Why You Should Try Ashtanga Yoga | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Why You Should Try Ashtanga Yoga

Sports writer Ida Thagesen reviews her experience of Ashtanga yoga, and explains why more people should take it up as a great way of exercising

Take a ‘vinyasa’, the Ashtanga instructor says in a soft tone. I jump from one position to the next, thinking “this is more difficult than I thought”. My muscles are still sore from the last session. My first four Ashtanga sessions have proven all my prejudices towards yoga wrong: it is neither boring nor easy. Quite the contrary, I already feel stronger, and right in this moment, I am touching my feet – a thing I never would have been able to during my 10 years of playing football. During my football years, I never thought I would find myself doing yoga, changing from such a competitive field to such a peaceful one.  I had the same misconceptions as many others do about yoga as a form of exercise, however below are my reasons why these misconceptions couldn’t be more wrong.
A few weeks ago, I knew nothing about yoga except a few facts: someone once told me the literal meaning of yoga is “philosophy of life”. It originated almost 5000 years ago, but has grown quite popular in the Western world during the past 10 years.  Also, I knew my mother practiced a slightly different form of yoga, called Ashtanga (Vinyasa) Yoga, which she loves. When I came to UoB a few weeks ago, I saw it on the list of available classes in UoB Sport & Fitness and more or less randomly decided to try it.

I feel peaceful and relaxed, which is a rare feeling in my busy life

With just a few weeks of weekly sessions in the ‘Dojo’ hall, I have become very interested in Ashtanga. To me, Ashtanga has become both about strength, endurance and de-stressing – in other words, a great supplement to my running. To others, Ashtanga is much more than that. To answer “Why Ashtanga?” ideally, I asked Ina Thanild and Janne Skou some questions. Both Ina and Janne are experienced and skilled Danish Ashtanga instructors. To Ina, Ashtanga is about healing herself. To Janne, Ashtanga is about self-development. She adds: “It is about being a light into yourself”.

Unsure of how healing and creating a light into yourself comes with Ashtanga yoga, I ask Janne and Ina to elaborate: Janne explains how strength, endurance and suppleness are combined in Ashtanga Yoga to form a dynamic yoga method with 6 levels, the difficulty increasing in each one. She explains that a meditative feeling will be obtained when the breath, called Pranayama, is combined with the poses, called Asana.

Ina adds to this that she was inspired by the athletic, dynamic form of Ashtanga. This dynamic combination is also why both Ina and Janne prefer Ashtanga yoga to regular yoga.

But there is a long way from being a football player considering yoga to creating a light into yourself. Luckily, both Ina and Janne have good advice for students who are considering trying Ashtanga. First of all, Janne underlines the fact that anyone can do it, no matter gender, age or level. Ina supplements this by encouraging everyone to give it a chance. And what else can you do? Together, they come up with 5 guidelines:


  1. Try different types of yoga.  There exist many types of yoga: Iqenga yoga, Yin yoga and Hatha Soft can be mentioned besides Ashtanga yoga. Both Janne and Ina encourage everyone new to yoga to try different types before choosing which one suits you best.
  2. Try different yoga teachers.  Janne also recommends finding a teacher you feel comfortable with. This will make practise easier and give you energy instead of sapping it. Every yoga teacher is different and focuses on different things.
  3. Go forward slowly.  Janne emphasises taking small steps. She suggests starting with doing yoga only once a week: “After 6-12 months, you can begin doing it twice a week. Remember, yoga is not about being the best, but just about doing it.”
  4. Be patient.  Ina mentions patience as a central aspect. The purpose of yoga is the developing process, not your achievements. It does not matter how long down the yoga path you must walk before you are able to do a headstand. In other words: “Its is not what you do, but how you do it.”
  5. Make it your own.  Ina also underlines the importance of ”making the yoga your own”. Listen to your body, observe yourself. It is okay to be inspired by others, but you should always be faithful to yourself and your own body.


Janne underlines the fact that anyone can do it, no matter gender, age or level

I am still in step 3, I think.  Take a ‘vinyasa’, the instructor says again in the end of the lesson. My muscles are even sorer now as I do my last ‘vinyasa’ this week. Afterwards, I look in the mirror – can it be possible that my biceps are more visible already? In this moment, I feel peaceful and relaxed, which is a rare feeling in my busy life. I don’t know if Ashtanga ever will be a healing and spiritual experience to me, as it is for both Ina and Janne. For now, it is relaxing and strengthening my body, and that is all I need. That is why I do Ashtanga yoga and why I would recommend that everyone else considers trying it.


18th December 2017 at 9:00 am

Images from

Cedric Lim