Ashtanga yoga definitely isn't your garden-variety "sit and chant 'om'" version of yoga. Instead, it's the physically demanding, fast-moving brainchild of Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, who brought his method to North America in the 1970s. If you're serious about improving in ashtanga yoga -- sometimes called "power yoga" -- you're in for a serious mind and body workout. Luckily, the rewards of improved cardio health and better flexibility will be worth the work.
Amp up your regular workouts, including cardio and strength training on a regular basis. Ashtanga yoga requires Vinyasa sequences between poses, which means your body is constantly moving. If your stamina is lacking, you'll probably find yourself out of breath. Add at least three days of 30 minute cardio sets and two to three days of strength training per week -- using resistance bands or weights, for example -- to ensure your body is primed for ashtanga.
Perfect your ujjayi breathing, the cornerstone for ashtanga practice. Because a cornerstone of ashtanga is breathing cadence, you'll experience better results and improved practiced when your breath is properly controlled. Ujjayi breath is accomplished by breathing in through the nose and then pushing that breath forcibly and audibly through the nose, as though you were fogging a mirror.
Print charts of the various poses that you'll tackle in ashtanga practice, and work on your posture at home, if possible. While the poses, which are the same during each class, are only part of the practice, knowing how to seamlessly knit Vinyasa with the poses can help you conserve energy and last through all of class. You'll also have more confidence and get the most out of each pose when your posture is correct.
Practice good bindu. Bindu, the life energy that accompanies yogic practice, is necessary for strong, calm and peaceful ashtanga. As Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois notes, "A yogic face is always a smiling face." When you concentrate too much on fatigue and pain and not enough on peaceful, strong practice, your bindu becomes less effective in helping you improve in ashtanga and attaining your yoga goals.
Attend class often. While there is no set limit for how many ashtanga classes you should attend, going to class helps you learn the poses, perfect your posture and condition your body. One of the main benefits of practicing yoga is the tangible results you'll get when it comes to overall improvement. Let your improved balance, endurance and flexibility be your catalyst to continue attending.
- Because ashtanga is an advanced form of yoga, consult a doctor before attempting a class. Those with past injuries, back issues, who are pregnant and not yet in peak shape should start with a more basic form of hatha yoga.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.