Going the Distance…

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line
Engines pumping and thumping in time
The green light flashes, the flags go up
Churning and burning, they yearn for the cup
They deftly maneuver and muscle for rank
Fuel burning fast on an empty tank
Reckless and wild, they pour through the turns
Their prowess is potent and secretly stern

He’s going the distance
He’s going for speed
She’s all alone
In her time of need

– Cake

As my holiday season comes to a close, I am coming off an Ashtanga high.  Much like Cake’s “The Distance”, my engine was pumping in time as I rang in the New Year by  spending four glorious days in a Mysore intensive with my teacher- David Garrigues.  An intensive with David is just that… intense.  My practice is sorely lacking already, so I knew going in it was going to be a bumpy ride, but that was alright.  David has this way of pulling things out of you.  He asks more of you; constantly.  Even the littlest request could leave you going “Why am I sore here?” the next day (he’s the king of nuances). There were days where I had to really push through parts (mainly the beginning) because I was tight, sore, tired, etc.

Day one didn’t start off too well.  I woke up to discover that I had started my period; AWESOME.  :/  A few other things went wrong that morning too and by the time I made it to the shala, I was ready for a do-over.  LOL.  Luckily, things began to look up once I went into the Mysore room.  I found my spot by the wall and the heaters (yay warmth) and soon enough, my four days of bliss had begun! 😀

I have taken several classes/intensives with David and it is now at at point where he is getting to “know” my practice.  He knows that my shoulders are hella tight and he pokes fun at me and my horrendous shoulderstands.  In return, I get to make small jokes back.  One day, I was up in shoulderstand with my arms behind me in a belt (because otherwise they will run amok) and he comes over and squats down beside me “Ashley, this just won’t do! Get your hands down on your back behind your ribs.  You are on your sides.”  He fixes my hands, and the belt, and gives me some more pointers as he watches.  At this point, I’ve already been there somewhere around 7-10 minutes; I’m sore, tired and my arms are rebelling because they dispise this pose and he goes “You’re losing it…”.  I look at him and go “David… I’m tryyyyying….” in this pathetic voice and he starts laughing, and I start laughing and then half the room starts laughing.  There is just something sincere and honest about him that makes every encounter special and unique.

There were a lot of small things he asked me to work on, but a couple things he really asked me to work on were:

  • Full inhale/exhalations on my vinyasas

I hav a tendency to rush the vinyasa and not fully inhale after my chaturanga

  • Working on my backbends

I have really been working on opening up my chest and to do that, I have been sending my weight towards my chest.  Well, that is good as an exercise, but not for the asana itself.  He had me work on internally rotating my thighs towards the midline (because “Ashley is doing something funny with her legs”) and sending the weight back towards my legs and walking my hands in.  I was having a hard time getting my feet “heavy”.  I just-couldn’t-do-it.  At one point I asked “How do I do that?” and he said, “How do YOU do that?  Figure it out!  You have 40 years!”  Oh David….  The next day he said I looked much better, but that I now needed to work on lifting the chest.

If you ever attend a class/intensive with David, don’t be surprised if you hear any of the following:

  • “Better.”
  • “Go Back!”
  • “STAMP!”
  • “65% better”
  • “Ground.”
  • “What is he/she doing?”
  • “Again.”
  • “25% better”
  • “No, you’re not doing it. Try again.”
  • “Dynamism.”
  • ….. etc

From my experience, each of the above is said with love, conviction and with the best of intensions.  His expectation is that you try; and that you try 100% — even more!  He is very serious about each asana, and that it be done correctly, though he will modify for you if necessary.  Although David is not at the shala all the time due to his teaching schedule, I am blessed to have him as one of my teachers.  If you train with him regularly, he will get to know you, your flaws and recognize when you improve and/or open up.  Expect pranayama work, because that is something David is passionate about.  Personally, I really enjoy it so I enjoy the one hour sessions and it helps me wind down after the two hour practice.

I’m usually lost during the chanting, but I stumble my way through it to the best of my
yama_with_dandaability. HAH! David did make chai this time and it was pretty good.  He closed out the session with a lecture.  Usually with the intensives there are two conferences.  I am usually only able to make one because the other is at a time I am not able to attend.  This talk was all about Dharma.

It was actually quite fascinating.  The talk is on periscope if you want to go listen to it!  It’s about an hour long and he even weaves in some folklore too!

All in all, it was a great way to ring in the New Year!  I met some great people and I also got to reconnectwith some old shala pals I haven’t seen in a while.  It gave me inspiration to try to reconnect with my practice as often as possible and I’m already looking forward to seeing David again in the spring (if my schedule allows).

Check out these related blogs 👇
*  Slow and Steady
 Enjoy the Storm


Slow and Steady

It is hard for me to believe a month has passed me by since I had my intensive with David.  I got more out of that intensive than I bargained for.  I was surprised that he gave me two more ashtanga yoga poses (bhujapindasana -> kurmasana) to work on before he left.  In addition, he wants me to work shoulderstand at the wall.  I am to lay with my back at the wall, with my feet on the wall, and work on pushing my pelvis away and work on getting up more on my shoulders and maintaining a straight line and I also need to work on opening up my shoulders more.  They are nowhere near parallel with each other.

