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Ashtanga: Toughest Yoga You’ll Ever Love

Nancy Alkire Nancy Alkire Ashtanga: Toughest Yoga You’ll Ever LoveTom Griffith of Yoga On High in an incredible move for his 6 foot 4 inch frame. Photo courtesy Michele Vinbury, Yoga On High.
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“It’s lot of yoga for the money.”

“The best practice ever.”

“It’s a very healing practice.”

“I teach Vinyasa, but I practice Ashtanga.”

Comments like these from yoga people I respect made me curious about Ashtanga yoga, and I discovered that Columbus, Ohio is quite a hotbed for this yoga form. Columbus is home to six yoga studios offering Ashtanga classes, and they are all quite different.

Ashtanga is great for mashing into belly fat and building core strength. It can be a physically challenging program and one that is also very meditative. For me, the discovery of Ashtanga’s self-paced yoga classes that I could start and stop at anytime was terrific. These classes, called Mysore-style, are the nearest thing to having a private yoga class. We have multiple places that do Ashtanga yoga in Columbus, and I found a big difference between how studios around town teach it.

Ashtanga’s program is a series of yoga poses that as Tom Griffith of Yoga on High says, “will open the tightest of joints,” and I will say that after taking the challenge to do it for a month, I felt my own joints moving like never before.

“Repetition is where miracles happen,” says noted teacher, David Swenson. Students repeat vigorous vinyasas between the poses. Ashtanga yoga keeps several traditions from India that you don’t see in Power Yoga-type classes which are derived from it. They often chant brief bits of Sanskrit [shloka] poetry at the start and end of a class. And, they take new and full moon days off.

For my money, the self-paced Ashtanga yoga sessions (called Mysore) are awesome; they are a chance to really refine technique and go deep into yoga poses. Some personal notes are at the end of the article, and details about each studio are below. I recommend that anyone try Ashtanga; it can really advance your yoga practice.

Ashtanga Yoga Columbus
If Taylor Hunt coached OSU’s basketball team, we would be in the Final Four every year. Taylor really encourages students to push themselves. One of the best things about the AYC is that Taylor promotes some of his students to be teaching assistants, so there are usually 2 or more instructors during the self-paced yoga classes. This makes it likely that everyone, especially a beginner, gets a lot of personal attention. As Taylor says, “We want clarity, not confusion.”

Some of the teachers at Ashtanga Yoga Columbus.

Some of the teachers at Ashtanga Yoga Columbus. Photo by Nancy Alkire.

At the AYC there are 3 teachers authorized to teach Ashtanga yoga by the famous K.P. Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. At this time, the KPJAYI only allows students who have studied with their authorized teachers to attend their classes in India, so if your yoga ambition includes going there this is the place to practice.

Since the AYC is an Ashtanga-only studio, if you run into a patch of needing restorative yoga or want to do another type of yoga for a while that could be an issue. Also, they don’t have workshops very frequently, however, sessions with international yoga teachers Krista Shirley and David Robson are coming in 2016. Drop in fee $20.

Balanced Yoga
“She fixed my neck.” “She helped my shoulder.” Student after student told me about the benefits of Joanie Delph’s Ashtanga yoga program at Balanced Yoga. I will affirm that the biggest single decrease in my own back pain came from working with one of Joanie’s colleagues at Balanced Yoga. Joanie usually teaches the led classes, and she also zips around the Mysore yoga classroom like happy hummingbird giving encouragement and amazingly helpful advice and adjustments.

I found that the Ashtanga classes at Balanced Yoga really focus on aligning an individual’s body in a healthy way to avoid and heal injuries. As Joanie says, “Suffering is not yoga,” so she and the other Ashtanga teachers at Balanced Yoga take care that students build up slowly to advanced poses. They would rather you take years to perfect your back bend technique than just crank into it.

Marya Keeny, student of Joannie Delph, at Balanced Yoga. Photo courtesy Balanced Yoga.

Marya Keeny, student of Joannie Delph, at Balanced Yoga. Photo courtesy Balanced Yoga.

Balanced Yoga’s recent renovations designed by co-owners Leah Westwater and Nicole Klasa have made it a very pleasant place to practice any form of yoga. They offer free mat storage if you buy a pass, and they have a great set of restrooms. Joanie has studied yoga and other healing arts on her many trips to India over a 10 years, so she teaches Ayurveda classes as well as yoga. Balanced Yoga also hosts visiting yoga teachers who specialize in Ashtanga like Matthew Darling who is authorized by the famous K.P. Jois institute in India. Drop in fee $15.

