April 17, 2013

A Real Time Ashtanga Account: Mysore Style. ~ Donna Wilding


Background: I’ve been practicing yoga for 10+ years, but more seriously in the past five. I had what I would call a fairly advanced practice; Urdhva Dhanurasana is no problem, headstand without a wall is all good, drop backs are a bit scary but totally do-able. I don’t practice in the heat—ever. I did a full yoga class 3x per week and scattered yoga poses through out my day—until Ashtanga.

Here’s a real time account of my personal Ashtanga challenge at Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto.

Day 1: Kinda nervous. Practice is shorter than I expected as I’m only given up to Parsvottanasana so I can memorize the sequence. It’s hotter than I thought and the room’s smell reflects it.

Day 2: The heat! I learn I’m not allowed to bring my water into the room with me. “This is going to kill me” is what goes through my head. I start a habit of drinking half the bottle before my practice and leaving it at the back of the room for when I’m finished. Up to Paschimottasana.

Day 3: Barely making it through. Struggling with the heat, and the idea that I may dehydrate…or die.

Day 4: Fighting panic attacks in the room due to the heat—no one knows but me. The thought that I may die crosses my mind too many times; my mouth is dry, I’m sweating a ton and it’s hot—it’s so hot. I have to look at the older people in the room for inspiration (and to convince myself that I won’t die).

Day 5: Still fighting panic attacks in the room. They’re all in my head. Why are people cross eyed?!

Day 6: I can’t stand the sweat that runs into my eyes—new (least) favourite focus, other than watching the weird assists.

Day 7: I bring a towel into the room to wipe the sweat from my eyes—new favourite pastime during practice.

Week 2:
Teacher tells me to stop wiping my face so much and focus more. Still fighting panic attacks from the thought that I may die from dehydration or heat stroke. Once I’m out of the room and practice is over, I realize I’m being completely dramatic.

I’m ridiculously tired and nap at least 3x during the week. Sore. So. Sore. Left knee seems tweaked.

People actually get sat on in the practice room. I dread that assist!

Week 3:
Up to Janu Sirsasana C. Still sore and still napping after practice. My left wrist is showing signs of injury. I no longer consider my practice advanced—this style is schooling me!

Can’t get the smell out of my clothing. Having to soak clothes, then wash them. They don’t even smell like me—they smell like the room!

Week 4:
Almost done my one month challenge. Up to Bujapidasana, then to Urdhva Dhanurasana with drop backs on my own. Getting schooled on keeping my heels down in drop backs. I can’t do it—it’s uncomfortable in my low back and I just don’t understand the muscles required to keep my heels down yet.

Left knee is better. I’m noticing major changes in my practice; I’m much stronger and dare I say, the practice may be getting easier? Left wrist is better, right wrist is sore.

I tried to press up to handstand (not kick up) at home against a wall—my feet lifted off and I freaked out from the feeling. Fell out of it, and ran to jump on the bed. I’ll try again in a few weeks.

Loving the forward fold assists daily and working on my own cross-eyes. Drishti, baby.

Week 5:
Given Supta Kurmasana, assisted. Jesus—how does one breathe in that pose?!

Forgot to drink half my water before practice and still survived.

Marichyasana D needs an assist on both sides in order to bind.

Can’t stop now. One month challenge is extended until…? Plus, I’m head over heels for the studio mascot, Bambi.

Week 6:
Up to Garbha Pindasana. Can’t even get my finger tips through my legs—no matter the amount of lubrication. The rolling around part feels so ridiculous.

Able to place focus on things like keeping my foot arches lifted—no longer just barely making it through. Panic attacks are gone. Not even bringing my water to the back of the room anymore.

Week 7 beginning:
Hands are through in Garbha Pindasana! Boom! But now I’m tipping when I try to roll around. So frustrating! I have a love/hate relationship with the practice.

Week 7 end:
Forearms through in Garbha Pindasana! Major bruises on my inner elbows however. Rolling around with more control, less tipping. Jump throughs are coming! The key is to reach my chest forward as I jump!

Complained to my teacher that I can’t get my arms through past my elbows in Garbha Pindasana—he kindly reminded me that I was complaining not long ago about my fingertips not going through. The grass is always greener!

Week 8:
Convinced my husband to try it out. He’s coming daily now too.

Tweaked my right knee in Garbha Pindasana. Can no longer do half lotus with the right leg—need to let it heal and modify through the practice.

Week 9: Bruises on ankles from jump throughs are constant.

Week 10: Marichiasana D to the left without assist!

Week 13: Convinced that drinking half  a coconut water before practice makes my practice better. Putting this to the test. Have my husband in on it too.

Ankle bruises seem to be diminishing.

Week 14:
I’m light! Floating through better than ever. Catching air on the jump backs too. Have no idea how or why it’s happening yet. Just started happening one day!

First drop back with my heels down happens! Coming back up does not happen.

Right knee finally feels better. Back with Garba—forgot how much of a pain that pose is. Arms go through easily, but stuck at elbows. Back with the elbow bruises!

Month 4:
Baddha Konasana a & b is given to me. Forgot to drink half of a coconut water before going into the practice room; thinking Mula Bandha is easier without a liquid filled belly.

Frustrated at coming up from drop backs without flinging myself into the person in front of me. Feeling annoyed at the lanky, overly flexible man next to me in practice. His legs are all up in my space.

Gave it a good go on coming up from drop backs. Must have let out a noise or loud breath because the lanky man offered a whisper of encouragement: “That’s good! You’ve almost got it”. I wanted to cry—I was previously thinking mean thoughts about him.

Month 4, week 2:
Tweaked knee again. Back with modified Garbha Pindasana. Tweaked right wrist, feeling sharp wrist pain in jump throughs and jump backs. Jump throughs and jump backs are on hold. Working on patience in full force—not going so well.

Month 4, week 3:
Back with Garbha Pindasana. Tweaked left shoulder when compensating for my right wrist. Back is hurting in drop backs—I seem to have a vertebrae that’s pushing inwards. Drop backs are assisted again. Feeling pretty low about my practice with all the modifications these days.

Month 5:
Up to Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana. Hard pose—what on earth am I supposed to balance on?? One pose left until I complete the Primary Series (Setu Bandhasana)!

Month 5.5:
Back is starting to feel better although I can still feel one vertebrae pushing in. Discovered that keeping my first finger, middle knuckle down supports my wrist. Building forearm strength to really keep it down now.

Loving the dedication and devotion that the practice brings to my life.

I feel more settled after my practice is complete in the mornings. I do miss other poses from other styles (pigeon, side plank, wild thing, Hanumanasana (splits), handstand to name a few) so I’m trying to do one other class per week to keep this side of me happy—I’m also doing some of these poses at home on my own.

I love the community at the Shala and I love my teacher David Robson! Super glad I started this personal challenge in the first place.


A teacher of yoga, student of yoga for over nine years, and a student of life for 31, Donna recently quit her corporate day job to teach yoga. She’s happy to say that she no longer survives in the city by having a job, but instead, by sharing her passion. Donna believes the benefits of community to be irreplaceable. She currently resides in Toronto, Canada where she brings the healing aspects of yoga to workplaces and studios. To find out more about Donna or to get in touch, check out her website.  





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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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