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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Bhujapidasana to Tittibhasana to Bakasana. You’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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.