I did the full primary series today — that felt awesome as always. Since that took over an hour, and I had several things to finish today, that was going to be my sole activity.
But I thought, well, I’ll at least take the dogs out. It was a nice day, and I usually like some type of outdoor break around lunch when I’m working at home.
When we got to the trail, I thought, well, I’ll take them on a slow jog — it’ll be good for them! I hadn’t run for a few days so it would be good for me, too. I figured we’d go 20 minutes, and my Apple Watch will count 20 minutes which is good, since earlier in the day I had planned for zero minutes.
But I do like to close that exercise ring, so after I took the dogs out I thought about doing another 10 minutes of jogging on my own. Actually, I’ve been trying to get 40-45 minutes of exercise at a time this summer. So I thought, well, I’ll hop on my bike and go 20 minutes.
So I put on my bike shorts and headed out. When I got out 10 minutes, I thought I could turn around, but also, I could keep going and just do this 7-mile loop I had been doing all summer as a little time trial. The wind would be at my back going toward home, so that was a plus.
A day that started out with a plan to exercise for zero minutes ended up as a 51-minute day. Perhaps this makes up for all the days where I plan to exercise and end up doing nothing…
The complete Ashtanga primary series takes 90 minutes. The idea is that you would do the 90 minutes six days a week. Wow! Obviously that is not realistic for the vast majority of practitioners — we have families, jobs, hobbies, etc. Even David Swenson, one of the nationally known Ashtanga teachers, knows that such an intense time commitment is not practical for everyone.
“…it is not feasible to expect everyone to apply such a disciplinary regimen,” he writes in Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual. “Setting unreasonable goals creates a recipe for discouragement or self-doubt which may lead to giving up the practice altogether. It is much better to practice a small amount rather than none at all.”
Angela Jamison also offers advice for how to practice when you only have a few minutes. What follows are a couple of short forms that take only 10-15 minutes.
David Swenson’s short form:
5 Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A)
3 Surya Namaskara B (Sun Salutation B)
Paschimottanasana B (seated forward fold, hands around outsides of feet)
Marichyasana C (seated twist)
Navasana 2x (boat)
Urdhva Dhanurasana (bridge or wheel), followed by Paschimottanasana B
Padmasana (seated cross-legged or lotus, with back of hands on knees, thumb and index finger touching, chin tucked)
Angela Jamison’s short form:
Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A)
Surya Namaskara B (Sun Salutation B) (do as many of each as you can)
The closing postures: Baddha Padmasana, Padmasana, Tolasana)
However long your practice is, the important thing is that you build up energy and heat and then have a way for it to come down. You wouldn’t just do the first few asanas and then stop — you’d be stopping on a “high” without any counteraction. These short forms have the “bring up” and “bring down.”
I live 80 miles from a shala that offers Mysore-style Ashtanga. That distance doesn’t make it practical for me to practice at a shala regularly. Instead, I have to be committed to a home practice (a woman I met at the workshop let me know about the Ashtanga Home Practitioners network on Facebook — that’s already been so helpful!).
But in July I started teaching a class on Monday evenings at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. So I started to think…I could stay overnight on Mondays and go to Lynn Thomasberg’s Mysore class at One Yoga on Tuesday mornings.
So for four weeks, that’s what I did. I was a little nervous the first day with my limited Mysore experience and being in a new space. But I clearly remember the moment during that practice when the endorphins released and I felt buoyant, energized, and happy. That feeling continued throughout the day.
I finished my last Mysore class yesterday and I was a little sad even before it began, knowing it would be my last one for a while. I will miss the addictive positive energy that comes from a challenging class. I’m already trying to figure out ways to make this work during the school year 🙂
(The fifth Mysore class I did was during the Angela Jamison workshop. That week I had done three Ashtanga classes — a first for me!).
Every time I take an Ashtanga class or attend a workshop, I’m newly inspired in my home practice. Thanks to all the practice I did in July, I have a plan for my daily sessions (prior to this I did whatever I felt called to do in the morning, but that was a little too fluid). I created a calendar in which I do something different each day. For now it looks like this:
Today is Guru Purnima, the day in the Hindu culture to honor our teachers.
Teachers come in many different forms. They may have a formal role as a teacher, or they may present themselves as a teacher simply in the way they guide you.
In the opening chant in Ashtanga, we reference the sage Patanjali. I was told that the opening chant is a way to honor the teachers of Ashtanga who have come before us and who have passed down the practice.
In the spirit of Guru Purnima, I recognize the teachers who have shown me the Ashtanga path:
Maria, my first Ashtanga teacher. I showed up to Ashtanga at SunMoon back in 2002 or 2003 without any idea of what it was. I instantly felt welcomed by Maria and the community of Ashtangis.
Mona, owner of SunMoon who had the wisdom to bring Ashtanga to Mankato. She has lovingly supported this practice in Mankato for nearly two decades.
Mel, the teacher with whom I practiced the longest. She was encouraging both physically and mentally. She could spot resistance in the body and knew that the practitioner had to work on more than the physical before the asana could open.
David Rogers. I only practiced Mysore with him last summer a few times, but I so appreciated his knowledge and style of teaching. He was the one to help me break some of the bad habits I had developed over the years, lol 🙂
Angela Jamison. I met Angela in 2018 at a workshop held at Ashtanga Yoga Minneapolis. I was hungry for knowledge, having just dedicated myself to a regular Ashtanga practice. I will never forget Angela’s entrance into my life right when I needed it. I just spent another weekend with her and will see her any chance I get.
David Swenson. David has been a teacher to me for years, albeit only in book form. His practice manual has been my Ashtanga bible for years. It was an honor to take a weekend workshop with him last September.
