Reflections After One Month of a 6-Day Ashtanga Yoga Practice

sarah li cain -mumbled jumbles -reflections

I don’t know what made me do it, but a voice inside my head one day literally told that that this was a good idea.  To be honest, I had no excuses why I couldn’t. I know I had the time to spare.

I’ve wanted to further my Ashtanga yoga practice for a while now. Heck, I read enough blogs that talk about it! I remember looking all the Sanskrit names of random poses or theories and wanted to learn more. Maybe it was one of those things where if I wanted to talk the talk, I should learn how to walk the walk. So every morning, except for Saturdays and moon days, I dutifully rolled out my mat and practiced.

I started off by doing a shorter version of the primary series using David Swenson’s awesome DVD for about two weeks. After practicing with this DVD on and off for almost a year now, I had the nagging feeling that I was moving beyond the DVD.  I don’t want to say that the routine was too easy. Rather, I wanted to explore more poses and didn’t want to get too comfortable with someone doing the breath count for me. I found myself getting easily distracted because in the back of my mind, if I lose count, the DVD was there to do it for me.

I’m loving the self guided practice so far. I’ve been religiously looking over David’s Swenson’s practice manual on the poses and pouring over youtube videos. I think I am doing well so far despite the fact that I do not have a teacher helping me. I’m not saying it has been easy. In fact, quite the opposite. There have been days where I absolutely refused to get on the mat, but I did. There were a few times where I’ve lost count, or forget how to do a pose that I’m familiar with, or  what I had to do next. Those are the days I struggle and have to compose myself until I get to the end of my asana practice.

A month isn’t a long time, but I find that I’m getting more courageous by the day. I either try to go deeper into a pose or want to add another one. I get up earlier. I even do more off the mat. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching this past month and have finally pushed myself to do something I’ve been hesitant to do. And that’s a very exciting prospect. If I feel this way after a month, I wonder what other things will start to unfold a few weeks, months, or years from now?

I know the next step for me is to find a teacher. Maybe even a mentor, on and off the mat. I know at some point I will stall or hold myself back. I have a feeling I’ll need someone to push me towards something bigger and greater. I want to grow. I want to improve. One step at a time, I guess. One step at a time.


My Class at Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

I was a bit nervous going yesterday to the Ashtanga yoga class because I wasn’t sure how I’d manage to do an hour and a half of it. Plus, I haven’t been practicing much as I’d like to lately and there are still lots of poses I haven’t attempted yet.  But, I promised myself I’d give this a try, and as a treat (because it is sooo darn expensive at 260 HKD!!!) I got myself a class this month.

Walking into the hotel I already felt like a swanky person.  Just something about walking beyond the concierge at  a five star luxury hotel just oozes awesomeness. Plus, five star hotels do this lovely thing where they pump a wonderful scent (Shangri-la does this, we luckily recieved a room scent hamper by a manager here and I feel like I’m in heaven every time we spray it on our sheets) and I was just in love.  I’m probably a bit silly this way, but I don’t care.

The yoga studio is on the fifth floor, which is part of the spa.  Now, if anyone has ever walked into a spa part of a five star hotel (yes, I keep mentioning this, but this was all I thought about, really!) you would know how awesome and calm it is. The staff were very friendly, and after I signed up an attendant kindly walked me through the change rooms and all that junk. Let just say that the showers are just fantastic! People who live in Asian countries can understand that when most of time you have water simply dribbling out of the shower head, it’s nice to have a nice shower with good water pressure. Oh and the towels! The towels!

Alright, I digress, but I just loooovvvvvvveeeee (did I mention love?) fancy towels and all things awesome from nice hotels. Let’s go on to the actual yoga studio and class.

The yoga studio is not large at all.I’d say max it’d hold about 15 people, which is fine by me. If I’m paying a lot of money for a class, I’d certainly want a more intimate setting.  The day I went there were about 6 people, so the teacher had plenty of time for adjusting and all that junk. Mats and towels are all set up for you, but I brought my own non slip yoga towel because I know I get sweaty palms. They also provide water, tea and fruit for you before and after your practice.

I forgot how much I enjoyed a yoga class. I know when I practice by myself I still struggle with keeping my mind focused and remembering the routine.  I felt comfortable with the led Ashtanga yoga class because I was able to concentrate on going into asanas and remember what was next.  The teacher (Siu Shan) was very nice, and asked questions and pushed me just enough to get me deeper into postures. There were some that I never knew I could do! I did certain poses and she asked me to do the full asana, and I felt elated when I was able to go in and out of them smoothly.  I also felt like I fed off the energy off the other students, and realizing I was able to do more than half the primary series makes me feel a sense of accomplishment.

I few things I learned from attending this class.

-A DVD can NEVER replace the guidance of a teacher, especially when trying new poses. I still enjoy Swenson’s DVD as a guide. I think next time I go I will ask the teacher to help me into a full headstand.

-Attending a yoga class really motivates me. I know I have to trek all the way to HK Central for this, but it’s worth it.

