Taking Ashtanga seriously

Today, I did not do my usual Sunday routine of meditation and vinyasa at Thrive Yoga in the morning. I took a special master Ashtanga class that Devon Roe offers, usually on a monthly basis at Thrive (next time is in August or September). Devon studied with Beryl Bender Birch and teaches in several yoga shops in the DC area, mainly in Virginia. It’s two hours and focuses on the primary series. There were only four students in the class so it was a chance to focus on the asanas and get hands on corrections.

I have taken a few Ashtanga classes or workshops in the past so it was not completely foreign to me. For that matter, the whole vinyasa trend is strongly influenced by Ashtanga. I was surprised that I could handle the class physically, that I did not have to fall down in child’s pose in order to recover my breath, recoup my strength and steel my will (except for one brief time in downdog, but that does not count). After the whole thing was over, I did not spent two hours collapsed on my couch at home because I have developed stamina, thanks to my running and practice. In other words, I did not feel intimidated by the difficulty of poses, I just knew that some of them were beyond my reach.

If it were a strict Ashtanga class, I would never have gotten beyond the first pose that requires anything approaching half-lotus: hips and hamstrings are still too tight to allow me to fold. Then, there are still issues with behind the back binds because of stiff shoulders and my inability to rotate my should joints more than a few degrees. The other major flaw is core strength, especially in the lower abs: I still don’t have enough strength to lift my legs off the ground when seated in staff pose, for instance, or when sitting cross legged.

My biggest surprise was that when I was in shoulder stand and plow poses, I was able to breathe smoothly. In the past, my stomach (and probably other organs, like liver, kidneys and intestines) pressed down on my diaphragm and made me feel as if I was suffocating. I suspect that I’ve gotten rid of some belly (omentum) fat. That changes lifts a burden off me in the inversion phase of my yoga practice because I don’t have to fight off the panic feeling of suffocation and can concentrate on balance and breath.