Ashtanga Yoga & Journaling

When you are starting out with any sort of journey, journaling can be a very useful tool for keeping yourself accountable and tracking your progress. There are hundreds of studies that show the numerous benefits of journaling (this website lists 100 benefits!).

I highly recommend that anyone starting out in Ashtanga start documenting their progress in some way- whether it be pictures, video, journaling, or blogging. Progress can seem to take so long and it can be easy to get discouraged. Being able to look back and see how far you’ve come can be a major motivator to keep practicing.

For me, I am a lazy daily journaler. I can usually keep it up for a week or so, but then I get bored with it. I do find it to be time consuming. A great little tool I’ve found is this little journal:

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It’s called the One Line a Day Five Year Journal. I think they are available at quite a few bookstores. I got mine at Chapters (Canada), but I’ve also seen them on Amazon. Each day has a page and there a few lines for each year. When completed, you can see what you did each day for the past five years. Every day after my practice, I just jot a few quick notes in it. It takes less than 5 minutes. Potential things to include are:

  • Where you are in your practice
  • How you felt- Are you tired? Happy? Had a hard time getting out of bed?
  • Any aches & pains
  • Poses you’re struggling with
  • Any breakthroughs
  • Major life events

I’m finding that partnering this daily journaling with blogging more in-depth a couple times a week is working for me at the moment. Even after a few weeks, you can look back and start to see patterns and small breakthroughs. I can’t even imagine looking back after five years of practice!  If you are a lazy journaler like me, I would highly recommend this tool*. You don’t even have to buy this particular journal. You could very easily just buy a regular notebook and dedicate each page/half page to a day.

*Side note: This would also make a great daily gratitude journal!

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When to Take a Day Off

In the Ashtanga yoga tradition, there is a strong emphasis on six day a week practice. Kino MacGregor explains the reasoning behind this:

In the Ashtanga Yoga method it is recommended that you practice six days a week. Traditionally the six day a week practice was meant to be done in what is known as “Mysore Style”. In this method of practice you follow your own breath and movement not the guidance of a teacher leading a class through the same movements. Named “Mysore Style” after the city called Mysore in southern India where the Guru of Ashtanga Yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, lived and taught for his entire life, this method of practice is the safest and best way for students to practice. Memorizing the postures allows students to focus internally, which is the real goal of yoga. When you do not know what you will be doing next your attention will always be on your teacher rather than within yourself. Once you memorize the sequence of postures that your teacher determines is right for you the entire practice transfers deeper into the subconscious level.

When you are starting out, it can be a difficult balance to know how often to practice as it can be very hard for many people to start out at six days. In one way you want to push yourself a little bit, but you also don’t want to injure yourself. In her article,  Kino recommends starting out 3 days a week and slowly building up from there.

For me, I don’t have a formal schedule of how many days a week I practice. When I wake up, I ask myself  – can I practice today? This morning I woke up with significant muscle pain in my shoulders and upper arms. I know that with this soreness I wouldn’t be able to stick to proper form in Chaturunga, so I chose not to practice. A little soreness is okay and very natural, but any sort of significant pain will be a hindrance to your practice. Poor form will lead to further injuries.

In the beginning it can be exciting to start an Ashtanga practice and hard to take a day off.  On the days that you don’t practice, still stay committed. Wake up early. Do a few poses that avoid your sore areas (or just do Savasana). Meditate. Read a book or articles on yoga, spirituality, or mindful living. Remind yourself that you will get stronger and you will progress. All of these things are still furthering your yoga practice without hurting your body.

 

Respect Your Yoga Practice Space

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( source)

For the home practitioner, the yoga practice area becomes a deeply personal space. Especially for someone who practices ashtanga, as we spend a lot of time there. If you ever have the honour of being in someone’s practice space (as well as many yoga studios), there is a peaceful feeling present that can only come from many hours of spiritual and physical practice. You can’t just throw a couple of Buddha statues in there and call it a day – this is something that grows over time.

Having a beautiful space is often half the battle when trying to  maintain a consistent home practice. If a space is welcoming and reflects who you are, you’ll want to spend time there.

When we purchased our house almost two years ago, we knew we were buying a fixer upper. The basement was our first area of focus. In the listing is was called “finished”, but this was a huge exaggeration. If I had to describe it in one word, I would say “scary”. It was dark, neglected, musty, and very dirty.

However, we could see the potential. We ripped everything out down to concrete walls and have building it up ever since. When we were working on the floor plan, I knew that I had to include a space for me to do yoga. In the end, this room ended up being a home office/yoga/exercise room.

Our basement project is now in its last stages and my room is about 90% complete. However, at this current moment the room has become a stockpile for tools, building materials, and junk. I have about just enough room to put down my mat. Not very zen. So often it’s our own personal spaces that suffer and lay stagnant.

My first plan of action is to get all of the junk out and then to beautify.  I have this vision of  a clean, spacious, and minimalist space to practice yoga. I will update on the progress.

The main takeaway? Honour your space – whether it’s a tiny corner of your living room or a completely dedicated yoga room. Clean out the clutter. Keep it clean. Decorate with only your most treasured items. Let others know this space is important to you and fight for it when they may try to impose on it. If you respect  your practice space, you respect yourself.