-I can do more than what I give myself credit for sometimes. I think this also translates into all parts of my life.

-I LOVE the ‘high’ I get after yoga class.

-There is nothing wrong with being sore the next day. It’s a sign I’ve worked my body good and hard.

-Be ready with LOTS of water to drink afterwards.

-I sweat a lot (haha!).

The verdict. I will DEFINITELY go again.  Aside from the fact that this is one of the only places with Ashtanga yoga classes (and the only one with certified teachers in Hong Kong), it is a nice setup, the staff are friendly, the ammenities are wonderful, and the teacher was nice.  Such a relaxing vibe, and I can’t help but giggle every time I walk out the door and there is a fancy doorman opening the door and greeting me. I’m weird I know.

You don’t need to register, just drop in about 15 minutes (or earlier, I went at about 30min before) and sign up.  You pay when you leave. For more information, check out their website.

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Ashtanga at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

One of the main factors why I stopped going to yoga  here (even though I went to a pretty good one) was not only because the instructors spoke Chinese, but there was no consistent Ashtanga class.  When I first decided to concentrate solely on this style, most classes were held around 8am on weekdays only, which sucked considering I had to be at work at 8!  I relied on DVDs and (now) David Swenson’s awesome book, but I don’t feel it is enough anymore.  I am indeed pushing myself with a few more poses, but I keep using time as a excuse not to practice more (with the fact that I joined a gym with my hubby, which I’ll blog at another time).  I also feel that talking to other yogis and a teacher who speaks English will encourage me more.  Doing a bit of digging, I’ve pretty much concluded that there is nowhere really that close to me that a) works with my schedule b) does anything other than yin yoga (which I find boring, no offense!).

Enter Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong.  First, it’s a pretty fancy place. Second, there are two certified Ashtanga teachers there go check out their profiles here)! I’m pretty convinced this is what I’ll need to boost my practice.  It’s a bit expensive at 260 HKD (about 35 USD) but I figure if I go once a month, it’ll be worth it.

I might give the beginners class a try, or the beginner/intermediate one to see what level I’m at, and if I’m brave enough, one day I’ll head to a Mysore class.

Can’t wait!

If you care to, go check out my review.

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Practicing and Beyond

Two more weeks until I head back to China! I’ve done fairly well with doing my Ashtanga yoga routines.  I’ve even gotten up and done it first thing in the morning (well ok after resting for about 15-30 min with  a glass of cold water before hand)! I’m still a little frustrated at not being able to do the following pose even though I’ve been able to back in Shenzhen (well ok, on my right leg anyway):


I’ve been a bit frustrated at my progress, but I’ve really thought about it and to be honest, I’ve done well considering the following:

-My sciatic nerve was so bad I couldn’t bend over and put my flat palm on the floor, or did a forward bend and able to grab my toes/feet

-IT was hard (and tiring) to do a successful downward facing dog, straight legs with feet firmly planted on the ground and all. I can do that now with ease.

-I’ve done yoga classes (when I officially started doing it regularly) with instruction only in Chinese for about a year and a half, and only officially started Ashtanga yoga regularly December/Jamuary (self taught, in English of course), with lots of vacation in between

-There were tons of other poses I couldn’t do before, and the ability to do a 45 minute routine without totally getting in a tizzy (except on those really humid afternoons in subtropical weather that is so typical of Shenzhen)

The positives of me doing yoga regularly is I’ve noticed less back pain, stronger upper body strength and I’m definitely a lot more flexible.  One of the ways I’ve taught myself (as I’ve mentioned in the past) is use a David Swenson DVD (a good introduction if you’re scared of doing the full primary series without the guidance of a teacher, or in my case, none that speaks English!) and now I’ve got a book which is awesome and goes through each pose, because my new goal now is to add a new pose per month to my usual routine (while trying to improve poses I’m already doing, because there’s always room for improvement!)

I can’t say enough about how great this book is! I’m also happy I’ve found a form of activity that I’m really into.  Though being overseas, it’s hard to find the motivation and support, since most sources I’ve found doesn’t really chronicle “beginners” or people not getting a certain pose etc.

I’ve recently found this really cool blog which I hope will help motivate me.  I wonder if one day I’ll have ripped arms like Madonna? hahaha….

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I’m really starting to get into Ashtanga yoga these days. I feel the wonderful effects of it after I am done, and how accomplished I feel when I advance in a routine or am able to do a pose I am not able to do before. I’m currently on a 45 minute routine and am looking to go further at the end of this summer.

I recently purchased the David Swenson manual (awesome Ashtanga yoga teacher btw, I highly recommend his DVD) so hopefully in the summer I am able to squeeze in 3 sessions a week when I’m over at the in-laws. Last summer I was able to have some time to myself, but it’s a little bit hard when you’ve got nieces, nephews, and then a whole slew of people to see. Crossing my fingers.

This is the first time in my life that I’ve really committed to a fitness routine, and I’m really hoping I’ll continue with this.  It’s been a hard road for me, this fitness stuff, and routines are often difficult for me to implement. So yay for something awesome I’ve accomplished!

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