics of a Mysore room. The teacher will give you a break down of how it all works and will answer any questions that still remain. You will be taught both the beginning and closing sequence of the practice, these are the bookends of Ashtanga Yoga and will remain a constant; it is the middle of the practice that evolves with time. For the first few weeks practices will last about 45 minutes. Learning Ashtanga Yoga requires a commitment from both the student and the teacher. Because the practice is taught individually within a group setting the teacher will be working with you a lot in the beginning until you begin to memorize the practice. It is a method that is simple, intelligent and precise. Each time you come to the mat, you are participating in this lineage.

Do I need to be flexible?

You don’t need to be flexible to begin practicing. The teacher can show you modifications no matter your level. Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic practice and the heat created will help muscles stretch. With a regular practice, little by little you will not only gain flexibility, but also strength and endurance. This makes the practice accessible to all ages of practitioners.

Are the teachers strict?

They can be firm as the practice is a discipline. Each pose is individually taught not only according to tradition but also to meet your specific physical needs and ability level. You develop your own practice and work at your own breath rate, after all, it is a breathing exercise. Ashtanga Yoga is a method of practice, not a style. It’s a system that is organized with sequencing that hasn’t really changed for a century. Ashtanga teachers will have their individual style of teaching but they’re teaching the same method, so wherever you go in the world, it will be similar. Ashtanga Yoga is not mainly about the teachers charm and personality; it will stand and continue with or without them.

How often should I practice?
The yoga works best when it becomes a part of your daily life.
Traditionally Ashtanga Yoga is practiced six days a week, Sunday-Friday, except for days when the moon is full or the moon is new and ladies holidays. (Traditionally the first 72 hours of her menstrual cycle) Although this approach to practice is recommended, it is not mandatory. It may be very difficult at first to commit to a daily practice, and it often takes time to establish this.  If you cannot commit to daily practice, practice at regular intervals such as Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday. Do as much as you can as often as possible.

Do I Have to Remember All the Poses?
Given consistent effort, you will very quickly learn the sequence.
Learning the correct sequence of poses is to participate in the Ashtanga tradition. It’s also a profound way to take charge of your own yoga practice. You are encouraged to study print-outs of the sequence (a.k.a. “cheat sheets”) at home. Everyone, including the teacher, has learned the sequence, addressed the uncertainty, and faced the not knowing, just as you might be.

How do I progress further?
Because Ashtanga Yoga is comprised of set sequences of postures, and the practice is self guided, students are encouraged to take responsibility for both their practice, and their relationship to it. It takes some time to memorize the postures and to be able to practice them with some proficiency. In the beginning you may feel like you are doing less than you are physically capable of, but it is best to let the practice unfold gradually over time. Everyone progresses at a different pace. Each pose prepares the body for the next pose therefore each student practices up to the posture that is appropriate for their experience and physical capacity, and then they move to finishing postures. In this way, injury is avoided as the body is given time to adapt. This process requires and nurtures patience and steadfastness. The teacher tailors adjustments as well as physical assistance to each person. In this way, each student is met where they are at each moment.
I’ve heard Ashtanga teachers do a lot of physical adjustments.
Much (but not all) of the teaching that happens in a Mysore room is done through manual adjustments. This means the teacher guides you into or out of a pose in a hands on way. This allows the student to bypass the thinking mind and to experience the yoga within their body. Over time and consistent practice, skillful physical adjustments awaken the intelligence of the body. Please speak to the teacher if you do not want to be manually adjusted, or only adjusted in a specific way.

Is there chanting? Is it religious?
The opening mantra acknowledges the lineage of the tradition of Ashtanga Yoga. It prepares the space, the body and the mind and is a dedication to our teachers and our teachers teachers. The closing mantra seals in the practice, an aspiration that all beings be free from suffering. Chanting is not mandatory but it is lovely and has nothing at all to do with religion.

What type of music do you play during Ashtanga?
Since Ashtanga Yoga is fundamentally a breathing exercise, there is no music during practice. There is a natural rhythm in the practice itself that creates the conditions for deep levels of concentration.

What Should I Wear?

Wear clean comfortable clothes. Deodorants and scented oils are okay, just don’t bathe in them. If you have to ask if you’re wearing too much, then you’re wearing too much. Please bring a small towel for yourself.

Should I Eat Before Class?
Try not to eat or drink anything (except water) before practicing. Over time, you’ll figure out what and how to best serve your unique nutrition needs. Do make sure you are hydrated before practice and avoid drinking water during class. This cools the heat and breaks the rhythm!