Ashtanga Yoga With Antonella
Sep 2011


Students are always asking me “how can I get better at (fill in the blank) pose. Is there some sort of exercise or stretch I can do to get this pose faster?”. My answer is typically the same: yes, there may be stretches or other things you can do to facilitate a posture, but the Ashtanga practice has everything you need already built in, you just need to do it consistently focusing on that area that needs work in the poses that come before. That answer, however, never seems to satisfy certain people. They want the instant gratification, the shortcut, the sense of accomplishment without the work.

It not only happens with the physical postures, many people also want to gloss over experiences. I teach in a city where most people are educated, successful, “Type A” personalities. With these over-achieving individuals comes the tendency to over-intellectualize the practice. “Tell me how to feel, tell me what to do, tell me what to read so I can add it to my mental repertoire and get on with this”. They treat their yoga practice as if it’s another thing to mark off their checklist, another item to be accomplished. If only it were that easy.

As a teacher I sometimes get caught up in wanting to help my students avoid the common mistakes and pratfalls that come along with an intense discipline like Ashtanga. One of the great things about teaching this type of yoga is that we teach what we know. We do the practice too, and that intense connection helps us empathize with our students. We know what it’s like to struggle, to ache, to have doubts, because we’ve been there ourselves.

I didn’t understand this before, as a student a few years ago. I didn’t understand why when I asked an experienced teacher something about the practice they would get this look in their eye and a knowing Sphinx-like smile, now I understand. Sometimes we’ll tell you what has happened to us so that you can bypass the injury or the pain that we have lived through or witnessed. But most of the time that’s just not possible, you have to learn it on your own.

There are no shortcuts in life, and since this practice is such a mirror for life, there are no shortcuts in this practice. I’ve seen it many times, people want to do a jumpback, jumpthrough, or any other pose, so they’ll go home and practice that action over and over until they accomplish it. But somewhere in attempting to become proficient at this one thing they miss the work of steadily letting the body open and strengthen. They miss the development of the bond between the mind and body that comes with learning things in a gradual, systematic way. And once they “get” this posture they’ve worked so hard for, somewhere down the line that link that they never developed comes back to haunt them.

It could take months or years but it always comes back: the work that you skipped, the release of the body that didn’t happen, the strength that wasn’t allowed to take root. Now you have to learn the lesson that you didn’t want in the first place but now it’s harder, it may come with more pain, with an injury or with emotional turmoil that you never expected.

I guess once again I’m trying to help you, the student, reader, understand a lesson so you don’t have to struggle with it down the road. Yoga is a lifetime process, you grow with it and it grows within you. There is no skipping directly to the end, you just need to be patient, put in the work and I promise you “it”, whatever “it” means to you, WILL come.