The one thing I went home with Sunday, that I didn’t expect, was ass chafe.  Imagine my surprise while showering Sunday when all the sudden my ass was on fire!  LOL!!!  I guess 4 days of ~90 degree temps, a two hour practice every day in a room with no air conditioning along with 24-50 people doesn’t make for an ideal situation. I never thought I would be using diaper rash cream in my 30’s…. My husband found it hilarious when I called him that afternoon and asked him to pick some up for me on his way home.  I now understand why babies with diaper rash are so miserable.

In the month since, I have used the time to digest what I have learned and I have even implimented some of what he has taught me in my own (non-ashtanga) classes that I teach.  What I have used has been well received.  YAY!  I am finding that verbalizing some of the theoretical concepts of what I am learning is helping me digest them quicker and… sharing is caring, right?  I have discovered that sometimes breakthroughs aren’t immediate and sometimes the concept or asana has to marinate a bit in order to really take hold.

I haven’t been able to make it to the shala nearly as often as I would like, as I have had issues at my job (overworked and under appreciated) and I finally decided to put in my two weeks notice.  Friday is my last day, and I am hoping to make more appearances at the shala.  Between being kept at work late constantly, and being down and out with migraines, my practice has not been as consistent as I would like.  If I hope to become an ashtanga teacher one day, I need to be more devoted to my practice and I am not doing that at the moment; shame on me.

Last time I was at the shala, Elizabeth was gracious enough to add a few new asanas to my practice.  The tittibhasana-crow transitions are kicking my ass.  David had me doing one of them already after bhujapidasana and now I have another one!  I am all the way up to kukkutasana now.  I’m really having fun laughing at myself during the learning process. For instance, the first time I lifted up out of supta kurmasana, I bowled over backwards.  😀  I just laid there laughing at myself and told her I was “Humpty Dumpty”.  I must admit, I am not fond of rolling around eight times in the circle either.  I am quite bony and it kills my poor hip bones!  😦  My poor cork mat doesn’t have much padding, but I adore the thing as it’s the only non-slip yoga mat I have ever owned, so I won’t be trading it in for ANYTHING.  Maybe I need to throw a blanket down for that portion though, because… OUCH.

Anyway, I am hoping to get a couple home practices in before this weekend.  David is returning and I want to be a little more fluid in the asana that I have.  I’m sure he will have something to offer on them!  He likes to milk out every bit of the Ashtanga yoga benefits from each of the Ashtanga yoga poses that are in your practice.  It will be refreshing to see him once more.  His enthusiasm is so contagious.  I wish he was at the shala more often.  I would like to do teacher training with him one day, I think.  With that said, I still want to go train in India and pursue certification that way.

Next weekend is my vacation and training with Kino MacGregor!!!  I can’t wait!!  Hopefully, I will be blogging more.  Sorry about the absence.

Check out these related blogs 👇
*  Going the Distance
*  Enjoy the Storm

Beating Back Laziness

Some days my time on my mat is effortless (more or less).  It is a pleasant time of solitude, in which time seems to fly.  The yoga poses are ones of ease and I am able to melt into them with each breath that I take.  It is an enjoyable practice and is the type of practice that I hope to repeat.  Of course, a perfect practice does not dwell within us every time; it’s not meant to be.  Growth does not occur when everything is easy and smooth.  Perfect.

Last week, I had the class where everything was difficult.  Instead of having a lightness to my practice, every time I jumped forward and back, it was as if I was flinging  a bag of cement from one end of my mat to the other.  You can imagine how exhausting it is throwing over 100 pounds of cement around!  While I was doing my sitting postures, I began to lose heart.  I just didn’t feel like doing it anymore.  I wanted to bail on the jump-throughs.  I had been half heartedly doing them for a bit and now I wanted to quit them altogether.  No one would notice, right?

As I sat there, looking around to see what my teacher was doing; “would they notice if I bailed the vinyasa between sides?”, I began to have second thoughts and I made the conscious decision that I would not bail.  I decided that this was my defining moment.  Not every practice was meant to be easy and today I would have to beat back the laziness.  I took a deep breath, planted my hands and heaved my heavy-ass body backwards and took my vinyasa and hopped back through and landed with a thump.  One vinyasa down.

As I took a deep breath and folded forward, I couldn’t help but lament at the fact that I was trying to bend steel.  What happened to my malleable muscles?  My muscles were warm, that wasn’t the problem.  It was as if my body just didn’t want to let go. It was holding on for dear life, refusing to release something.  I didn’t know what it was at the time, but now that a few days have passed, I now have some perspective.  What I didn’t know was that I had a migraine coming and my body was already building up tension and going into self defense mode.

I did learn a valuable lesson that day about my practice and I learned a lot about myself in the process.

