“I want to make it to class, but….”
This is a basic sequence that is similar in structure to David Garrigues’ Foundations First video, which you can purchase here.
This sequence is designed with those in mind who don’t know where to start, and maybe don’t have the means to find themselves an appropriate teacher. Finding a teacher is a very involved process that can take a lot of time and energy to do correctly. It’s convenient that now days you can make a small investment and receive quality instruction online. While this will never replace a teacher, and keep in mind that not all online teachers are good, there are ways for you to get some yoga into your system fairly easily. Here’s what you can do:
Stand up straight in Samastithi. This means that your feet are firmly on the floor, with the left and right sides of the feet in balance, and the front and back of the feet balanced. You might want to put slightly more pressure on the balls of your feet for a more rajasic (energetic) beginning to your practice. Stand here for 1-2 minutes. Breathe through your nose.
While you are standing straight in Samastithi, learn to strenghten your midline and engage uddhyana bandha; this is not very complex, as you can just concentrate on your belly button and “suck it in” mindfully. Think of it as controlling the muscles around your spine. The purpose of this isn’t to appear skinny or something mundane, but it’s a very important start to practice because it protects the lumbar spine. The lumbar have nothing around them to protect them other than muscles and organs. It’s literally vital that this part of the body become strong. Make sure that while you stand that this part of your body is awake, and you have a subtle sweeping curve in the lumbar, and that your pelvis is neutral. Some teachers say “tuck your tail slightly” which is more or less a method to get less experienced students to find their uddhyana bandha; it would be fine if you stand up as straight as you are able, and keep the mid belly strong.
While you are standing in Samastithi, with your hands by your sides, float your ribs above the belly so that the chest expands and contracts independently of the belly. We do not want any “belly breathing”. Your body was designed with energetic centers that bring energy in (prana vayu) and eliminate waste (apana vayu). These two major energy centers are all you need to achieve benefits of yoga; work with them by isolating them, learning from them, and working with them to achieve balance between the two. Your thoracic region is your chest, where your lungs and heart are located. It is not a coincidence that your lungs and heart are so close together. Oxygen in the air is the most vital element that is keeping you alive; you will die quite quickly without it… we do not need to do an experiment to prove this, but we can infer easily that if it is necessary for life, then it is likely that with a higher quality of breathing we may have a higher quality of life. Your thoracic region is responsible for bringing in energy from the air and transposing it smoothly into the body; practice this mindfully and realize that these oxygen molecules are literally keeping you alive. Also, recognize that your exhalation removes toxins like Carbon Dioxide. If we have too much toxicity we will die, and so it is also easy to infer that we want less poisonous gas in our body. Thus, we inhale completely, and we exhale completely. When you breathe in you do so through the nose, and if you can do some Ujjayi breathing that is fine, just a slight constriction of the glottis in the throat to create a subtle hissing sound, and some pressure which increases the power of your breath. If you cannot practice Ujjayi breathing without it interfering with your natural breath, then put it off and come back to it later. The key here is to breathe fully and in a balanced way; let your inhale equal your exhale. Just as the waves of the ocean recede, build, and rush back onto the beach again, so you will breathe in energy, expand with it, and let it go and becoming nothing, just like a wave that disappears into the sand after washing up along shore.
While you are standing in Samastithi you will come to find a drishti, an eye gazing point. This is very important. In our lives we are very distracted by our vision; this is part of our genetics, and it is not something you have much control over. Our peripheral vision functions to pick up any slight change in our surroundings, and correspondingly has a direct link to our stress response; we want to make sure that we do not elicit a response from the nervous system (unless of course you are practicing where there are predators). You can relax in a safe place, and give your eye sight, and the rest of your sensory perception, a bit of a break, by gazing right in front of your nose. Have you heard the saying “it’s staring you in the face”? Just imagine that you are looking right in front of your nose; don’t go cross eyed, that’s weird, but gaze right in front of you, soften your gaze, slightly close the eyes so that they are half open, and stand there, breathing. If you have gotten this far you are practicing 3 of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (asana, pranayama, pratyahara). At this time you can move forward in two directions; 1) Surya Namaskara -or- 2) Asana. Because Surya Namaskara (2) is slightly more nuanced, we will go into 4 basic asanas. For your benefit there is a video at the bottom of the page on Surya Namaskara by David Garrigues. If you prefer this practice then take it. If you do both, then simply add Surya Namaskara to the beginning of your asana practice at this place in your sequence (i.e. after samastithi and before your first static asana).