Lynn Thomasberg. I first met Lynn in March at an assist workshop at OneYoga. I felt comfortable with her and learned that she and Mel were friends, so of course I liked her right away! I have agreed to do an Ashtanga teaching apprentice program with her this fall and I just started to take Mysore classes with her this summer.
If you obsessively track anything related to your fitness, raise your hand!
I’ve tracked my running miles over the years, but most consistently since 2016. No real reason — I guess to simply see how the miles add up. I like to compare month to month, and year to year.
So this year, well really at the end of last year, I decided upon a little experiment: I was going to run less and focus more on my yoga practice.
The dedicated yogis I got to know in the past few years, specifically the dedicated Ashtangis, seemed to do quite well doing only yoga. Because I was averaging about 80 miles a month, I was experiencing tight hamstrings and tight hips, which made it a challenge to achieve certain asanas.
But I’ve been a runner since about 1995, and I had grown accustomed to view running as my primary workout and the “only” way to stay in shape. In the past 8 years I also added cycling and swimming to the mix as I incorporated triathlons into my schedule.
I really do enjoy running. So far I have not experienced anything that delivers such a “quick hit” of endorphins. I can go for a 30-minute run and feel energized and “high.” The dopamine effect is real. After a bad day, a run is a beautiful antidote.
In 2018, I committed to a marathon. I had done five marathons previously and felt done with that, lol. But I was asked to do a charity run for a nonprofit, and I couldn’t say no. Running for something beyond myself gave me extra motivation. But I told myself in 2018 that after the marathon, I’d be done.
I vowed to still work out. My goal was 30 minutes a day for most days, but that consisted of primarily the elliptical and “HIITmill” at the gym. I did very little running throughout the winter. And I added an Ashtanga practice most mornings (though a truncated practice–at least it was something).
Now that we’re halfway done with the year, I decided to check on my running stats.
Holy crap, my running mileage is down 70 percent from last year!
The thing I was most nervous about — gaining weight — did not happen. In fact, I’m down one pound over this time last year. I always thought I needed a heart-pumping cardio workout like running to maintain my weight. But lo and behold, this yoga thing seems to be working!!!!
Now yes, I’m still running, but it’s about twice a week. I also am biking more than I did last summer, but anywhere between 7-15 miles at a time, 2-3 times a week. I’ve gone swimming once so far this year, lol.
I do notice a decline in my cardio capacity. My heart rate seems to go higher more quickly than it did when I was running a lot. So I can tell that my heart muscle probably isn’t in as good of shape as it used to be.
I do like a good cardio workout once in a while. I like to get my sweat on. But this experiment tells me that perhaps some day I will transition almost completely to yoga as the way to stay in shape.
But it’s a humbling experience. We may have plans for our bodies, but our bodies often have different plans.
I was doing well, gaining strength and mobility in my Ashtanga practice. I had been working on jump backs and jump throughs, trying to build strength in my arms to lift my off the mat so my legs could shoot back. I also had been working on stage 1 of handstand that I learned in my Bheemashakti training.
That is from a tiny, tiny mole removal, lol! The doctor needed to go long in order to seam it up, since she had to take out a circle of skin and you can’t really stitch up a circle.
Doctor’s orders were no exercise for a week, no lifting over 10 pounds, and certainly no yoga.
After a couple of days I practiced asanas that didn’t require weight on my arms or arm extensions. But even in trikonasana I could feel the skin of my arm stretch, so I didn’t want to do much of that.
Later in the week I did some modifications. One week after the excision, I was back to a fairly normal Ashtanga practice, though with knees down during chaturanga. I also was back to practicing jump backs and jump throughs, so I was glad to only have a week off from that.
My goal asana for this summer, bhujapidasana, is going to have to wait a while longer! My arm is not going to like my leg resting on it!
And starting next week I’ll be doing a Mysore practice once a week at OneYoga in Minneapolis, so I anticipate being a little weaker for that than I had hoped.
At times we need to take a step back and rest. Our bodies are good at telling us when to do that. Are we so good at listening, though?
I attended a 6-hour Bheemashakti Yoga training June 15-16 held at Nordeast Yoga in Minneapolis. I first heard of Bheemashakti in March, when a couple of people in my Ashtanga assist workshop mentioned it. Elaine and Jonathan brought the Bheemashakti Yoga School co-directors, Angela Patriarca and Troy Munsey, to Minneapolis for the workshop.
According to the website, Bheemashakti Yoga is “a standardized system of yoga that range from general physical exercises, to deep spiritual practices.” It’s a relatively new style of yoga, starting in India in 2005 and brought to the U.S. in 2009.
I find it beneficial to shake things up once in a while. While I continue to deep-dive into Ashtanga through continued practice, workshops, teaching and training, at the same time I’m eager to expand my breadth of knowledge about yoga and holistic living.
On Saturday afternoon Angela and Troy led us through a series of backbends. What I like about Bheemashakti is the building onto a foundation. Rather than go right into urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose) after a warm-up, there are a series of foundational poses in which you go further and further into backbends. Same thing with handstands, which we practiced on Sunday. I’m not there yet, but someday!
I also liked the kapalabhati breathing technique (for a video, see below). I can really feel this along my ribs, my abs and my back today!
I’m not sure yet where I will place Bheemashakti in my daily practice. I know I will continue with the Ashtanga morning practice. Today I experimented and did some Bheemashakti backbends late in the afternoon, after I was working on my computer all day. I liked the counter-effect after sitting for hours, so perhaps Bheemashakti will be a late afternoon or early evening practice a couple of days a week.
I do know that when I learn something new, it’s OK to not know where it’s going to fit. A seed has been planted, and it’s unknown when it will sprout or how big it will become.