  • Not all practices are going to be easy; THAT IS OKAY
  • Tough practices test your:
    • Physical endurance
    • Mental willpower/determination
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Learn to listen to your body (why is this practice so hard)

As I sit here on the couch, fighting back another migraine, I know that I will have many more good days than bad days on my mat.  When the bad days do come, I’ll be prepared to fight; beat back the laziness, fling around that heavy bag of cement and bend steel.

Reason #345 why I practice Ashtanga yoga 😀

I Will Survive…


I made it through my first week!  It was like my own personal hell week  with all the chaturangas I put my body through.  I was pretty sure I was going to collapse on my mat, but my body held strong (YES!) With that said, I’m pretty sure I rolled up an arm along with my mat at the end of class at least once (because it fell off).

Despite my struggle, I could feel my body getting strong as the week went by; having a yoga practice four days a week is paying off!  The vinyasa sequence got SLIGHTLY easier and by the second day of me doing utthita parsvasahita, I could actually hold my leg up without my hip flexor screaming for mercy.  It turns out that the first day I was using my flexors instead of activating my core muscles and keeping them engaged during the entire posture; basically I was overworking them.

I find it amazing that despite the fact that it is a mysore room and Elizabeth is watching everyone doing their own thing, she has the ability to see all.  I don’t get away with much- she is an amazing yoga instructor.  One day I was struggling and I happened to be breathing with my mouth open during my sun b series and she caught me (oops) and gave a reminder to keep the mouth closed.  She also seems to constantly remind me to keep my arm over my head during utthita paravakonasana b.  Each day I’ve been learning at least one new asana and I work to hone what I learned the days before.  I do a lot of repetition to help drill the series into my little brain.  This week I learned all the standing Ashtanga yoga postures of the primary series.  Next week we will be working on backbends.

Although the 84 mile round trip is not ideal and it makes for a long day, being gone from 7 in the morning until 8 at night, I have to admit that I am really loving this!!  I genuinely look forward to the end of my work day, and the drive on 95, though icky, is worth it to get to get to my yoga practice.  I use the drive time to attempt to decompress and by the time I roll out my mat and find myself standing on it, I can’t help but feel like I’m home.

The heat of the room is like a hug to my soul and the rhythmic breathing of those around me is like music that soon lulls me into my own practice, only broken by the occasional thump and direction by Elizabeth.  My inhales and exhales, though ragged at times, lets me know that I am alive.  As my muscles tire and my mind begins to wane, my willpower takes over. I smile, because now I know… I will survive.

I Am That

imageAfter an anxious day and a difficult time trying to not think about my “new path”, I finally was able to leave work today at quarter of five to head up to Philly. I had to make sure to get there no earlier than 5 or I’d get charged an arm and a leg for parking. Anytime after 5 is $12 unlimited and since I’m driving up there four days a week, I need to save the cash whenever possible.

Once there, I made the three block walk to the shala and climbed the three flights of stairs to find Elizabeth, the instructor, waiting for the 5:30 class to start. Since I’m so early, I could change, eat a small snack (bad yogi) and relax for a bit before our class started at 6. She said starting tomorrow, I could start early if I wanted, but today I had to wait to learn the beginning part.

Before we went into the Mysore room, we signed a waiver and and we were handed over a sheet of paper, which was to be our primary series cheat sheet. This was going to be our saving grace, but she told us not to rely on it, as we would be doing bits and pieces over and over again in order to help us memorize the sequence.  When you start Ashtanga, everyone begins with the Primary Series.  Some people say that it is the most physically demanding and many people never get past it!


When 6 o’clock came, I took my first step into the Mysore room as an official Ashtanga practitioner. The first thing I noticed was the heat; how could you not?  It smacked you in the face as soon as you walked in!  I found a spot along the back wall, which was reserved for Ashtanga beginners and I, along with two others, began the program that will set us off as fledglings in the Mysore room by months end; how exciting!

It was louder in the “quiet” room than I anticipated. Lots of thumping and jumping, along with some small talk thrown in. The energy in the room was almost tangible. I loved it! You could almost feed off of it. It was a totally different vibe than any vinyasa class I’ve been in.

We went over our sun salutations and some standing postures today- stopping at  utthita paravakonasana. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be dead tomorrow. I’m so sore from walking around all day yesterday in these heavy leather combat boots and my shins and hip flexors are practically screaming. Throw in a yoga practice and I’m as done as a turkey dinner!

I still stand by something I heard several years ago. The cure from being sore from yoga is… MORE YOGA! I know I’ll probably be sore and achy for a bit, but that means I am stretching and strengthening muscles, tendons and ligaments! That’s a good thing! I need to amp up my asana game.

I did receive a few good corrections/assists today. One I really want to try to pay more attention to is that I need to put more weight into the entire palm of my hands, especially during chaturangas. Evidently, I put more of my weight on the outer pinky edge. I can feel a big difference when I change it, so this is one of my first major hurdles.

Well, this is all for now. A journey begins with a single step and I took mine. ::sigh::  The first step is the hardest one to take. You have to create the momentum to get yourself going. Once you’re moving, it’s easier to keep moving in the direction you wish to move. I know where I wish to go. I know what I wish to become. I am already there. I am that.

The photo was taken from one of the rooms at the shala.