Notes on Ashtanga, by Todd Roderick

by Christina on October 5, 2009

I like these essays by my yoga teacher here in Atlanta, Todd Roderick:

Yoga as Therapy
Yoga Chikitsa

Ashtanga is a traditional form of hatha yoga and is among a rare few that could be considered a science, continually proving itself as a way to create and maintain well-being on many levels. In India, this science has been passed down from teacher to student for hundreds of generations, keeping this practice refined and alive. Ashtanga’s primary series is known as yoga chikitsa, literally “yoga therapy.” The practice encompasses a broad range of physical yogic practices which promote balance physically, mentally, and spiritually. Hence it is inherently theraputic. Struggle is an inevitable piece of the human experience, and a mindful yoga practice offers the space to face any type of difficulty. Whether training for a marathon or preparing for another round of chemo, energy and consciouness can facilitate any training or healing process.

Everyone responds to yoga differently. Just like a single pill can’t cure an illness, no single yoga pose or class will fix destructive patterns of behavior. Rather than limiting oneself to specific kinds of classes, such as “Yoga for [body part]” or “Yoga for [illness]”, a more whole-istic approach is more effective. Healing involves the whole body, the whole mind, the whole self. More importantly, the process takes time. Yoga is the antithesis to instant gratification—longer to occur, longer to remain.

Because Ashtanga requires students to practice consistent sequences of poses, this idea can seem counterintuitive. Yoga chikitsa works on everyone because it targets the foundation of physical health: the body’s various systems (such as circulatory and digestive) functioning fully. In other words, the lack of optimum physical health often proves to be the root of most ailments and imbalances, physical or otherwise. All yoga enables the body to become stronger and more flexible, and Ashtanga combines that strength and flexibility with pranayama (breathwork) to allow openings on multiple levels.

Yoga, the essence of self-discipline
Hatha Yoga Pradipika:
“Success comes to him who is engaged in the practice. How can one get success without practice; for by merely reading books on Yoga, one can never get success”. [Verse 67]

Yoga, in its many forms, essentially is a self-discipline, of both body and mind. Yoga practice is not intended only for the days when one feels good, inspired, awake, enthusiastic, or energetic. Yoga is meant to be practiced through all that life brings us. Steadfast daily practice is the only way to progress through yoga’s many stages of personal development. Whether sick, worried, sad, injured, tired, or even indifferent, the discipline of yoga calls us into that present moment to face life’s constant changes.

The mind will always provide opportunities to rationalize not practicing. In other words, one must resolve to practice in spite of lack of motivation. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois always stressed the importance of consistency. Through his decades of experience, he knew that yoga was not only a tool to face difficulties in life, but also a way to create the capacity and potential for growth. In tough times, when one hones the ability to make excuses, a steady practice can make a huge difference. Pattabhi Jois advised students to come to class, roll out their mats, begin their practice, and see where that led. This teaches not only discipline, but detachment.

Ashtanga is a demanding form of yoga, both physically and mentally. Establishing a foundation requires consistent effort. Once formed, it must be maintained for safe and steady progress. Daily practice will always challenge you, and saving those challenges for “good” days makes the difficult even more so. Feeling under par doesn’t guarantee a negative experience on your yoga mat. In fact only practicing when you feel at your peak can actually be more discouraging than coming to class consistently, even with lower energy.

In a crazy week, coming to class every morning for half an hour is more beneficial than one day for ninety minutes. Yes, there are times when rest is needed and you shouldn’t practice, such as running a fever. It’s not essential to have a kick-yourself-in-the-ass practice. A modified practice is appropriate for weathering most maladies. Overall however yoga is more effective in frequency than duration. As you practice, you allow your body to accommodate what your breath is capable of. Likewise, you must allow your practice to accommodate what your life is capable of.

Self-discipline, like many other qualities, must be cultivated. Progress in any form is accomplished through sustained effort. There are no shortcuts. The truest essence of yoga is not in any outward physical manifestations, but rather in the deeper, more subtle and profound changes, gained only through meeting the challenges that a daily practice reveals.

Some tips we’ve gleaned over the years, all relating to maintaining as consistent a schedule as possible:
~Maintain a regular sleep schedule; sleep no longer than 6-7 hours a night.
~Go to bed early, no later than 11pm.
~For morning practitioners, eat a light dinner (easily digestible foods) no later than 2-3 hours before bed.
~Drink a glass of water before sleeping.
~Shower briefly first thing in the morning.
~Drink a small cup of tea or coffee half an hour before practice.
(not a venti latte)

Yoga, 99% practice, 1% theory – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

roberto February 18, 2010 at 12:05 am

Christina, thanks for sharing Todd's essays. I especially like what he wrote about self-discipline and coming to the shala every day even if you aren't feeling 100%. I think coming to practice every day is keeping me healthy through this cold spell as well. 🙂

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