I’ve heard Ashtanga described in more ways than any other type of yoga practice, and usually with some pretty strong emotions; usually people are fanatics about it, but I’ve also heard people speak about it with hostility. The descriptions vary widely: it’s way too athletic, the yoga for young boys, the most liberating emotional experience, too redundant, powerfully meditative. Ashtanga yoga is, in fact a fire-driven and highly athletic practice. This much is true. And a yogi does follow a specific flow that is designed to get the practitioner deeper and deeper into poses without tearing muscles or pulling limbs out of socket.
In this pic, you can see Kino helping me get deeper in this asana. It’s sums up a great deal of what Ashtanga is all about: finding the fullest expression of each asana so that we may experience the great peace that accompanies this journey. Noted as one of the most challenging forms of yoga, Ashtanga often attracts highly driven, Pitta (fire) personality types; True, Ashtanga provide a playing field where a yogi can truly explore a level of expertise in each asana, but even more than that, it calls to soul seekers and those who want to dive deep into a spiritual practice. I don’t think one kind of yoga practice is better than another, and I think they all have something we can learn from, but for me, Ashtanga is magical. I find the flow kicks my butt while I emotionally glide into a meditative state of being. I’ve done many kinds of yoga, this this is the most spiritually fulfilling and peace giving to me.
Getting to go through the entire primary series with Kino MacGregor was pretty much amazing, to say the least. She’s incredible, gracious, and terrifically intense. She teaches with depth and a relentless push towards holding longer and giving more than you perhaps were planning. The great thing about yoga: the more you give, the more you get back. Is it any wonder each of us under her training felt like we had been given a great treasure?
Kino inspired and pushed us to give all we had, to fold deeper, stand firmer, and to remember that each pose is actually in the series for a reason. As we stood in the Virabhadrasana (Warrior) poses with trembling, fatiguing legs, Kino reminded us that these poses are dedicated to the warrior Virabhadra. She told us the story of Lord Shiva, who married to his beloved Sati. It was one of those sacred loves that are especially rare. Unfortunately, Sati’s evil father opposed the marriage, and ultimately brought about her death.
When news of Sati’s death reached Shiva, he was first shocked and saddened, then enraged. He fell into the deepest and darkest place he could find. He tore his hair out, and fashioned from this hair the fiercest of warriors, Siva named this warrior, Virabhadra. Vira (hero)+ Bhadra (friend). He commanded Virabhadra to go to the yagna and destroy Daksha and all guests assembled. Virabhradra arrives at the party, with sword in both hands, thrusting his way up through the earth from deep underground; this is the first aspect (Virabhadrasana I.) Establishing his arrival for all to see he then sites his opponent, Daksha, (Virabradhasana II.) Moving swiftly and precisely, he takes his sword and cuts off Daksha’s head, (Virabadrasana III.)
How many times have you really tapped into the meaning and purpose behind each pose? I certainly never did. I went through the Warrior series thinking about how toned it was making my legs and looking at is as an opportunity to tap into my inner strength. I mean, just being honest here! But when we really think about the lore of each asana, perhaps we can pull out a bit more from these poses. These Warrior poses represent a fierce justice in the name of love. Now, if that doesn’t make you feel a little stronger, I don’t know what will!
One of the things I appreciated about training with Kino is that she taught me there really is never a passive moment in the Ashtanga series. Your thighs are always (*OMG ALWAYS*) activated, your core is always engaged, your breath is always flowing. It’s a living, vibrant, practice. And it’s exhilerating and exhausting. After training all morning, I kind of staggered to the car where my husband picked me up for lunch. I limp noodle drooped into the car and just lay there.
“Are you ok?” asked my husband, obviously concerned that he was going to have to rush me to the hospital.
“Never better. I can’t even describe how happy I am right now.” I replied. And I meant it. Because, you see, Ashtanga is a little bit magical. And it leads us to a whole lot of peace.