What is the Ashtanga practice method? How do we practice? …And why?
If you go to Mysore, India and practice with Sharath Jois, the lineage holder of the Ashtanga practice, you will spend most of each month doing Mysore style self-paced practice. One day each week, plus two moon days each month, will be for rest -no practice. Only one or two days each week will be a “led” class. So, you could say just like we have tristana or “three parts” to the internal parts of our practice: breath/bandha, driste, and asana; we also have tristana or “three parts” to the macrocosm or external method in which we practice: Mysore style/self-paced practice, rest days, and counted led primary class.
Each of these parts of the Ashtanga practice method has an intention. Mysore class is where we are actually learning new postures. This is where we have time to break down, investigate, and repeat postures or transitions that we find challenging. We have time to work at our own pace in Mysore practice because everyone is working on their own practice in their own time. We don’t have to keep up so we can take the time explore postures deeply.
This is hard work! So, we also set aside days to allow our body to assimilate practice and to recover. These are our rest days.
Why do we do counted led primary class? What are the intentions within that format of class?
Traditional counted led primary class, as I understand it, has several intentions. One big intention is to work with opportunity to refine the steadiness of practice. By counting every inhale and exhale at a steady pace, the teacher provides a rhythm for the practice that gives equal time to each inhale and exhale. More challenging postures are counted at the same pace as more straightforward postures. This gives us the opportunity to check ourselves against this ideal.
What do you notice in a counted led primary class? Are there postures that you don’t “like” as much, that you rush through when practicing at your own pace? In led class we might become aware of these places and get curious about how to work them with more ease. Are there places in practice where you tend to get distracted and find that you’re regularly fussing with your rug/towel/mat/hair, etc.? Led class might show us some places where we are in a habit of letting our attention wander. If we become aware of our practice habits, then we have the opportunity to work with evolving them if we want to.
In a traditional counted led primary class, in the way that it is taught in Mysore, India, you practice only the postures that you are practicing in Mysore class plus closing postures. Led class in not a time to learn new postures. There is not enough time to adequately explore new postures in a led class format, so depth of understanding is lost. Additionally, rushing through new movements can increase the chances of injury.
Vinyasa and the vinyasa count
The “counting” in a counted led primary class comes from counting the vinyasas of each posture. Vinyasa is the practice of working toward a seamless integration of breath and movement. The vinyasa count is the number of counted inhales and exhales in a each posture. Each pose has an ideal number of inhales and exhales for moving into and out of the posture. An ideal means we may never actually reach it. The intention is merely to hold ourselves accountable to working in the direction of the ideal from time to time. When we hold our practice up next to the ideal we have an opportunity to see aspects of our practice where we might want to put more attention.
Curious to learn more about the vinyasa count?
Check out this interview with certified teacher John Scott on the purpose and method of the vinyasas count: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIcLVr9kFu8
And check out this blog post by authorized teacher Angela Jamison on the experience of led primary series class with Sharath in Mysore: http://www.insideowl.com/2016/09/02/the-count/
Who is a counted led primary class for?
So who is a counted led primary class for? …And what if you don’t know all the postures in primary series? Which postures should you do in led class?
Traditional counted led primary class is for everyone who has a Mysore practice. It doesn’t matter how long or short your Mysore practice is or how many poses you’re working on. Come to led class and work on refining the poses that you are doing. Enjoy the challenge and beauty of practicing to the vinyasa count.
At Ashtanga Yoga Asheville – The Mysore Room, anyone who has a Mysore practice is encouraged to attend counted led primary on Friday mornings. Please do only the postures that you are practicing in Mysore class. If you are not practicing the full primary series, then you can do closing postures at your own pace when you come to the end of the postures that you are practicing. Questions? Ask us!
We’ll see you in led class!