A week ago I went to an Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga class, in order to try something new, and to enjoy yet another class taught by a most excellent teacher, Shira. Several of my classmates were able to attend one of her Ashtanga classes earlier this year, and they said good things about it, mainly relating to the positive and exuberant energy that Shira infused into the 90 minutes, over at Edina’s Yoga House.
I had not previously ever experienced an Ashtanga class. The notable differences from the Power/Vinyasa flavor, which I could observe from one class, are that it is almost always the exact, long, series of poses, and, that during the rather long seated sequence, there’s a specific transition that is repeated many, many times.
Years ago, the first difference would have been enough for me to lose interest, and in fact, this did happen about 15 years ago. After attending perhaps 4 classes at a studio, in which the same series was followed, I stopped going. My reasoning (beyond the smelly, damp room): if I’m going to do the same poses every practice session, I can do that at home, and for free. If I was going to bother getting myself to a studio at a certain time each week, I really wanted more variety, and some small sense of surprise, as well. Then, I was looking for exercise, and some adventure.
Now, I’ve practiced a lot more yoga, and a few different flavors of it, as well. When I head to a yoga class, I may be looking for some exercise, and sometimes, a sense of adventure. But what gets me there regularly is the dedicated hour or so of focusing on the now, for each of those 60-90 minutes. I think about breathing; about where my foot, hips, shoulders, and gaze are; and I feel the energy in the room from other people who are doing the same. It’s kind of escapist, in a strange way. I get away to get to here, right now. The sense of camaraderie that I get in those classes (mostly before and after the asana/poses) is very appealing, as well.
I am also finding that the idea of an unchanging pose routine isn’t as unsavory as it used to be. The near-daily repeating of something simple, loving and reverent, as well as knowing that I will or will not be guided to do certain poses, are both very comforting. Also, once my body has memorized the gross movements of a class, my mind is freed up to focus more deeply on other aspects of the class. So, on days when I have to choose between a class with a familiar sequence, and one with an unfamiliar sequence, I’ll make my decision using a different factor.
As for the other difference, between Ashtanga and Power Vinyasa: it’s pretty subtle, and I could probably get used to doing what amounts to 30 push-ups, in between each portion of a long series of stretches and twists. I’ll save my distaste for rigid transitions for a future post on Bikram/hot-style yoga.
I will, however, here explain the title of this post: Shira tipped me off to one of the differences in the Upward-Facing Dog to Downward-Facing Dog transition, in this style. Rather than lifting each foot to flip it from toenails-down, to toenails up, as is usually done in Power Vinyasa, in this class, I was invited to simply roll back onto the balls of my feet. Every single time, halfway through the roll, on both feet, my first and second toes would cross, then as I came fully into Downward-Facing Dog, they would snap apart and slap the floor, and make sounds like a finger snapping. “Thump thump!”
So, I am sure there are plenty of layers to what’s special about Ashtanga style yoga, but I’m going to distill it to a) I am my own percussion section, and b) I’m evolving into someone who desires ritual, sometimes.
How the photo above relates: some differences are subtle, others are not. Every few weeks, I bake a new batch of biscotti (cantucci, in Italian), for dipping in our morning coffee. I lean toward lower-fat recipes, mostly because they stay very crunchy just until I dip them in coffee. More often than not, I try a new recipe, as was the case with these. Originally I was going to bake these for the finale of our teacher-training course, and I wanted to bring something vegan, and also gluten-free, to be in keeping with yoga teachings (eating eggs can be considered a form of violence) and to acknowledge that some of my classmates were working on vegan or gluten-free diets.
The result? Their flavor is lovely, but in the coffee-dipping texture category, they fail. They actually wilt, when dipped. The only moisture in them is from Agave nectar, which doesn’t appear to firm up, upon baking. I will make a new, different batch for coffee, and save these for afternoon snacks.