September 23, 2014

3 Reasons Ashtanga is the Most Hated Style of Yoga.

Ever since I discovered Ashtanga yoga, I have been in awe of how much effort and energy some people put into expressing their aversion for this style of yoga. Here’s why Ashtanga is the most hated.

Why is it that Vinyasa and Bikram yoga classes are bursting at the seams all the while Ashtanga yoga sits in the shadows like a loner nobody wants to play with?

After thinking about the resonance I get from practicing this style of yoga, I realized that Ashtanga yoga does make it easy for us to hate it.

Here’s what I found:

1. Ashtanga yoga is not even a physical practice

Say whaat? Well, yeah, this might be the biggest misconception about this style of yoga.

It is first and foremost a moving meditation and a breathing practice. Which means that your first yoga class might only consist of learning Ujayi breath and repeating sun salutations. No fancy arm balances or even a lot of sweat involved.

What this lineage of yoga really is geared towards is not forcing you through the six sequences of postures that it consists of, but to break you open, so that you can find spiritual awakening.

Sounds like pain? Right on, Ashtanga yoga has a knack for finding your sore spots and punching them hard, so that you are even more aware of how far away from enlightenment you really are.

Speaking of discomfort:

2. Ashtanga yoga is hard. Very, very hard.

But, you might say, other styles of yoga are very hard, too. Meaning, physically demanding.

Well, the thing with Ashtanga yoga is that it is not only physically demanding, but it also screws with your mind. There is a set sequence every Ashtangi has to follow, which results in years and years of the same sequence of postures every day. Let me tell you, it is both maddening as well as completely infuriating to be doing the exact same thing over and over and over again without seemingly advancing one little bit.

This, however is the exact purpose behind the repetitiveness of Ashtanga yoga. You are supposed to lose yourself in wherever you are in the sequence. Practice non-attachment to the outcome and quality of your practice.

Since this is a place of complete honesty, I have to confess that sometimes my inner Viking gets the best of me and I could punch my teachers in the face when they tell me that it’s all about steadiness and ease while there’s gallons of sweat pouring across my face, and my deepest and darkest emotions are being released in the never ending sequence of hip openers.

While in other styles of yoga I could just violently yank my body into the next pose and go on with my practice, Ashtanga yoga forces me to marinate in my current challenge until I find sweetness and mental clarity.

Which means that I will always spend a decent amount of time in my least favorite pose, waiting there for hours, days, months until I’m used to the discomfort—only then do I get to move on.

My conclusion is that people have to be bat sh*t crazy to allow this kind of torture to be done to their minds. It’s like deliberately flossing your brain.

3. In Ashtanga Yoga there is no such thing as yoga binging.

This is the worst part about Ashtanga yoga for me. I am a binger: I binge on chocolate, I binge on my favorite series Scandal and I would also like to very, very much binge on yoga.

This is a biiig no-no for Ashtangis.

You are supposed to practice six days a week, take moon days and the first days of your period off and practice considering the needs of your body.

For those of us who live life according to our temper and current obsessions, the commitment that this style of yoga demands goes against the grain of our being. Trying to train my chaotic brain to meet the rhythm of my yoga practice is like teaching an elephant to jump rope. It is genius and awesome when it happens, but getting there is nothing but excruciating pain and disorientation.

But as strange and torturous as Ashtanga Mysore might be, somehow it has me hooked. I haven’t found any other spiritual practice that calls me out on my shortcomings in such a relentless and rude way. I might think that I should be so much farther along in my practice by now, but when I really think about it, I realize that I am in the process of uncovering my deepest shadows and opening the tightest and most rigid parts of myself.

Ashtanga yoga doesn’t screw around and yes, you might have to be a little masochistic to commit to it, but I can promise you that it will work wonders if you are willing to choose discomfort over resentment and face what needs facing.

I have been scratched so deeply that at times I felt like the devil itself stares me in the eye, but the release that follows is something no other spiritual practice has been able to give me.

It hurts, and it hurts good.

So maybe hating Ashtanga Yoga is the best way to let it stir you. Things kind of get interesting when you start liking the pain.


Relephant Bonus:

The Truth about Ashtanga Yoga. 

Practicing Ashtanga Yoga Is Like Being Married.

Are You in the Ashtanga Cult? 


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Barry Gillespie Mar 29, 2016 5:13pm


Basically i like and agree with your article. I have just one little nit pick, and that is the picture you choose (I assume) to accompany the article. Sure doesn’t look like any pose from any ashtanga series I know. Looks more like some sort of hip yoga “styling”, ie. the exact opposiute of what your article is saying. Sorry, can’t have it both ways.


nandini Jan 20, 2016 2:51am

hi Hanna,
I like this blog and your profile too.I must say ashtanga Yoga is intimidating,I did love this practice and have started my regular 3days/week practice at home since Jan1. I do half primary series at home. I dont have the flexibility to do a spilt or straddle with my belly on floor. But will practice and plan to continue same for 3 months before i join a primary class. Do you think I am going right way.
can you please let me know your thoughts.

