We welcome back our longtime contributor Jackie Haigh, owner of The Little Yoga Studio London in East Sheen. This week, she is writing about the benefits of Ashtanga yoga.
My good friend and fellow yoga teacher, Gill introduced me to Ashtanga yoga. She kindly offered me a private class at which we started with the opening chant, hands in prayer and a sense of “OMG, what have I got myself into”! Ninety minutes later, I lay in savasana, moving in and out of waking and dreaming, that hypnagogic state where I’ve never felt so relaxed. At this point I was hooked!
I longed to go to a Mysore class but the 6am starts in studios and shalas far from East Sheen, three young children and a husband that leaves the house way too early meant that this would not be an option for me just yet. So instead I started to practice! I read books, watched DVD’s and online clips. Most importantly I got onto my mat 6 days a week to move the body, calm the mind and to BREATHE…. and so began my Ashtanga journey. Some days were easier than others to fit a full practice in but other days I spent 10 minutes on the mat just doing something. Finding that discipline, that passion to just turn up was hard at times but I’ve never regretted a practice no matter how short and if anything Ashtanga yoga has taught me how important it is to have these attributes.
I was lucky enough to study with Joey Miles and Rachel Woolhouse and meet the famous David Swenson whose book remains a permanent guide for me. To this day my own Ashtanga yoga journey continues with classes in Chelsea, Ealing and Camden through Triyoga and of course my own regular home practice which I have grown to love more and more. I still haven’t managed that Mysore class but it will be mine… one day!
Ashtanga yoga has been a huge influence on my own teaching of Vinyasa Flow yoga at The Little Yoga Studio London in East Sheen (www.thelittleyogastudiolondon.com). I have been teaching now for a few years and have been inspired by many of the people I have practised with, students and teachers. I think we all come to yoga for a reason, we hear how yoga makes us feel good, it heals us when we are hurt both physically and emotionally but I think most importantly it reminds us what we are made of when things get tough and this realisation can be transformational.
Ashtanga yoga encourages a 6 day a week practice which for many of us can be so demanding as to be intimidating however if you need a change both physically and emotionally this could be exactly the thing for you. It can sometimes be hard at first as it requires discipline to “show up” on your mat as much as possible and to practice regularly and consistently but the benefits will come thick and fast and you will heal yourself from the inside out. You will begin to know yourself deeply, you will see your body transform, you will see your thoughts, words and actions change and find that inner peace and compassion that we all so often crave.
What to expect from an Ashtanga class? Classes are usually ninety minutes long, there is no music, there may be a count (often in Sanskrit), the teacher leads the class. The sequence remains the same if practising the Primary series which is what you would start with. This repetition eventually leads to learning the sequence off by heart and this is when the real love of Ashtanga happens. Your body just moves with the breath and your practice becomes a moving meditation. You finally end the class with a much deserved savasana. An opportunity to digest, assimilate and adapt all the information that your active practice has put into your body, a true quietening of the mind, an opportunity for the nervous system to recalibrate and reset, which is SO important in our busy, often chaotic stressful lives.
No matter where you are on your life journey, try out an Ashtanga class if you can. You can do this from the comfort of your own home with a regular morning practice or find a good Ashtanga class to join. I teach an Ashtanga style class each Monday at 9.30am to 11am at The Little Yoga Studio London in East Sheen if you want local otherwise Triyoga has regular week day classes in Ealing and Chelsea (only takes 30 minutes to drive). Like me you may have a young family, a busy household, a never ending to do list but I always remind myself “you can’t pour from an empty cup”! When your heart is full of love and compassion for yourself you are able to share this with the world a hundred fold. Your physical yoga practice is just the beginning. It becomes less about what it can do for you but instead how you can help yourself to stay healthy and happy enough to help the world around us and make a difference! Always remember, in the words of David Swenson “do the things that make you want to do yoga and the things that make you happy. Do the things that make you feel good and just be a nice person”! It’s that simple.
I hope to see you at The Little Yoga Studio London in East Sheen soon.