Top 10 Reasons Why Ashtanga Is the Hardest Yoga Practice. ~ Karmela Lejarde

Via on Oct 21, 2011

I was gonna write a narrative about this very topic, but I decided to create a list instead. More to the point, no? Anyway, for all you Ashtangis out there, see if you agree with me. The top 10 reasons why Ashtanga is the most badass of all the yoga practices out there are:

  1. The tradition of early morning practice. As in 6 am or even earlier. Whose body can stretch and bend at that hour? Ashtangis, that’s who! Except for me, of course. Not only is my mind completely mush at that hour of the day, but my body is as stiff as a pencil. I can barely touch my toes, let alone go into Kurmasana.
  2. Mysore class. Not, not “my sore.” Mysore. As in the practice of individual group-practice. Say what? It’s when you perform an Ashtanga series on your own pace in a group setting. Sounds confusing? Wait til you actually walk into a Mysore class. It’s intimidating as all hell for a first-timer. Everyone seems to know what they’re doing, flowing from one pose to another all on their own without the teacher calling out any sequence. Meanwhile you can even barely remember what comes after downward facing dog in the sun salutes.
  3. Bhujapidasana to Tittibhasana to BakasanaYou’re like, bhujamawatshis?  In the primary series (a.k.a. the “starter” series in Ashtanga) there’s a pose called Bhujapidasana, or the arm-pressure pose. Depending on your own talents, this is one of the hardest poses in the primary series because (a) it’s an arm balance, (b) you’re supposed to jump into the pose, and (c) you’re supposed to exit out of the pose in a very specific way. I know, right?
  4. The length of the series. I’ve never really counted how many poses their are in the primary series but that shit is LONG. Someone actually listed out the whole thing. See how intimidating it is? The first 18 poses are the standing series, and the last 14 is the finishing sequence. Technically only the middle part is the primary series. But you’re supposed to do all three parts during your practice. And no skipping either! One of my favorite teachers said one time that each pose preps you for the next, so you shouldn’t skip.
  5. The repetition. So you’re in a 6 am Mysore class doing the primary series. Again. And again. That’s what your practice is today, which is what it was yesterday and what it will be tomorrow. Could get boring, no?
  6. The tradition of self-practice. Yep, they want you to do this on your own since each series is a set sequence. There’s no reason you can’t really, except for your own laziness, that is.
  7. The freakishly long chant. Uh huh, they expect you to memorize an eight-line chant in another language! I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning. But that’s not it. There’s also a CLOSING chant! That one’s only four lines long. But that’s a total of TWELVE LINES in Sanskrit!
  8. The jump-backs and jump throughs. Yeah, you were waiting for this one, weren’t you?  A lot of people hate it. Me, I actually love this aspect of the primary series. Except it ruins my pedicures.
  9. The tradition of daily practice. Yep, I said DAILY. As in they want you to do this everyday. The longest I’ve been able to do is a week. Yeah, you can call me on it, my lack of discipline.
  10. Supta Kurmasana. Yeah, right.

CLARIFICATION: I am not an Ashtanga hater! Far from it, actually. I’ve expressed my love and devotion to the practice right in this here ye blog, you dig? This post is just for all you out there wondering why Ashtanga has that reputation of being the hardest. It’s the practice that gave birth to vinyasa-style and power yoga. Plus, well, it’s just butt-kicking AWESOME.

Photo credit: Kurmasana

Karmela Lejarde — novelist, dance teacher, mediocre piano player for a 90s tribute band, and mom to two dancer/athletes — originally shunned yoga as “something old people did.” Then she discovered power vinyasa, specifically ashtanga, and life was never the same after that. She self-practices the primary series most every day despite a mere 6 hours a night of sleep, a full working mom schedule, and the confounding challenge that is supta kurmasana.

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16 Responses to “Top 10 Reasons Why Ashtanga Is the Hardest Yoga Practice. ~ Karmela Lejarde”

  1. Thaddeus1 says:

    Thanks for offering us this glimpse. Love it or hate it, there is no denying that ashtanga is a powerfully transformative experience. As I've often heard it said, "when the practice doesn't change, you have to."

    Just posted to Elephant Ashtanga

  2. Valerie Carruthers says:

    Ain't it the truth. Especially when some days your practice flows like a river and others it's like beating your head against a wall. And it's not just the newbies. As none less than uber Ashtangi David Swenson has said, "Some days your body feels like water. Other days it's like wet cement." Love ya, oh sister Elephant Yoga writer.

  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    You know I love this, Karmela. So glad to have you! Let's do more! :-)

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  4. [...] top 10 reasons why ashtanga is the hardest practice by karmela lejarde The top 10 reasons why Ashtanga is the most badass of all the yoga practices out there are: [...]

  5. kelly steele says:

    I am as" high maintenance" as they get , spending years in Mysore, India..my pedicure never once entered the picture, in terms of being concerned to ruin it? Being a mother or good at my career, a good friend or spouse…none of these are about convenience and lack of commitment. Being intimidating is based on one's own perception. I have personally witnessed a woman without legs complete the whole first series, another with a partial hand complete second, another who just lost her husband and another who lost her baby, hit the mat , one man who lost half his colon to cancer has the most beautiful practice . Ashtanga like life is not for the faint of heart. Anyone can do it. "just not lazy people" as Sharath says or apparently those worried about the paint on their toes. All the asanas are possible. 99 % practice and 1 % theory.

  6. Claudia says:

    Hm, a different take…. I actually wrote 7 Reasons Why It Is NOT Hard… http://earthyogi.blogspot.com/2011/04/7-reasons-w…. Another view

  7. Paalu says:

    Beautiful. The more difficult it gets, the more people want to practice it. Just forgot something in the lists. The ecstacy that comes after the practice.

  8. [...] Top 10 Reasons Why Ashtanga Is the Hardest Yoga Practice. ~ Karmela Lejarde [...]

  9. John says:

    I don't judge how "hard" a yoga practice is by the physical nature of it… but that's just me.

  10. [...] is a key feature of the Asthanga system in that you do the same poses every day, only occasionally “getting” a new [...]

  11. [...] are a rough bunch. Sometimes lovingly referred to as “fun-haters” by others in the yoga community, Ashtangis adhere… The word Ashtanga itself means “eight limbs,” of which asana (the poses) is only [...]

  12. Claudia says:

    That is a question I come accross right now, and always. For example, right now, I cannot drop back. I am VERY scared of hitting the head on the floor…

    The answer coming from the teachers (Sharath in particular for this one) is always the same: "do your practice all is coming", can't do a pose? do your practice, bad hair day? do your practice, girfriend wont talk to you? do your practice. He actually said those in conference in Mysore earlier this year.

    Specifically to your question: There are no goals, you do what you can. You keep practicing :-)

    The wisdom in this, as I see it, is that by surrendering to doing the practice the answers come, the openings happen, there is beauty in it, in the daily ritual, in the discipline.

    By 'do your practice' it is not just meant that you do the asana by the way, it also means you are kind to others, etc etc… observe the other limbs, learn about them, get deeper.

  13. Claudia says:

    Yes, it feels exactly like that !

    And I agree, everyone should find their own style on their own, what resonates with each individual. Absolutely

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