Yoga is clean thought, clean action, clean relationship. In my practices I try not to stimulate the mind or get
caught up in day dreaming and thought theatre. Yoga can be washing dishes, running, conversing with my four
year old son. Yoga can be seated meditation, asana, or giving road directions to a stranger. Yoga is anything
and everything that is done with reverence and attention. I use mantra when my mind wants to run. It is wonderful
to have the rhythm and beauty of the mantra with me often.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an amazing source for classical yoga contemplation. The sutras begin by
setting the atmosphere and introducing the topic:
atha-yoga-anusasanm And now let us talk about yoga
The second sutra gives the definition of Yoga:
yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah Yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind.
The entire rest of the book expounds on this idea. There are tools that help us sync up with the outside world,
tools to help us know ourselves and the divine, experiences to note that show us we are getting close or having
glimpses of this still state of mind.
I believe we all can live in the state of Yoga day and night. That the attempt purifies itself, and that the extreme of
samadhi is as great an achievement as right action based in love.
2. What makes Ashtanga Yoga different from other types of Yoga?
Ashtanga Yoga in the tradition of Krisnamacharia and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is a lovely and multi-dimensional
system designed to bring stillness to the mind and peace to the world. I don't think it is all that different from
other traditions of yoga. It just happens
to be what I take to. It is extremely physical, like climbing a
mountain. There is a set sequence of postures, so it is like taking
the same trail up the mountain every time I climb it. The trail and
the views and the varying terrain become familiar. I become more
adept at climbing through the practice of climbing. It becomes a
moving mediation, I no longer need to think my way through.
Ashtanga Yoga is named after the eight limbed path that is explained in
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. The name is very clever, serving as a
reminder of how to approach the mat, how to attempt this big physical
practice, how to be content, how to experience these qualities of life
on the mat and then let them overflow into the rest of the day. The
practice purifies quickly and anchors calmness, openness, ease in the
The eight limbs are:
Yamas are basically all the ways one is respectful to the "outside"
world. I think it is interesting that chastity is out of
consideration for others, not centered on the self.
svadhyaya self study
ishvara pranidana constant devotion to the divine
Asana postures, the fact that we are mass, or the fact that mass exists
Pranayama breath regulation, energy regulation, the fact that we are
energy, or the fact that energy exists
Pratyahara sense withdrawal, change
Dharana concentration, the ability to focus
Dhyana meditation, the ability to stay connected, continuous and
naturally adjusting focus
Samadhi absorption, enstasy
3. People tell me “Power Yoga” is the same thing as Ashtanga Yoga. Is that correct?
Power Yoga is the title Beryl Bender Birch, my much loved teacher,
choose to name her book that introduced the west to the Ashtanga Yoga
Power Yoga is written with the average person in mind. Beryl makes the
assumption that the dedication required to take on the practice of
Ashtanga Yoga is already alive in each of us and all we need is a
little attention to detail. She is really an honest person, always
comes back around to the basic good in people.
These days Power Yoga can also refer to practices of Ashtanga like
intensity, with out the structure of sequencing.
4. What are the health benefits of Ashtanga Yoga? Everyone wants to know, can you lose weight
The health benefits of yoga are all encompassing and undefinable.
Is it a health benefit if you begin to make decisions more easily? Is
it a health benefit if you become part of a community? Even if all
that community does is practice yoga together? Or are health benefits
only stronger nails, cleaner teeth and the correct blood pressure?
When we start looking at the person as a whole, the community as a
whole and the world as a whole then separating things to qualify them
doesn't work so well. It could be a health benefit to my love Scott
that I do yoga. Or to my neighbor that my family does yoga.
I teach a class "Yoga for Weigh Loss." It gets people in the studio,
where there is little judgment, where we can love ourselves up in a new
way, where we can experiment with movement and contentment and discover
who we currently are. The weight loss is a side effect of the
It can go the other way too. The same practices, the same system can
add weight on someone who needs more. It is a system of study, the
experiment is one's own.
5. What, if any, connection exists between Yoga and spirituality?
Life is sacred. We are taught to separate and look at small
pieces, break things down and apart to look closely. Yoga is about
looking at the connectedness that makes up all the parts. Yoga is
working spirituality. Practicing yoga and studying yoga allows us to
walk in the world with respect and continuously discover that balance
of action and acceptance to what is going on.
6. How can I find an Ashtanga Yoga instructor?
In finding any Yoga instructor you need to look for someone you
respect, someone you could drive across the country with. Someone
that is consistent in and out of the studio. All yoga instructors are
spiritual teachers, but not all to the same degree. Shop around if you
are not completely satisfied.
Here are some good sites for Ashtanga teachers (alphabetical order):
7. What if I don’t live near any instructors?
If you don't live near any Ashtanga Yoga instructors there are a
number of good studios around the world where you could get started.
I started practicing six months before I met up with Beryl and Thom. I
thought everything was going well, I was happy. Then I heard people
practicing and watched people managing their own challenges gracefully,
with out goals and realized that I was a very very very beginner. I
need a teacher, even if I only see her once a year.
There are good books and videos as well, but nothing is like the
8. What is the funniest name for an Ashtanga Yoga pose? Please describe the pose to us.
I think the funniest name for a pose is Tittibhasana, hilarious.
Tittibhasana means firefly, the legs are way up over the shoulders,
there are a few versions in Intermediate Series. The name sounds like
titty ba assana. First grade humor.
9. What do you think is the biggest misconception about Yoga?
The biggest misconception is "yoga isn't for me." Or maybe the
biggest misconception is "I am good at it."
10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
What is your favorite yoga posture? And your least favorite?
My least favorite pose is anything involving putting weight on my wrists. My wrists are very weak and fragile, so
doing those poses requires a lot of caution and moderation, so they've all become my least favorite.
My favorite pose is triangle pose. I like this pose because it was the first pose that I noticed that my flexibility had
increased. Whenever I do it, I feel that same sense of accomplishment each time.
Ten Questions with a Yoga Instructor
Kathy McNames has been practicing and
instructing Yoga for over 20
years. She lives in Burlington Vermont with
her husband, Scott York
and their son Sabian York. Sabian is
currently 4 years old and loves
sledding. Kathy co owns Yoga Vermont with
Kathy's passion for life involves community,
service and study everyday.
Rebecca, doing the