Building a Regular Ashtanga Yoga Practice

I thought I would share some of the things that have helped me develop my self practice over the years.  Claire wrote a wonderful post about how some yoga is better than no yoga.  I totally agree. Sometimes people feel like they have to do the whole practice and so they end up doing nothing.  A good starting point is to 5 Surya Namaskara A and 5 Sury Namaskara B after you have done that you may feel like doing more and if you have time then go for it, if not simply close the practice with the last 3 positions of closing.  This practice will take approximately 15 minutes and will be a very beneficial way to start your day.

How often you practice is entirely up to you.  You will get benefit from doing yoga just once a week.  In my experience the more often you practice the more you will benefit. I have a daily practice, 6 days a week  which has been very beneficial and has meant that the benefits of yoga come into my daily life and are in fact inseparable from it. The six day a week practice is what is recommended in Ashtanga and is practiced by thousands around the world. However, I realise it may not be possible or even wanted by everyone. Each individual needs to work out what works best for them and their life.

For me the practice of yoga has been incredibly transformative and sometimes my mind puts up its own resistance to that. It will try and find all sorts of excuses to not get on the mat. I’m tired, come on give yourself a break etc. Obviously there are  times that this voice needs listening too. You don’t want to drive your body into the ground, injure it, or make yourself ill. Guidelines for practicing when ill or injured are specific to the injury, illness and individual and should be discussed with your teacher and where appropriate your gp or physiotherapist, etc. Here I am talking about a general tiredness or mental resistance.

So sometimes your mind will say it’s tired but it’s just an excuse or it is partially true and needs listening to to some extent or your completely exhausted and need to rest. The imbetween version where I am tired but can practice happens fairly regularly, my job is physically demanding. I have found the best remedy is to consistently practice, whilst listening to my body. If you practice anything regularly then it is very important you learn to listen to your body and react accordingly, which is best done with the guidance of a teacher. It is important to tune into your body each day and react according to its needs, ignore the ego!

The length of your practice should be something you can easily maintain on a daily basis without it tiring you out in the rest of your life. If you practice consistently you will ache less as long as you practice at an appropriate level. The best way to work this out is to come to a Mysore style class, where the teacher determines the length of the practice for the student. This is gradually built up. The ego tends to want to do more, at least mine does from time to time! A teacher can be a useful external gauge.

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Every practice begins with the first breath – photo by Nata Moraru

How much you should practice at home should be gradually built up even if you are used to practicing for longer in classes a couple of times a week. This should be done at a rate that makes daily practice enjoyable, possible and safe. For individual guidance on how to do this, talk to your teacher.

Another thing that I love about daily practice of ashtanga is that I do the same sequence every day.  So there is no mental negotiation about what to practice or even what pose to stop at.  I just do it.  I also have something that I do consistently in my day with the ever changing fluctuations of my mind and I find that especially useful.  Although some people advocate practicing less when you have less energy etc. I personally have found consistency to be the best advocate for my daily practice, although exceptions obviously have to be made for illness etc. You can only take this approach however if you are consistent. If you take a break from regular practice you have to start with a shorter practice and gradually build up. I guess what I am essentially saying is that I find it easier to practice every day because that’s what I always do and there are no negotiations about what I do, I do my full practice.  If this is difficult for you because of your schedule or priorities then the some yoga is better than no yoga philosophy may work better.  Do something regularly and do more when you can.

Developing a personal practice is a journey and it is something I had to work at rather than something I always had. So how did I get here?  Some things that helped me build to a daily practice are:

  • Planning – Working out when I can fit my practice into my day in advance and sticking to it.
  • Listening to my body, when I wake up I scan my body to see how it feels. When I practice I am continaully doing the same thing.
  • Going to a yoga class. Going to class not only gives me some great feedback to keep me safer during my practice but also helps keep me inspired and motivated to practice. I also find I am more focused in class which I try and bring back to my self practice.
  • Practicing along with a dvd. Obviously you cant see a dvd whilst practicing but having someone talking me through it helps me if I am tired or demotivated.
  • Community -Talking to yoga friends, reading a book, a yoga blog, etc.  Reading about other peoples experiences helps keep me inspired and allows me to look and explore the practice in other ways.
  • Being consistent but flexible. When I have practiced has varied depending on my lifestyle. I currently practice in the mornings but if for some reason I couldn’t, I would just practice later in the day.

