Yoga Practice

Where did all the ashtangis go?

There’s a trend in Austin that is worrying me. Recently, weekend ashtanga classes have been disappearing off studio schedules. While I can’t make any weekday classes unless I happen to have an odd holiday off, ashtanga classes are still hard to find. I know the teachers aren’t disappearing; so then it makes me wonder, where did all the ashtangis go?

The ashtanga practice is far from dead. It seems every time another celebrity is identified as a yogi, ashtanga is mentioned as their practice of choice. Madonna does it. Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey, and Sting all practice it.

Ashtanga is the original vinyasa class – the old school version. Movement. Breath. Drishti. No hip playlist in the background. No breathy zen-like instruction from the teacher. Inhale, arms up. Exhale, fold forward. Inhale, look up. Exhale, chaturanga. Even ashtangis who practice 3rd series come back to primary. Ashtanga creates such a solid foundation for a vinyasa practice.

So it makes sense that many vinyasa classes and “power yoga” classes are derived from ashtanga and borrow postures from each of the series as the level of classes gets progressively more difficult. This is great for us ashtangis to feel comfortable going to pretty much any vinyasa class. We’ve seen and practiced versions of many of the postures.

But does this mean ashtangis are pushing the primary series aside to explore new flows, postures, and sequences? Does doing the same set of postures in the same order become stale and boring? (Should I be asking the same of Bikram followers?) And if this is the case and demand for ashtanga classes (led or mysore) dwindles, what do you do when you want to get back to your roots?

Sometimes, I liken the ashtanga primary series to practicing scales and arpeggios. At the start of each of my piano lessons, I went through a round of scales in a different key. There is nothing new or exciting about them, but they created a foundation for everything and anything I would face with a new piece of music. Even though running my fingers along the keyboard in this manner was getting back to basics, it was still challenging. No matter what I practiced in between or however much time I took off between playing, I felt an obligation to ground myself in those notes.

And that’s what ashtanga primary is for me.

With as large of a yoga community that Austin has, I’m saddened by the apparent disappearance of ashtanga. I imagine there are many of us out there who are looking to “come home” and ground ourselves in a regular primary series practice (and dabble in 2nd and 3rd series).

I miss the people I saw week in and week out. I’ve met so many lovely ashtangis who ranged from: 15-year-olds, 70-year-olds, moms either pregnant or postpartum, men with tight hamstrings, 20-somethings looking to stay fit, 30-somethings dealing with health issues, 40-somethings wanting to get in shape, 50-somethings in the best shape of their lives…

I hope there is a resurgence and enough interest/demand for more classes. (I hope they are on the weekends for us 9-5 office workers.) I hope to see and make more ashtangi friends.

In the mean time, I’ll be doing primary series at home when I can get some quiet time and space. And when I do venture out for a class, I think I’ll start doing a special handshake or wink to let others know we’re still out there. It’ll be like Fight Club, except underground ashtanga club… Sir.

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  1. I’ll chime in here. I live in NYC and had been practicing Ashtanga seriously in shalas for 7+ years. But the shala fees are expensive, and once I’d finished 3rd & begun to learn a tiny bit of 4th, even here my options were really limited.

    I dropped out of the studio scene when my only option left was the longest standing shala, Eddie’s, which is unfortunately $260 a month & doesn’t have amenities for people who need to shower and go straight to work. There’s one shower apparently, but it’s in the middle of a changing room somehow. And there’s no towel service. It’s not really that useable. I only OWN two towel. I am a true bohemian.

    So I decided to drop advanced, mostly drop Ashtanga and keep that practice solo, while rejoining a gym. I’ve noticed that NYC can’t support medium sized shalas with amenities anymore. Yoga Sutra folded. There’s either Eddie’s, small & independent shalas or the coporate and uptown Pure.

    Ashtanga will survive but I think it’s in a recession with everything else.

    • Terri says

      *gulp* $260/month?!? i don’t know how you new yorkers afford it! which i guess they can’t if studios can’t stay afloat.

