Why I started Ashtanga Yoga
  • January 31, 2016
  • asweatlife_Why-I-started-Ashtanga-Yoga_1

    Let me preface this post with a quick description of what I love about the physical practice of yoga. For me, it’s an outlet of expression – a dance, even. I love listening to loud music; I love to move fast; I love to sweat; I love to change my practice up. If you take my class, I want you to leave feeling uplifted but exhausted.

    You could say I love everything about how we’ve westernized one of the traditional practices of yoga. What we know as Power Vinyasa originated from Ashtanga. And much like our modern vinyasa classes, breath is linked to movement.


    But Ashtanga is also, in a way, the opposite of everything that brings me to my mat. It’s a rigid, self-guided practice (for the most part), with many guidelines. For instance, you don’t typically try the next posture in the sequence until you can successfully complete the one before it with ease, because logically, each pose prepares you for the next one. You should never have to force any pose if you’ve done the proper work leading up to it.

    I cannot even begin to explain the science behind each pose, the intentions behind Ashtanga, or what the mental work during the physical practice should really be about. I am not an Ashtangi and I don’t want to do a disservice to the practice. I do, however, have incredible respect for it and I will speak to how my hardwired dancer body and mind somehow keeps discovering new things each time I practice the Primary Series (forget about even attempting the Secondary or god forbid, the Advanced).


    It takes me out of my routine life of teaching fitness classes and working in advertising. It puts me exactly in the present moment like no other yoga class I’ve taken. It’s incredibly humbling (see pictures below). It connects me to some roots of yoga outside of what I’ve been taught and what I experience when I typically go to studios. I finish the series exhausted in a different way than with any other exercise I attempt. And I’m acutely aware when I practice that it is not an exercise; it is a roadmap to confronting issues in my life with grace and the same humility that each difficult posture makes me feel.


    (This is what that pose will eventually look like)

    Case in point: I attended a Mysore class (self guided with an instructor present to assist only when needed) – one of my first ever – and basically had my ass handed to me. When I asked the instructor how to modify a certain pose (namely, Setu Bandhasana), she said to me rather curtly, “In traditional Ashtanga you would have stopped long before this pose.” My first reaction was to recoil and write this woman (and this studio) off forever, but the more I thought about it throughout the rest of my practice (yes, I stayed) the more I was grateful for the experience.

    I’m used to having what I want available to me, having a lot to choose from, and I don’t like the word “no.” That’s the millennial in me. How could I be wrong for trying something new and putting myself out there?  But I do see her point. The sequence is purposeful and intelligent, and my ego got the better of me in attempting to bite off more than I could chew.

    The experience taught me two things: I can afford to be a bit more humble when it comes to my yoga practice, and I need to work on toughening up my skin when it comes to feedback. It will help tremendously throughout my career.

    Right now Ashtanga is my get-out-of-your-comfort-zone goal. I still feel incredibly uneasy about it. But I think sometimes we set goals to get out of our comfort zone and already expect the outcome to be “It will be amazing and I’ll end up being so glad I did it!” Truthfully, I don’t know how I feel about this kind of yoga yet. I just know I’m learning a little something about myself in unexpected ways each time I attempt to rise to the challenge.

    About Maggie Umberger

    Maggie moved to Chicago in 2014 from North Carolina, a proud Tar Heel at heart. She began her career in advertising but was equally passionate about her fitness endeavors, and ended up spending as much time instructing yoga and other types of fitness as much as in her advertising job. Now she works full-time with aSweatLife to continue to grow our community of amazing fellow fitness junkies in Chicago. And when she’s not running around with Jeana making #Sweatworking happen or instructing corporate and private yoga classes, you can find her leading bootcamp classes at ENRGi Fitness and vinyasa classes at Bare Feet Power Yoga and Yoga Six.

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