With the integrity of breath, control of posture through the strong mid line contraction (uddhyana bandha) you will move into a few basic postures, and then you’ll be done.
Take utkatasana; here you simply bend the knees until the heels almost come off of the floor, and you simultaneously raise the arms vertically in the air and bring your palms together if you can. Look up, breathe, and stay here as long as you can. If you would like more direction on this posture, here is a video made by my teacher, David Garrigues: https://vimeo.com/47518067
Take utthita trikonasana; here you will step your right foot back and angle it to point straight behind you. Open your hips, spread your arms, and extend your right hand far to the right until it will go no further, and then drop the right hand to the leg or at the floor to the right of the foot, or on a block, or grab your big toe with your first two fingers and your thumb. In this posture you can keep the head still or you can look up. You can keep the left arm at your side or you can try to extend the left arm vertically above you so that your gaze then falls upon your thumb. This posture is a bit complex so maybe check out a video on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MW6Z69vhJE
Take shalabasana; here you will lay down gracefully on your belly on the floor, and look forward. Take your arms by your sides and rest the tops of the hands on the floor next to your legs. Roll your shoulders away from your ears and lift your chest as high as possible off the floor, and then with straight legs lift your legs off of the floor with your feet pointed. The legs can be together or apart (the more apart they are the more the lumbar will be affected). Look straight in front of your nose and breathe here. Stay in this posture as long as you would like, and then transition quickly into the next one. Here is a video of shalabasana: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owRd6QZYEHc.
Take dandasana; here you will sit flat on the floor and essentially re-take samastithi in your whole body while your sits bones rest fully on the floor. Engage your belly, pull up your knee caps with the strength of your quadriceps, engage the feet and pull the toes upward and back towards you. Keep your spine straight with your chin slightly tucked in, and again find that gazing point directly in front of your nose. If you worked hard in the first three postures you may want to stay here a while. If you cannot sit up straight in dandasana, then you will want to put a blanket, a wedge, textbook, or some kind of height (which is even from side to side) under your bottom so that you can sit up straight and have a natural curve of the lumbar spine. You can stay here as long as you would like. If you advance to the point where you can take padmasana to close out your practice that is fine, but dandasana will do. You can stay here for a while just breathing. Focus on the strength within your belly, keeping your spine straight and strong with a natural curvature to the spine. Your head is pointing straight up. Your chin is slightly tucked down. Your hands are on the floor next to your hips with the fingers pointing forward. When you are done here you can lay down to rest for a little while, or you can simply get up and start your day. David doesn’t have a video of dandasana but if you click here to like him on his facebook page you will find it in there somewhere.
There are many great online resources through David Garrigues’ website, and you can learn from them online and bring this knowledge with you to class and find consistent support within the same lineage. Please, if you are new to yoga, or in some way struggling with your practice, make the investment in a video course, and don’t be shy about reaching out for support via email or phone with the directors of the yoga school.
Ashtanga Yoga is a system designed by ancient masters of living that determined quite succinctly that our lives would be much better if we were fully aware of what was going on. They determined that for human beings the mind was the obstacle to a more direct relationship with reality. Essentially, they believed that the pinnacle of existence as a human was “constant awareness” (yoga sutra 2:26) that we are more than our minds, and that the fettering of our thoughts are mere distractions from the inherent bliss that is our natural state.
As you live your life every day you will thirst for more yoga as it is needed. Once you have a small window into the vast knowledge of yoga, the deeper parts of you will invariably find the truth that is there. You do not need to worry about yoga coming or going; once it is in your heart it will stay there forever.
Luke E. Baugh, eRYT200/student of the yogi David Garrigues
Ashtanga Yoga’s first principle is ahimsa, which means “non-violence”. Violence can be defined as the forceful limiting of the potential of a being. In yoga you practice removing the limitations of your potential.
Surya Namaskara is a vedic healing sequence that reaches into the vast healing power of the sun, the source of all energy on earth. Because all of the atoms in your body were at one time a part of a planet, the sun reaches into you and brings about change, just like it does to the planets. Surya Namaskara is practiced in many ways, and all of them (that I have seen) are beneficial. In Ashtanga Yoga, in our lineage, we practice it in two varieties; the first one, which we call Surya Namaskara A, has 9 movements (vinyasas), and the second has 17. We practice these movements in the manner described in the following video, while keeping close to the fundamental principles of alignment, breathing, and eye gazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lg_Ja-liVuQ