  2. thanks for posting this as i’ve been wondering the same thing for awhile now. but my question is ‘how does a traditional mysore studio retain (or gain) students?’ when I opened my studio in Johannesburg in 2010, I was the only ‘traditional’ gig in town. for the last month I’ve had 2 students, and there have never been more than 6 practicing regularly since I opened. if ashtanga is one of the fastest-growing styles of yoga, where is everyone? I have a few theories:

    1. ashtanga vinyasa has a high attrition rate. people tend to either make it or break it (sometimes literally) in about 2 years, then yes, they probably do move on to another style. OR…

    2. they realize it really is a self-practice and choose to do it at home, saving money and time. (btw, I charge about $95/month here in joburg, and I have 2 showers, but the commute for y’all would be a bitch). this group consists of the people who ‘get it’- they are independent, dedicated, and have a strong bond or identification with a single, advanced teacher, not with the yoga studio that is nearest/cheapest.

    It is frustrating that very few stick around long enough (for whatever reason) to really build not only an ashtanga practice, but an ashtanga community. because in the end, I will probably have to close down my studio (or make it a multi-style studio) because I can’t afford to subsidize it for much longer. so my 2c to the ashtangis out there, of all levels- use it or lose it.

    • Terri says

      when i talk to my friends about ashtanga who are new to yoga, many have a strong fear of it. ashtanga (from the outside) can be quite intimidating if all they see is the full version of each posture. what might help (and what i’m trying accomplish with my blog) is break the yoga down to be attainable and accessible for people of all levels.

      ashtanga being a self-practice is a very real thing, especially in this economy. so i think helping to bring new people in who are interested but may be too scared to try will expand the customer base and create a broader community than the hardcore old-school people who have already been doing it for many years.

    • Anthony says

      wow. For 95 a month I would definitely be there almost everyday and try and bring as many friends as I could. The reason I found this blog is cause I struggle with paying 10-15$ a led or mysore class. Too me its definitely worth it! But honestly I cant afford it. I practice at home, but it saddens me because I love my teachers and other ashtangis I practice with. So for the last 6 months I practiced almost 5 days a week which at the end of the month totals to a lot of money. I am also a cyclist commuter that works in the service industry. I don’t make a bunch of money to continue to pay that much which leaves me the option of home practice. Don’t get me wrong- I love practicing regardless, but sometimes it really is hard emotionally when you want to be with you friends in a led/mysore.

  3. Steve says

    Hi I thought I would give you a relative newbie view. I started Ashtanga a year ago and totally love it! I’ve tried a few different styles but never has a style and a teacher connected with me so well.

    But as my teacher is currently in Mysore for a few months ( I’m gutted!!) I thought I’d try a few of the other power/vinyasa classes because a) they are so popular and offer so much flexibility and b) I was intrigued by the heat. I must say I feel like I’m cheating on my ashtanga teacher when I do this!! Ha ha

    I have tried most in my city ( I live in Sydney Australia) and none of them seem as complete to me as primary series, especially for upper body stuff. But I think the bottom line is that yoga studios/ gyms etc are expensive, so if I am going to fork out the money I want something that gives me considerable flexibility say if I have to work late, or something comes up.

    I should point out I don’t have a home practice yet as I get a bit lonely doing it. I’m lucky my teacher incorporates numerous primary led classes as well as Mysore ( although mornings are a killer for me being a gigging musician!!!)

    Btw also being a musician and piano player I lover your description of the primary series as scales and arpeggios! Brilliant!

    • Terri says

      haha glad you liked the reference to scales & arpeggios.

  4. Does anyone know what happened to Mike Mathews/ Ashtanga Yoga Center Austin? I went to the Shala today, and was heart broken to find a for rent sign 🙁

    • Cora says

      Hi Eva. He closed the shala and relocated to San Antonio with his family.

  5. I heard he closed suddenly and left Austin. Not sure where he went.

  6. Pingback: The wink wink ashtanga secret handshake | Finding Drishti

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