I'm happy to share these Wonderfully Written Essays from Stephanie because I think they will motivate and inspire others to find themselves on the path of Yoga!
Thanks Stephanie for sharing!!
ASHTANGA TEACHER TRAINING HOMEWORK
By Stephanie Gasser
What is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga ?
Ashtanga is a style of Classical Yoga from Mysore, India. It is based on the spiritual scripture called the Yoga Sutras from Patanjali.
Ashta-Anga is Sanskrit and means "eight limbs". Ashtanga Yoga is made of eight limbs, one of them being the Asanas - the postures that are practiced at the studios. Another limb is Pranayama, the breathing techniques. The Asanas are organized into six series and are practiced in a specific order. The practitioner should only advance to the next posture once the previous is mastered. The priority of the practice is neither the rapidity with which one advances in the series, nor the degree of flexibility. The student needs to understand that Yoga has no competitive value at all. Thus during the asana practice at the studio, the student should constantly observe his or her intentions and states of mind.
Every kind of Yoga requires a constant effort in becoming more and more aware. Starting with the body; the muscles, ligaments and the quality of the breath, but also ones attitude and state of mind during the practice. How do you react to the presence of the other students in the room? Are you comparing yourself and trying to be better than your neighbor? Why are you here in the first place? How do you treat yourself during the practice? Etc. The student learns to observe and become aware of his or her patterns of thinking and behavior. The point de départ is the body work at the studio, but everything the student learns there he or she will eventually be able to apply outside the studio. This is where the magic of Yoga begins and where the practitioner first notices that there is much more behind it than a physical workout.
What really characterizes this style of Yoga is that besides the physical aspects, it includes moral and spiritual disciplines which are to be practiced with as much dedication as the Asanas. The Yamas and Niyamas are moral guidelines that the student follows in order bring about a transformation of the body, mind and eventually the spirit. We tend to forget that Yoga is a spiritual discipline and that the physical practice is only a small aspect of it. Ashtanga Yoga can bring about great changes in the students life. As one begins to practice, the body starts to change, it is being purified from toxins and energetic blockages. The feeling of the body changes, which influences the way we treat it, what we eat, etc.
Vinyasa signifies the combination of the Asanas with the breath, creating a flow of breath and movement. The breath work has a great influence on the mind, and soon one notices improved concentration skills, a calmer and more peaceful thought stream, which in turn helps bringing the emotional life into balance. When we are practicing with concentration and discipline, but also with detachment of results, the asana practice becomes a meditation form in itself. For the mind is focused and completely calm and in union with the body.
These improvements of body and mind are tangible, important changes that influence greatly the way we see and live life. With progressive purification of the body and mind, great emotional capabilities such as compassion, love and generosity grow in the practitioner.
Thanks to my Yoga / Spiritual Journal that we were required to keep over the last several months, I can track back my evolution. I won't talk about the spiritual advancements, but I want to say that Yoga has opened a door in that sense that has changed my life.
On the physical level, I experienced painful wrists, shoulders and lower back when I started to practice every day. Quickly I gained in flexibility, but felt kind of sore and vulnerable; I was lacking muscle strength. I also felt quite emotional and sensitive. So I started to concentrate on building up strength and continued to eliminate toxins and negative patterns. The pain disappeared, my practice became more stable and I have almost no hyperextension anymore.
I link the anatomy knowledge with the alignment we learnt, and understand it through the posture. But I don't remember the names of all the muscles and bones. I would have to regularly study them and learn them by heart.
The Yoga philosophy and history begins to make sense. I re-read Feuerstein’s manual and other books on the topic. It is something that takes time, years I think until you really absorb the true meaning of the teachings. But I feel I understand the basics now and would be able to explain roughly to a friend. I just keep on reading :-)
My asana practice has become much less forceful, thank god! I can now enjoy certain lightness and flow and am able to turn off the head, to think less. I understand the postures now in the sense that I know what I am actually working on, what the purpose of each posture is. I can break down a posture in order to show it to a beginner.
I learnt a lot by working with the group. I had misconceptions about yoga and the people who do it and was able to gain clearness. But the most important thing that I learnt is: "Practice and all is coming". It was the intensified personal practice combined with the information you taught us that really triggered a step in my personal evolution. Positive side effects are: I quit smoking, TV, Facebook and meat :-D