Tahl Ghitter-Kalsi May 22, 2015 12:19am

I don’t think people “HATE” Ashtanga yoga in quite the vehement way this article suggests. I think that people may take issue with this dynamic form because in the west it can be too demanding for those who live a decadent, easy life. The majority of us sit at a desk all day (not me I teach yoga) drive everywhere, and live a stressed out, go go, 9-5 life. When I think about the way yoga is practiced and taught by Indians (having been there several times), it makes us look soft, and to a certain extent we are. In other ways we are far too yang, too driven, we force our selves to strive for excellence and this shows up on the mat. We push ourselves and have hardened our bodies and conditioned us in every way, in all the wrong ways. So yes, while Ashtanga does have the power to break us, for the general public, who are not careful not skilled or mindful in the practice, it can literally break you. I hear most about injuries in yoga from Ashtangis but all yoga has the power to break you. That is the point of yoga.

I think one reason people may not take to ashtanga because of the degree of difficulty. I know you write that Astanga is not even a physical practice, but I would say on the scale of yoga practices it is one of the most physical. ALL yoga is the practice to still the mind. So Astanga IS an advanced physical practice, so it is no wonder more people aren’t doing it, i.e. because they shouldn’t. Advanced practices are fine if you are fit, not injured and have great body awareness, but that for the most part, that is not your average American. It has also been suggested by yoga greats (Iyengar and Rama Vernon come to mind) that the jumping of Ashtanga yoga is purely gymnastic, created and given to young practitioners to keep them focused and has little to do with refining yourself in the posture or meditation. IMHO this is a practice that is not meant for people over 30. Asana after all means steady comfortable pose, so while I get the control and discipline it takes to jump through, the mastery of such a thing I think can tend to take people away from the ultimate goal of yoga, which is to sit in meditation.
Another reason I think people might not take to Ashtanga is because westerners already lead such a yang life style, that what contemporary, average folks need is more yin styled practices that let them slow down, stretch deeply, restore and reboot the nervous system. Baby steps. I just did a certification in yoga therapy and I was amazed to see just how slowly and how safely you can make yoga. to just what degree of slow and deep you can practice, and just because a practice is slow does not make it easier. Infact, you might make the case that it is the slower practices that really test the mind and break you down in that way. I think on the spectrum of yin and yang, some people need more of one to balance out their life and in our patriarchal society, the yang force is so abundant. Ujjayi breathing, for some in yogasana, is really really damaging. Those who are pitta dosha don’t need to stoke the fires and run the risk of burning up their life force (as I understand it).

I think that while I do enjoy the Ashtanga practice, a lot of the points you make are true about yoga in all of it various forms as long as these forms are true to the intent of yoga. The very nature of the practice of yoga suggests not to binge, but it is the yang nature of Astangis that from my perspective drives them to push themselves harder than any other types of yogi (except for maybe some Kundalini) out there. So when practiced in earnest, there is not binging in astanga yoga, but I believe the tendency with that particular community , though perhaps not yogic, is to push it beyond natural limitations, which is why you see so many injuries. I would even go so far as to suggest that it is the type of people who are attracted to Astanga that are the type to push themselves in all aspects of their lives, when perhaps their challenge may be to slow down and let go of the need to perform physically.

All yoga, when done properly is to some degree maddening and breaks you down. You can marinate in the challenge of any yoga, as challenges arise in the physical, mental and emotional levels, the ultimate challenging being to cultivate the discipline of bringing meditation into the practice. Over the years as a teacher I have heard so many people TALK about going to yoga, but then not ever showing up. Why? because on some level they are aware that by doing yoga, they will be required, at some point to bring it; to dig up all the stuff we have buried physically, emotionally, and mentally – ALL yoga has the power to do this. And all yoga screws with your mind. The very purpose of yoga is to uproot a comfortable little existence to get us to lose the illusion and see the bigger picture. People who are not prepared to do this, don’t come. That and there are a lot of misconceptions about what yoga really is, so I would think that holds true to Astanga as well. Other set sequences, like Sivananda (which was my first training) is breath work, 12 cycles of sun salutations followed by 12 core postures and that too broke me down and it was difficult to get around the set sequence, but every time I teach it, I call it the yogi’s practice to truly develop themselves in the asana, to see where dedication and discipline will take you. This is true of Astanga.

Don’t feel bad Astanga. You have your loyal followers and your practice is sound. It is not your fault that people practice you before they are ready in pursuit of physical mastery or poses. The Astangis I know, love and are dedicated to only you. It boils down to the same reason that there are so many varieties of practices in the first place, because there are so many varieties of people, each with different appeals, needs and concerns.

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Hanna Bier

Hanna Bier: I am a writer, a shaker, a dreamer, a maker, a lost soul, a hopeful fanatic and a dragon enthusiast. I find steadiness in restlessness. I find home in being on the road. I commit to questions over answers. I commit to living an inspired life. I commit to being myself. I call myself a quitter of mediocrity and a devotee to the raw and truthful way of living. Visit: websiteFacebook, Instagram.