Michelle and Ashtanga: Her Journey

Do your practice and all is coming.

K. Pattabhi Jois

My first experience with Ashtanga yoga was, well, like most, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I’ll give it a try and to be honest I found it really, really difficult. I found it immensely challenging because many of the poses in the practice, my body’s not skeletally structured for.
But there was something about the rhythm and the movement of the breath and the precision and purpose of the practice that I fell in love with. For someone who doesn’t have the right structure biomechanically for Ashtanga yoga, I still embraced the challenge and I always welcomed the personal growth that comes from doing something that you’re not naturally good at. So essentially my first Ashtanga experience was a love-hate relationship.

It wasn’t something that came easily, but I also loved it for that, and I loved the opportunity to stretch myself (sorry about the pun!) in a way that didn’t come effortlessly, and I could get a tremendous amount of growth. Even though it didn’t always reflect in the way that I was practising or expressing my body, it reflected in my humility. There was a lot of having to ‘let go of the ego’ and a lot of having to accept where I was at. The practice truly taught me to let go and to practice ultimate acceptance of where I am, which is one of Patanjali’s teachings is to accept myself.

Ashtanga has given me the foundation of vinyasa flow (did you know Ashtanga is the mother of vinyasa flow?) and I love the precision of the Vinyasa Krama (see this post for more), that wise progression of moving with the breath with purpose, with precision and with high awareness.
It creates a massive amount of power for the practitioner. I feel like Ashtanga is a super ‘clean’ practice. It’s precise. It’s biomechanical. It’s logical. It has inspired the way that I teach now.

This is fundamental to how I also train all new yoga teachers because I think it’s essential for all modern day vinyasa teachers to understand the roots of where modern vinyasa comes from. To know that it is a breakaway from Ashtanga, that vinyasa is made up of the rebels of Ashtanga, that didn’t want to conform to the set sequence each time. But I think it’s essential for people to understand where vinyasa, this movement with the breath, traditionally came from and to dip their toes in it and to have this incredible depth of systematic experience.

I love Ashtanga yoga for that very reason because it’s honouring tradition and it’s a beautiful cleansing practice. I think it really does focus the mind and once you learn the sequence by heart, what I love about it is you can essentially let go of your mind and lose yourself in this rhythm of movement, especially when it’s not geared around mastering the next posture, but rather about being present.

I love Ashtanga yoga because it’s always the same every single day; the only thing that is changing is you, not the poses, not the music, not the teacher.
It’s you.

So for me, this practice is the best mirror we have to see where we’re genuinely at, not the one that’s in your bathroom or your bedroom, it’s this practice of doing Ashtanga yoga. Doing the same sequence every single day, you get to see where you’re really at. You get to see, some days you feel light, some days you feel heavy, some days you feel strong, some days you feel weak. Some days your mind is busy. Other days, the mind is quiet. Sometimes the breath is good. Sometimes the breath is not so good. But Ashtanga itself is neutral; it’s the same. So we are the element of change, and that’s an excellent opportunity for self-reflection and inquiry.

Michelle’s tips for an Ashtanga beginner:

  • You will be humbled! Ashtanga yoga isn’t supposed to be easy, and it isn’t. Part of the lesson in this practice is that you will fail (a lot!) and that’s okay, you just need to keep practising. Especially as a beginner, you may feel overwhelmed in your first practice (or your tenth… or fiftieth!), but things will start to make more sense after a time. Have patience and keep coming back to your mat.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Traditionally in the Ashtanga practice, you are given more poses as you master each of them. But “collecting” poses is not the point! It’s the challenges that the poses give you that are your greatest teachers. Consider that the further you advance through the sequence, the further you need to travel each time to find your “edge”. As a beginner, your edge is much closer so you won’t need to journey to the more intense poses to find it.
  • Keep breathing! No matter the pose you find yourself in, know that it is only there as an opportunity to breathe. Once you lose the breath, you’re no longer doing the work. If you need to pull back a little to keep a full and consistent breath, do so.

Ready to dive into Ashtanga?

Join me on a 5-day Ashtanga intensive to discover what Ashtanga can show you about yourself!

3-7th June 2019 | 5.30am – 7am | Monday – Friday | Tallebudgera Valley Studio

Cost $100 for the whole week or $20 a day

To reserve your spot, pop into the studio, call 07 5526 6600 or click here.