The Power Of Ashtanga Yoga Retreat – Retreat Relax Release

The Power Of Ashtanga Yoga Retreat

The Beginning

I well remember the first time I set foot in an Ashtanga Yoga class. It was October 2002, in the perhaps unexpected surrounds of an art centre in Norwich in the UK.

If you’re already familiar with the philosophy of Ashtanga, you’ll know that it relies on threading a consistent sequence of postures together into a flowing, meditative whole. To watch an experienced Ashtanga practitioner is to witness a thing of beauty, as they combine grace, strength, and sublime economy of movement to create a living work of art.

Watching me, on that windy October day, wouldn’t have provided quite the same level of aesthetic fulfilment. Not only was it my first Ashtanga yoga class, it was the first time I’d practiced any style of yoga asana. I wobbled, creaked, and grunted my way through the 90-minute class with a mixture of angst, fatigue, and sheer disbelief (do bodies really do that?).

I did, however, in between the sweat and the confusion, experience something totally new, and very important. I felt my muscles move in a way I couldn’t ever remember them moving before. In Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), I felt the years of tension I was holding in my thighs and hips begin to unravel. As the class closed and we moved into Savasana (Corpse pose), I sunk into a state of deep relaxation I felt as though I’d been seeking for aeons.

A Powerful Practice

This is the power Ashtanga Yoga has to transform lives. 13 years on, my body looks and feels utterly different. My state of mind is (usually) much calmer, more focused, yet more open to new experiences than it was the day I finally allowed myself to be persuaded to give this yoga thing a go. My persistent back pain and shoulder tension have dissipated to the point where I barely notice them. Emotional traumas that played a decisive role in my outlook have faded into the background.

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Not Norwich

Of course, I can’t credit Ashtanga Yoga with every one of these shifts. Over the years, my practice has evolved to incorporate numerous other styles and influences. I can say, though, that Ashtanga started me down a path that led to daily asana and meditation practice becoming an essential foundation of my life, and it’s done something similar for thousands of other people.

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

In case you’re curious, and not too familiar with the lineage from which the practice emerged, allow me to present you with a whistle-stop tour: Ashtanga 101, if you will.

It starts with Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, often considered the father of modern yoga. This venerated scholar and practitioner is the reason why, today, Mysore in India is a destination for yoga pilgrims from around the world. Starting in the 1930s, Krishnamacharya taught the most famed Indian yoga teachers in the modern world, B.K.S. Iyengar and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, along with his own son, T.K.V. Desikachar.

Iyengar was a sickly child and the yoga he subsequently developed has a therapeutic core. Jois suffered no such limitations, and the Ashtanga sequences he became world-renowned for require considerable power and suppleness to execute effectively.

Ashtanga for everyone

Which is not to say that Ashtanga is exclusively for the superhumans amongst us. Here at Retreat Relax Release, we’ve been known to get a cheeky Ashtanga yoga practice in before breakfast, and the primary sequence, sometimes known as yoga chikitsa (yoga therapy), is accessible to anyone who wishes to give it a try. After all, I succeeded in muddling my way through it when I was a skinny student. It can’t be that hard.

It’s true, of course, that it takes a bit of practice to become really skilled at, but the surest way to develop strength and flexibility is to do things that require strength and flexibility. The sequence is carefully designed to become progressively more challenging, meaning that even beginners will find poses available to them, and only professional acrobats and contortionists are liable to find all six (yes, six) easy.

I look back on that chilly Norwich morning as a watershed moment: one that set me on a totally new, challenging, and profoundly satisfying path. Maybe you’ve already had a similar experience. Maybe you’re due one.

Written By Robert Wolf Peterson

5 comments

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  • Great post, thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts. I love the concept of Ashtanga yoga, though I’ve only ever tried it once or twice, and I’m not sure why. I used to practice yoga on a regular basis, but I haven’t recently, and I can definitely feel a difference (not a good difference), so I’m definitely hoping to get back into it.

    I’ll try and mix up my yoga practice types this time, and include Ashtanga in my regular practices, as I know it’s very beneficial, and I love how you can challenge yourself, grow and develop with it.

  • jamiea

    Reply

    I’ve never tried ashtanga yoga. I’m pretty new to yoga in general but its something I would like to get into more.

    I definitely think my body could use a reboot after years of anxiety and muscle aches – exactly what I need! A bit of kickass.

  • OliviaGreen

    Reply

    Hi Robert,

    I started practicing Ashtanga yoga a few months back, admittedly I don’t make as much time for it as I should. Much like yourself I found my first experience… eyeopening, to say the least!

    I also find that in times of stress I can rely on Ashtanga for some inner calm – I can’t quite explain it, but it washes away some of the tensions of everyday life.

    Thank you :) I like this WP theme by the way. Which is it?

    Olivia

  • Jen

    Reply

    ” I felt the years of tension I was holding in my thighs and hips begin to unravel.” OK, now I’m completely inspired – like Jamiea, I’ve never tried ashtanga, but I like to try something new.

    I am just a little intimidated though.

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