Ask the APP: What is the Ideal Body Type For Ashtanga Yoga?

There is no ideal body type for Ashtanga.  According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “yoga chittah vritti nirodah”  which roughly translates to yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. No matter what your body type,health, age, ethnicity, creed, religion, race, you can benefit from quieting the mind.

Achieving a particular look in a particular pose is not the purpose of Ashtanga yoga. However, I do understand that some people are afraid that their perceived limitations will hurt their progression in the practice. marichi1013


Tips For Working With Your Perceived Limitations

Time: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:13 states that practice needs to be steady and done for a long time. It is not uncommon for it to take 2 to 3 years of steady consistent practice before you can do the full version of a difficult pose. It is not uncommon for a teacher to stop you in the same place for those 2-3 years until you get it. Through this you learn patience, diligence, discipline, dedication, and how to quiet the mind in the face of adversity.

Consistency: The pose needs to be done every time you practice. If you practice another yoga in addition to Ashtanga, you need to incorporate your challenging Ashtanga poses into your other practices.

Belief: If you don’t believe you can do it, it won’t happen. Period.

Figure out where in your body can you make up for your perceived limitations-

A few examples pinchamayurasana832

If you feel your arms are short and you are working on jump backs, can you focus on strengthening your lats and serratus and push more into your hands to get more height? Can you focus on strengthening the deep core muscles so you can lift more through the abs and pull your feet in closer?

If you feel you don’t have a bendy back and you are working on standing up and dropping back in wheel, can you focus on strengthening your legs so you can push down hard through the feet and still lift up? Can you focus on opening your shoulders and broadening through the chest so you can gain more lift and get ease in dropping back?

Get a Good Teacher-You want one that is positive but does not baby you. One who believes in you and pushes  you to your limit but never over it.  One who understands how to work with different body types.  One who practices themselves. One who has been practicing for a long time.

This may be obvious but the person needs to be an Ashtanga practitioner and teacher. Most people I have met, who have severe hang ups about their bodies ability to do poses, rarely get these ideas from Ashtanga teachers. Traditional Ashtanga teachers are “do your practice and all is coming” type of people. They tell you the pose and they help you get into it. They don’t give you a dissertation on anatomy and why you can’t or cannot do it. They tell you to do it. You try a few times and then its done. Even David Keil, who I have practiced with numerous times, who has a strong anatomy background and lectures on it, does not give out poses with an anatomic limitation speech. A good Ashtanga teacher is thinking, “what is the best why to go about getting this student in the pose safely?” camel1217

Get a Second Opinion or Third- While you don’t want to jump around from teacher to teacher, I do find that  fresh eyes on something can help. I was struggling for a long time with Vatyanasana and I just could not balance in it. I went to another teacher who told me, “turn your foot” . Just those three words changed everything. I have heard many stories where people were told by one teacher that they would never be able to do a certain pose because of how their body was made. Then they went to another teacher who taught them how to do it. A workshop or a trip to Mysore can give you a new approach to an old pose that may make it accessible.

Keep Doing It Anyway-It is possible they you may never be able to do the pose. However, you definitely won’t be able to do it if you never do it. “You miss all the shots you never take” -Wanye Gretsky

Take A Look At Your Lifestyle-Are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting enough water? Are toxins from too much alcohol, prescription and non prescription drugs and bad food building up in your cells and muscles? All of these sap you of energy needed for the practice. How do your other physical activities affect your practice? Running and lifting weights can tighten muscles hindering your ability to progress physically. Are you at the correct weight for your body? To much weight weakens the joints. It takes away lightness which can hinder inversions, jump backs and jump troughs. To much fat around the tummy  and thighs hinders binds and twists. What do you eat before you practice? Heavy foods effect lightness for inversions, energy, stamina, binding and twisting. These are just a few of the things that can hinder your practice.  Take a look at your life outside of yoga and make sure that it supports your practice.



Join the movement: submit your ashtanga pictures,blogs and videos to shanna@wellnessfrominside.com

The pictures in this post are from APP contributors and the views in this article are not necessarily their own.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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