04: The Benefits of Ashtanga with Ying Liu
Teacher: Ying Liu
There are several different “lineages” in yoga, one being Ashtanga. Ying’s practice and teaching are based in the Ashtanga tradition and integrate alignment influence from the Iyengar school. Her style has evolved from a physically-focused fast paced Power Yoga flow to a more introspective flow that challenges the mind and body. She continues to be a student of yoga history, philosophy, and therapeutic properties by studying with teachers around the world. In addition to teaching yoga, Ying teaches skiing during the winter at Mt Hood Meadows. I met Ying at a mutual friend’s birthday party, and, of course, we started talking about yoga. I learned that she’s an Ashtanga enthusiast and I thought it’d be great to hear what she loves about that practice and what she’s found the benefits of practicing ashtanga to be. We talked about the structure of ashtanga and the what the benefits of the repetitive nature of the practice.
What is Ashtanga?
Ashtanga is a form of vinyasa yoga that was made popular by K. Pattabhi Jois. Jois was introduced to yoga by his teacher, T. Krishnamacharya, who is known as the father of modern yoga. Ying mentioned a few other teachers in our conversation as well. B.K.S. Iyengar, who was also a student of Krishnamacharya, is credited with bringing yoga into the Western world in the 1950s. His son was Desikachar, who also went on to teach yoga. Iyengar developed his own style of yoga, which heavily emphasized alignment and the use of props. You can take classes in the traditional Iyengar style at Jewel Yoga in Portland. Tim Miller was the first American to be certified by Jois in Ashtanga yoga and is the director at Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, CA. Kino MacGregor is one of the youngest people to be certified by Jois and is also one of the foremost Ashtanga teachers in the U.S.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Ashtanga means eight limbs (or branches). You can learn more about the eight limbs in this series of videos from Ekhart Yoga.
The Structure of Ashtanga
The Ashtanga practice is broken down into six series, or sequences. The series is split into primary, intermediate, and advanced. Every practice begins with five rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) A, five rounds of Surya Namaskar B, a standing sequence, and then one of the six series. Every movement is paired with and inhale or exhale, as well as the position of the gaze. You can attend primary led classes or Mysore style classes. The Mysore style is a self-led class, where students are expected to have memorized the series (or as much of the series as they can do) and go through it at their own pace, while the teacher walks around and assists students in their various stages of practice. Check out my favorite “cheat sheet” for Mysore at ashtangayoga.info.
Ashtanga in Action
To see the primary series in action, taught by Jois himself, check out the video below.
Interested in trying Ashtanga in Portland?
Portland Ashtanga Yoga and The Yoga Space are two studios that hold Mysore classes and regular introductory classes to the Ashtanga style. If you’re interested in trying out some of the primary series at home before heading to a class, I really like the videos over at DoYogaWithMe.com. Check out their video on Surya Namaskar A and B to get started. The videos are completely free to stream but do consider donating or purchasing a download to support the site! As Ying and I mentioned in the interview, there are a lot of chaturangas in Ashtanga! This is a pose that takes a lot of practice; it’s better to slowly build up to the full pose rather than doing it repeatedly with imprecise alignment, as it can be rough on your shoulders. Watch as Ying talks us through some alignment principles for chaturanga below.
If you’re interested in meeting Ying and taking a class with her, you can get her schedule on her Instagram profile: @yingliuyoga.