Bexley Yoga
Newly opened this Thanksgiving, Bexley Yoga is a tasteful, full-service yoga studio. Michelle Stollard leads a cleverly deconstructed Ashtanga class once a week. This hour and 15 minute class has fewer yoga pushups and many hip-opening poses. Many of the teachers at Bexley Yoga have received training from Laurel Hodory. Drop in fee $18.

[Note: There is also an Ashtanga class in Bexley at the Jewish Community Center, however, you have to be a member to attend, so no drop ins.]

Grow Yoga
At the far end of 5th Avenue is another very pleasant studio, Grow Yoga. Currently, they have 2 led classes in Ashtanga every weekend. Jane O’Loughlin is inspirational as someone who can do a vigorous backbend in her mid-fifties, and the limber Anne Weidinger is ever intelligent. Both teach very good Ashtanga classes. There is no self-paced yoga at Grow, but since it is affiliated with Yoga On High, students with dual membership passes have access to the many Ashtanga classes and special workshops held there. Drop in $16.

Love Yoga Flow
There are two, one-hour Ashtanga classes taught at Love Yoga Flow in Gahanna, but they are choice because Michael Love is a very patient and helpful teacher. Love Yoga Flow is also one of the more aesthetically pleasing yoga studios in the Columbus area, and the owner, Natalie Kristine Burrage, was named one of the Best Yoga Teachers in Columbus by the Dispatch in 2013 and is super nice and offers the first class for free. By the way, Michael Love also teaches Ashtanga at the JCC in Bexley.

Yoga On High
Yoga on High has a deep bench of highly experienced teachers. Some of them, such as Gail Larned and Jerry Marcum, have practiced Ashtanga religiously for over two decades. At Yoga On High (YoHi) there are both morning and evening self-paced and led Ashtanga classes. Linda Chun, who has one of the finest yoga practices in all of the city, and Correna

International yoga teacher Richard Freeman visits Yoga on High regularly.

International yoga teacher Richard Freeman visits Yoga on High regularly. Photo by Nancy Alkire.

Starbuck (who cooks delicious treats for the class) lead a morning self-paced Mysore-style yoga from 5 to 8am, Monday thru Thursday. Something unique at YoHi is that there are multiple levels of Ashtanga classes, so beginners can become comfortable with the practice before joining a class with more advanced students. At YoHi, the focus is on healthy alignment for longevity in a yoga practice. “We want you to practice your entire life,” Gail Larned says.

At Yoga on High, I have often had teachers tell me to back off to avoid hurting myself, or as Tom Griffith told me, “You may need your knee in the future, so be nice to it now.” Largely because of Yoga On High’s long history teaching Ashtanga in Columbus, it has an impressive roster of world-famous Ashtanga teachers such as Kino MacGregor, David Keil and Tim Miller who visit Yoga on High regularly. YoHi also has a teacher-training program in Ashtanga yoga. Drop in fee $16.

A note on Martha Marcom:
Martha Marcom is amazing. She is one of those ethereal people who bring a light into this world. One of the founders of Yoga On High, Martha started learning Ashtanga yoga from an audio cassette by Richard Freeman in the 1990’s and has been a dedicated practioner since. It was she who brought famous teachers such as Larry Schultz and David Swenson to Columbus for guest classes, and she traveled to Mysore, India for classes with the founder of the modern Ashtanga yoga practice, K. Pattabhi Jois, where she received his blessing to teach the Primary Series in Ohio. Despite severe medical issues, including being struck by a car while riding a bicycle and ovarian cancer, Martha has continued a lovely Ashtanga yoga practice into her 60’s. “It is a real gift,” Marcia Miller, co-owner of Yoga on High, said about practicing yoga with her.

Personal notes on Ashtanga yoga
This was the hardest yoga assignment that I have ever done. As a lifelong non-athlete baffled by the most basic basketball play, learning the series of Ashtanga poses by heart to do self-paced yoga was a real struggle for me. I cried. I threw things and banged my head against the floor and wall. But after 3 weeks, I noticed joint movements that I had never felt in any other yoga class. After 8 months, I started feeling calmer and much less judgmental. The Ashtanga program really puts your mind into yoga. I recalled something Joanie Delph said, “It made my body stronger but I really liked what it did to my spirit.” My yoga practice is the better for doing Ashtanga. Check it out!

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