Ashtanga Yoga: More Like Pilates than I Expected

Slowly perfecting my headstand.

Slowly perfecting my headstand.

After agreeing to attend an Ashtanga yoga class for the first time, I recieved an email of the movements we’d be doing.  When the attachment opened, I started laughing.  Half the starting positions looked impossible.  I had visions of the teacher helping me into a headstand and walking away as I toppled over taking out the other participants in a domino effect.  Sometimes I worry when people presume I’ll be good or like a certain type of movement.  I think because I’m good at Pilates people think I’ll be good at yoga, kick-boxing—all of it, but I’m not.  When I was younger and was good at field hockey people presumed I’d be good at other sports, but I wasn’t.  It requires a lot of practice to get good at anything.

I went into the class with all sorts of preconceived notions and misconceptions. Chanting turns me off because I can’t carry a tune.  I’m worried about over-stretching, and I presumed the class would have a lot of over-stretching.  I was wrong.  The client who told me about the class mentioned that the instructor didn’t allow you to drink water because “drinking can put your fire out.”  The idea of being able to put my fire out is laughable.  It’s just too spiritual for me, but I’m game for anything and recognize there are things I don’t understand behind different movement principles.  I’m also open to being wrong and discovering something new.  Still, I’m always turned off by rules in a class that dictate what I can and can’t do for my own comfort.  That being said, as long as I’m not overheated, I should be able to survive 90-minutes without water.  And it’s not bad for me to be mildly uncomfortable sometimes.

The morning of the class was negative ten-degrees—an omen, perhaps, I thought still laughing about the disaster I was anticipating.  My car started, and I had no excuse not to make it. In fact, I’m pretty sure every regular made it to that class in the sub-zero temperatures, which is really impressive.  The instructor was very welcoming and explained the basic concepts of Ashtanga yoga.  Some of the first words out of her mouth were “This is not about stretching.  It’s about holding an isometric contraction.”  Immediately, I felt better.  She talked about the breath and the connection of the abdominals and pelvic floor.  I knew why my client thought I would enjoy this class.  While different, there are a lot of similarities between Ashtanga yoga and Pilates.  Both are about connecting the breath to the movement. Both are about abdominal and pelvic floor engagement.  Both are about fluid movements.  Both are about balance (trying to be strong and flexible at the same time).

The class was incredibly challenging, but I trusted the instructor.  She was hands on, which I appreciate.  I learn from tactile cueing.  On one exercises (a version of a warrior pose, I think) she rotated my torso in a way I couldn’t have moved myself, but I felt instant and incredible relief.  Ever since I had costochondritis (Click here to read more about my experience with ribcage inflammation), I often feel like the right side of my ribs are restricted and tight.  When she moved me I felt instant release.  I was sure if she let go of me that I would either topple over or uncoil like a spring.  But that feeling of coiling and uncoiling and feeling elastic was phenomenal.  It’s a sensation I search for but rarely find.

When the class ended, the instructor mentioned that I may experience muscle soreness 24-48 hours later.  I’m familiar with delayed onset muscle soreness.  It normally strikes me exactly 24-hours after exercise.  I met my Grandma for breakfast after the class.  When we got up to leave the restaurant, I could barely move.  My 85-year-old grandma seemed to be moving better than me.  I knew I was in trouble.  I was sore from my feet to my neck—good, working muscle sore and only slightly stiff in my back in a bad way.  My hamstrings burned in a way I’ve never felt. My hamstrings hated me for days.

Next time I go back, I’ll try to be a little gentler with myself.  I don’t mind being sore, but there’s a limit to how much I can take.  I pushed myself a little too much.  The movements just felt so good.  I felt strong.  I enjoyed it tremendously.  I’m clearly addicted to movement.  Very often the first time I try something I think it feels great.  I want the exact feeling I had the first time I do an exercise, and rarely can I ever feel it the same way again.  This happens to me often when I learn a new exercise in Pilates.  The joy changes as I practice certain moves, but that first time… it is always special.

I didn’t mind the chanting.  I didn’t know the words so I just listened and all the pressure was off. Listening to everyone breathing was one of the best parts.  Everyone’s breath combined sounded like an ocean of waves crashing.  I always enjoy the energy of moving and meditating with others.

While I can’t picture a beginner joining this class, I really did enjoy it.  It’s a reminder that we should always try new types of movement especially if someone we trust has a recommendations about a  good teacher.  We sometimes surprise ourselves in what we like and what we can accomplish.  We learn where we have room to grow that we might not notice without occasionally altering our routine or jumping out of our comfort zone.  And while I love when people attend my class regularly, I always recommend taking other classes.  You never know how someone will describe something you’ve been doing for years so that you come to understand or relate to it in a different way.

 

Interested in trying this class?  Here’s the Info (as of March 2016)

Sundays 8am

Donation (Recommended $15)

The Yoga School at the Kitchen Gallery

38 Green Street, New London, CT

Instructor: Kim Abraham

2017-12-29T21:37:10+00:00

About the Author:

Maggie Downie
Thank you for giving your time to stop and read my blog. I hope it encourages you to keep moving. Move and the body will be happier. And when you're moving you can hike, run, swim in Jell-O, race over non-Newtonian fluids, travel the world or build igloos--if that's your thing. If not, you can watch me do it. This is just a spot to try and feel good about life.

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