I have been consistently practicing yogasana (in the form of Ashtanga Yoga) for over 10 years. And I love to explore, I am motivated by digging deeper, understanding why things have a certain effect, why they work or don’t work. And I love sharing those things with students.
Yet I feel the most alive, the most present and effortless when I am not lost in understanding some technique (things that happen in the mind) but rather focused on the fundamentals of practice – centeredness, breathing and focus.
These fundamentals are often assumed to be known and executed by everybody, so students and teachers are putting their attention on other things. Yet, I think by focusing on the fundamentals, we can deepen our practice much more and get out of the mind and into the present moment more easily.
Understanding the technique
I love to learn about different techniques, discover the applied physics of movement, the physiological mechanisms that effect and are effected by the practice, and how our anatomical structure supports our practice and is developed by it. And as a teacher I am also interested in creative ways to teach those things to my students.
As teachers we want to inspire our students, help them transform their practice and of course give them a good time by presenting new and exciting ways to work with body, mind and spirit.
That might be a reason why technique is predominantly covered in the most popular workshops. Workshops that cover these rather physical topics like jumping, handstands, advanced inversions are popular for a reason, as they are often fun and people take home a lot of knowledge and hopefully inspiration to keep practicing.
Yet, in my experience the workshops that had the most effect on my practice where not the workshops that gave me plenty of new techniques or more details, but rather those workshops that focused on the fundamental principles.
The 3 Principles of (Ashtanga) Yoga
In Ashtanga it’s pretty simple (and as far as I know other styles are not much different when it comes to these basic principles).
There are 3 fundamentals to always come back to in any asana – no matter if you are learning Sun Salutation in your first class, or putting yourself into the ultimate multi-advanced pretzel pose:
- Softly engage your core – Bandhas
- Breathe freely and evenly – Breath
- Focus your gaze on a prescribed spot – Drishti
Whenever you catch your mind wandering – Bandha, Breath, Drishti
Whenever you feel your body tensioning up – Bandha, Breath, Drishti
Whenever you notice things around you that have nothing to do with you and your present moment in your practice – Bandha, Breath, Drishti
Whenever you are getting into uncomfortable places – Bandha, Breath, Drishti
Whenever you feel you cannot do it – Bandha, Breath, Drishti
Whenever you want to quit – Bandha, Breath, Drishti
It’s sounds simple, and it’s easy to assume that everyone knows. But the reality is: “everybody knows that” doesn’t mean “everybody does it”.
The greatest classes I took as a student where the ones where those fundamentals where presented in a very down-to-earth way, no bla-bla around it. Those were the classes I could really go within – and I am forever grateful to those teachers that had the courage to skip all the crazy things and focus solely on the simple thing – Bandha, Breath, Drishti!
On the other hand classes with lot’s of talking, lots of complicated explanations, made it look like there is a lot to learn. Yet, those classes didn’t have such a lasting and transformative effect, even if I had an „aha“-moment.
Progress lies in the consistent application and mastery of fundamentals.
Trying new things is more exciting than working on the basics.
Often when we teach something, we want to be creative and teach something new to our students, something they haven’t heard. We don’t want to bore them with always repeating the same fundamentals.
I am not against creative teaching. I am simply saying that students love trying new things as it occupies their mind and takes their attention off the fact that they haven’t mastered the basics yet. This yields short term entertainment, yet establishes the pattern of always looking for the next cool technique, instead of just being in the moment, with Bandha, Breath and Drishti.
I encourage you to focus on the fundamentals of your personal practice today and then teach your next class completely based on these fundamentals. Please share your feedback below as I would love to read how you feel about it.