I was having a chat not too long ago with a local yogi and we were discussing the popularity of ashtanga where we live in Harpenden, Hertfordshire. It appears to me that in terms of yoga styles taught and offered around here, ashtanga is king.
It got me thinking why that might be. And surprise, surprise, I have a theory. Now bear with me while I give out-of-towners some context.
Harpenden is about 30 minutes by train from London. The line snakes through the heart of the capital, making stops at places like City Thameslink, Farringdon and Blackfriars. These are all areas where the big city bucks are made – they span the financial district and hotspots for law firms.
And by looking at the cars in Harpenden station car park, it’s pretty fair to say that that’s where a lot of these commuters are heading. They work hard, achieve results and can afford to live in Harpenden as a result.
“So what’s this got to do with yoga?” I hear you ask. Well, I went to a led ashtanga class recently and I heard a student say that they’d only get off the sofa in the evening if they felt like they were going to build up a sweat in class. To some, it’s viewed as an alternative to going to the gym.
It’s the ‘pushing’ and ‘striving to achieve’ that can draw some people to ashtanga. I guess you do need some steely determination to get through the physically demanding asanas that comprise the Primary Series.
I’ve heard ashtanga described as a “gymnastic routine” but that undermines its beauty. When you practice ashtanga traditionally in a Mysore-style class, everyone goes at their own pace, in time with their breath. The room is quiet except for the sound of ujjayi breathing and the teacher gives you individual attention, tailored to where you are in the practice. It becomes a moving meditation.
And yin yoga really is a perfect practice for Harpenden. If we lead stressful, hectic lives, your yoga practice provides a time to slow down, to surrender and let go of ambition. If we’re constantly striving and rushing from one thing – or one pose – to another, we’ll burn out.
By spending prolonged periods in each yin pose, we let go of ambition. We come to a point of stillness – both mentally and physically – and we learn to accept our bodies. We also observe sensations that arise in our bodies, knowing full well that if we push ourselves, we aren’t half going to feel it after five minutes. There’s no hiding in yin. You’re in it and it’s for the long haul.
So if you practice ashtanga you should probably try yin yoga. It’s about achieving balance. The yin and the yang.
Of course, you might disagree with my vast sweeping generalisations of this Home Counties town. In which case, feel free to leave a comment below.
Alternatively, you could come to an upcoming workshop and take it up with me personally…
Yin yoga workshop at BAYoga Studio, Berkhamsted: Saturday 14 September
Yin/Yang yoga workshop at Breathing Space in Harpenden (Yes! Get off the sofa!): Saturday 21 September
Weekly yin classes in Southdown, Harpenden: Tuesdays, 8-9.15pm
And if you’ve read this far, Congratulations. Here’s a little treat: How to practice yoga with your cat