Alignment and Injuries,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Ask the APP: Why Take A Guided/Led Ashtanga Class?

Increased Efficacy


Tristhana: This means the three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place. These three are very important for yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind. They are always performed in conjunction with each other.

Asanas purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body. Breathing is rechaka and puraka, that means inhale and exhale. Both the inhale and exhale should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale. Breathing in this manner purifies the nervous system. Dristhi is the place where you look while in the asana. There are nine dristhis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. Dristhi purifies and stabilizes the functioning of the mind.

For cleaning the body internally two factors are necessary, air and fire. The place of fire in our bodies is four inches below the navel. This is the standing place of our life force. In order for fire to burn, air is necessary, hence the necessity of the breath. If you stoke a fire with a blower, evenness is required so that the flame is not smothered out, or blown out of control.

The same method stands for the breath. Long even breaths will strengthen our internal fire, increasing heat in the body which in turn heats the blood for physical purification, and burns away impurities in the nervous system as well. Long even breathing increases the internal fire and strengthens the nervous system in a controlled manner and at an even pace. When this fire is strengthened, our digestion, health and life span all increase. Uneven inhalation and exhalation, or breathing too rapidly, will imbalance the beating of the heart, throwing off both the physical body and autonomic nervous system

Lets face it. When most people practice Mysore style, they add extra breaths and movements. They fidget with their mat, towel and hair. Their eyes wonder over to another person’s mat. Even when this is not happening, students get stopped by their teachers to work on a pose.  The pace of led class, coupled with a traditional teacher that does not stop class to give assistance, keeps us focused and more connected to the Tristana.

Learn the Counts and Vinyasas

The rest of the post will be giving the benefits of using correct vinyasas and counts. It is the most important reason for guided classes.

Learn Efficiency

The correct Vinyasa is the most efficient way to get from pose to pose. Led class teaches how to get from pose to pose in the fewest movements and number of breaths.


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Builds Stamina

Saves Time

Because there is no stopping, fidgeting or extra movements and breaths, It usually takes less time to do a guided class then it does to do a Mysore one that contains the same poses.

Barometer for the breath

It brings attention to the places in the practice where your breath gets stuck.  The counts and vinyasas are checks and balances for our breath.

Points to the Asanas that need more work

With mastery comes efficiency.  A person, who has mastered a skill, can do it efficiently and in the least amount of time necessary to complete the task. If it takes a long time to get in and out of a pose, mastery is not there. The muscles may need to open more. The approach may need to change. Energy and breath may be stagnant or the mind may be fighting the work. More work needs to be done on the pose.


Tapas, or discipline, is one of the Niyamas that make up the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.

As intense discipline burns up impurities, the body and its senses become refined-Yoga Sutras 2:43.

It takes tremendous discipline to  practice on count with good breath and using drishti. Without discipline, the Yogi has no hope of standing strong in the face of all the difficulties that life will bring their way. Guided class teaches us how to stand strong in the face of adversity.

Builds Heat

Heat lubricates the joints and opens the muscles.



The constant movement keeps the energy up.


When a group of like minded people get together on one accord, magic happens and spirits are lifted.

Moving Meditation.

There is something miraculous that happens when you move through the practice without stopping. You find a state of moving meditation. Once you find this, the whole practice starts to shift. The focus becomes less on the external appearance of the asana and more on the internal state of the mind as you do the asana. A vibrancy awakens within you that follows you through the day. At the end of practice, there is a sense of being purified as if your slate has been wiped clean. When energy is moving through the body unimpeded, you feel vibrant and clear.


You Do Your Poses Better

Correct Vinyasa and breath makes many poses easier and more accessible. For example,  inhaling when lifting up helps to start the process of doming the back that is needed to clear the feet from the floor. Exhaling into Chataraunga helps create the explosive movement needed to release the tight tuck needed to jump back.

You do Your Poses with Better Alignment

Correct Vinyasa is not full proof, but using it often sets our bodies up for correct alignment. For instance, the vinyasa for Trikonasana is,

Ekam: Inhale, jump to the right side with the legs three feet apart and spread the arms out to the side.

Dve: Exhale, turn the feet to the right side, go down to catch the right big toe.

If you stand in Samasthithi with your feet straight forward and together and you jump, not step, jump to the right, your feet will be facing straight forward.  Your body might be slanted but your toes will pretty much be going straight forward. Try it. The only exception would be an anatomical issue or someone whose feet turn out when they walk.  Even then, once you follow the next step, which is to turn the feet to the right,  that will be corrected.   If you pivot the feet without lifting them up, you will be in a heal bisecting foot alignment. Again, unless there is some anatomical issue, the feet will only turn so far to the right.  Make sure you are turning your feet and not your hips! Where they stop is usually a good place for Triangle. Try it.


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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

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