Alignment and Injuries,  Ashtanga Adaptability,  Pose How To,  Reblogs,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect?

I saw this quote today and I couldn’t agree more. Excerpt from Dumb Little Man,

I know you’ve heard the saying “practice makes perfect,” but does it really?

Great athletes preach this mantra to others to show them how they got to where they are in their life right now.

But read this quote of what NBA Legend Michael Jordan said:

“You can shoot eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, all you become is good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.”

This is very true for our yoga practice. Think of the ways that you or maybe your students cut corners or don’t follow through?  For example, maybe instead of attempting to  lift up in the jump back, you roll over your feet. Is this ever going to result in a strong jump back?



Fundamentals are Important

But yet fundamentals is what people want to skip.  We don’t want to come to Mysore and do Sun Salutes for a month. We want the teacher to give us all of Primary Series. However, Sun Salutes are the foundation of almost every advanced skill in Ashtanga. Sun Salutes contain the foundations for :

  • handstands
  • floating
  • back bending
  • forward folds
  • arm balances
  • strength
  • flexibility
  • breathing with movement
  • udiyana bhanda
  • mula bhanda

I was recently speaking with a few vinyasa teachers on handstand. Someone asked about what to do to warm the body up for handstand and someone said that  it was important to do things to strengthen the wrists and ignite the core before practicing it. My answer was, “if you are teaching someone handstand, shouldn’t it be an assumption that their wrists and core are strong? You are not teaching this to a beginner right?” If the fundamentals are taught from the beginning, the wrists and the core is strong.


Instead of looking at Sun salutes and standing poses as a chore, or just a warm up, look at them as the foundation for your entire practice.


Sure you’re going to make mistakes in the beginning, but that’s a part of the process!

After you learn from your mistakes, you can then start doing things in a more “perfect” manner-Dumb Little Man


What is a More Perfect Manner

It simply means that you do the pose from the foundation up with attention towards all the key components that allow you to eventually do the pose with  some ease.  Going back to Sun salutes. These foundational moves set you up for more advanced poses:

  • Pressing the hands into the floor during half way lift and efforting towards hips over ankles ( sets you up for success in handstand press and strong arm balances)
  • Engagement in the core (sets you up for strength for floating and arm balances)
  • Strong legs, lifted core, shoulders back and down in up dog (teaches you to not dump into low back for advanced back bending)
  • Weight back into the heals, navel lifted, pressing through the hands, shoulders integrated onto the back, gazing at navel in down dog (sets you up success in arm balances, handstands and floating)
  • Pressing into the hands when arms are up (teaches you how to use the seratus and lats which sets you up for success in arm balances, floating and handstand.
  • Folding forward fully in your forward fold (opens up hamstrings for later poses)
  • Efforting heals towards the floor in down dog (opens the hamstrings for future forward folds and  opens the calves for second series noose pose)


Foundations for a “Perfect” Practice

A perfect practice is one that is going to take you forward in a safe and effective way

  1. Pay attention to the fundamentals
  2. If something does not feel right or you are not sure about something, get help-why continue to do something the wrong way and set up patterns that you will have to fix later?
  3. Consistency- The foundation becomes automatic. You body knows exactly what to do.  Any pose that is allusive  will become better with consistent practice
  4. Take more time-It is tempting to spend more time on the poses you like or that you feel good in. Think about taking the opposite approach.  If you are solid in forward folding, then you stay your 5 breathes and move on. If your shoulders are really tight, maybe take a few extra breathes in poses that open those up. If you are working with a teacher and they are open to you calling them over for needed adjustments, call them over for the poses that you struggle with and keep moving through the ones that come easy to you.

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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