I am very grateful and fortunate to be able to practice yoga daily and for all the benefits it has given me. I am particularly grateful to my students who continue to inspire me to delve deeper.

Do you have a regular yoga practice?

What helps you maintain it?

What do you find challenging?

 

About Helen Aldred

Helen Aldred practices and teaches ashtanga yoga in Liverpool. She loves to share and discuss yoga, as well as health and wellbeing. Follow her on twitter and join Ashtanga yoga Liverpool’s Facebook community .

Comments

  1. Knowing what a positive contribution practice makes to my life off the mat is a great motivation for getting on my mat every day.
    The challenges change, at first it’s the physicality of just getting through it, then once the stamina is there it’s about deepening the postures, binding those that at first seemed impossible. Lately for me it’s again become about the physical challenge, as my teacher has added 5 intermediate series postures to my Primary, I’m really feeling it by the time backbends come round.

    More than anything I miss it when I don’t do it, it’s like something is missing from my day.

  2. So I’ve had on off (haha) daily practice for well most the year, main theme that it seems to be bringing up for me. Is my perfectionism and all or nothingness. Like I’m known to dive headlong into things to like extremes expect it all to work perfectly and then when it doesn’t get grumpy and move onto something else that promises a quick fix. So lately daily practice apart from issues such as strength and flexibility has been making me face these patterns of behaviour; whole thing is new expirence and I still don’t really know what works so far, lessening the need for perfection while still doing enough.. Whole lot of confusion, but like a popular teacher said “yoga loves me to much to give up teaching a lesson till I learn it” I’ll let you know if I ever do :-p hoping I just get on with it to be honest 🙂

  3. Ronnie Mukherjee says:

    Hi Helen,

    What are the three closing poses? Am looking to start a daily practice.

    Thanks

    Ronnie

  4. Hi Kev,

    Sorry delayed response. I like what you say, I think the motivation for me changes too. I take whatever helps at that particular phase or even day as I know how beneficial my practice is for me.

    Hi Ronnie,
    Good question. In Ashtanga Yoga there is a closing sequence. The three closing positions which I refer to as the shortest practice you can do are the last three positions in that sequence. These are baddha padmasana, padmasana and uthpluti or tolasana. Do you practice Ashtanga yoga? Good luck with the daily practice, it really is tranformational.

  5. Ronnie Mukherjee says:

    Thanks Helen I will try this, although baddha padmasana looks beyond me as I can’t do the lotus.

    I have dabbled with yoga for a while, and just recently been to a couple of your classes and these have sparked my interest in Ashtanga.

    Thanks

  6. Hi Ronnie,

    I now recognise you from your facebook picture. Baddha padmasana is indeed a challenging pose and beyond the scope of most beginners. Eventually all three of the final positions are done in full lotus, which is challenging for most of us as we have grown up sitting on chairs all our lives which tightens the hips. Fortunately the primary series is very good at opening the hips up. For now, I recommend just doing it with crossed legs or if flexibility allows you could do it in half lotus. It is really unimportant, what matters more is that you focus on your breath and do your practice. These last three positions are all held for 10 breaths.

    If you interested in developing a daily practice. I recommend you try coming to a Mysore style class. This is a self practice class with teacher instruction and adjustment and is the traditional way of learning Ashtanga Yoga. See you soon, Helen.

  7. Hi Martie,
    I have only just seen your message, sorry! Yes yoga is excellent for showing us our patterns. Particularly a daily practice whereby you practice even if you don’t want to. Keep it up!

  8. Hi Helen,

    any recommendations for DVDs? I’ve resisted DVDs for a while because I love that I can practice upstairs with the curtains open, whereas downstairs I’m overlooked so would want to keep them closed. But now I have a laptop that could cope with a DVD, I think it might really help me get back into the routine.
    R x

  9. Hi Ragdoll,

    Suggestions for DVDs is a great idea for a blog post, so I will pop that on my to do list. I have a lot of dvds and use different ones at different times. I use them less frequently now than I did but they can be very useful if you are short on time, motivation or energy.

    I have another post in mind for this week, so to answer your question quickly. I would recommend David Swenson if you wanted to calmly get on with your practice or Kinos if you want to inject some fire into your practice.

  10. David Swenson it is! Thanks x

  11. I’ll have to remember that ‘some yoga is better than no yoga’, I feel so low when I miss class and then getting motivated again becomes really difficult.

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