As an instructor and student of yoga, I know that people come to yoga for many different reasons.
Some are drawn to the physical aspects of the practice, some for the spiritual element and others for a mixture of both. My personal belief is that those who get the most from it, even if they fall into the first category, also get some sort of emotional fulfillment from it. That fulfillment doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. In my own classes, I often say that if a student leaves feeling better than when they left, I have done my job.
My own personal practice is primarily Ashtanga yoga. I make no bones about it—that it is the style I have practiced the longest and love the best.
Over the years, I have seen a lot of classic Type A personalities try Ashtanga. Usually, it comes after a recommendation from taking a beginner class. An instructor may say, “You seem driven and focused. Ashtanga might be a good fit for you.” Sometimes it is, but I have seen many of those Type As really get into it, then quit, because it wasn’t going fast enough for them or they weren’t mastering the poses as quickly as they wanted to.
That is one of the ironies of Ashtanga: it is a fast-paced practice, but it is not one that most people are going to move quickly through.
It isn’t designed to be that way. Ashtanga takes time and dedication. Many are familiar with the founder K. Pattabhi Jois’s quote “Ashtanga Yoga is for all people: old people, young people, fat people, skinny people—only not lazy people,” but he also said “Yoga is an internal practice. The rest is just a circus.” So, when I have students who are interested in Ashtanga and especially those who are Type As, I suggest they supplement it with a slow yoga class.
There are a number of reasons why I do that. One is getting the alignment correct and taking the time to discover what that should feel like. The other, more important one, is that holding the pose causes one to slow down both physically and mentally and be “in the moment” that so many instructors talk about, but many new students do not quite get at first.
It’s not always easy to do that in the faster-paced classes.
For all the talk that yoga isn’t competitive, Ashtanga often does bring out the competitive nature in people.
After all, Ashtanga doesn’t promise that there is a reward at the end for getting through any of the series, nor does it imply that people who never get past the primary series are failures. However, many people seem to believe that whether they admit to it or not. I speak from experience, and I am not even a Type A. After a decade of still practicing primary, I find myself thinking more often than I care to admit, “This is absurd! When am I going to get the Second Series?” At this point, I am able to find the stillness in the postures, but that was not the case when I was first starting out.
Another advantage to taking a slow class is that it reminds me, even when I return to my Ashtanga practice, that yoga is not a race. Much in the same vein that there is no reward for completing any of the series, there is no advantage of being the first or the last to get in the pose. I truly feel that taking slow yoga classes have not only helped with my Ashtanga practice, but allowed me to stick with it.
Nearly a dozen years later, I have no plans to stop either one.
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Ed: Sara Crolick