What is with all the leaping about, anyway? My arms are tired! My wrists are sore! My shoulders ache! Ashtanga has so many vinyasas!
The Sanskrit word 'vinyasa' has become short-hand for 'jump back into a push-up,' and truly Ashtanga has more of this movement than any other style of yoga.
However, I'd just like to remind you that this is not merely or only all that it means...
Esteemed vini yoga teacher T.K.V. Desikachar suggests that the word 'vinyasa' is the result of two words: 'nyasa,' which means 'to place,' and the prefix 'vi,' which he translates as 'in a special way.'
His understanding of 'vinyasa' is that it means 'to put or place in a special way.' In our case, we are putting and placing our bodies in consonance with our breath.
Desikachar goes on to say that "vinyasa ... tells us that it is not enough to simply take a step; that step needs to take us in the right direction and be made in the right way."
I bring this up just to remind you that there is a larger, grander understanding of the word 'vinyasa.'
I encourage you to approach Ashtanga as a breath-body movement practice. We use jump-backs, the push-up, and plank positions as tools or expressions of that practice --- these tools as demonstrated on YouTube, or even the person on the mat next to you, may not be appropriate for you at this time.
Your practice will ebb and flow as your conditions changes (as they must). This means your ability --- or even your interest! --- in leaping (or lumbering) back to push-up position will change as you continue to practice. You may modify them, reduce their number, or even eliminate them altogether.
In 2012, as I was wheeled on a gurney from the ER to have surgery to piece together my foot, I practiced Ashtanga by breathing in and shrugging up my shoulders, then breathing out and shrugging my shoulders down. It helped calm me down a little, and helped me appreciate the panic and fear I was experiencing.
So I suggest that you can still practice vinyasa --- and Ashtanga --- as long as you practice allowing movement to stem from breath.
I have done this practice since 1998, and in that time have seen dozens (hundreds?) of variations of Ashtanga, as done in hospital beds, by amputees, and even (on YouTube) by a guy in a cast with a broken femur.
So if you have questions as to how to modify for your needs, please ask!
---ASHTANGA AND INJURY
Aging plus Ashtanga practice has equaled, for me, a bit less clinging to the insistent flow of thoughts. Or at least sometimes, a little less belief in their overwhelming reality. Yoga has given me a stronger insight into some of my personality grooves, which have been worn by habit (while my wife Tara gives me insight into other grooves). My pointier bits are sharper, and my rough edges are smoother.
Unfortunately, for me this process also included some pain and injuries, yoga-related and otherwise. (To paraphrase James Murphy, "Skateboarding I love you but you're bringing me down.")
Ashtanga is a movement-based practice, and like throwing a ball or chopping onions, there is risk of injury.
While in the Mysore room, I seek to minimize your exposure to risk of injury. I employ a couple rules of hard-earned thumb in hopes that you will continue to enjoy breathing/moving as long, as consistently, and as pain-free as possible.
1. If You Can't Breathe It's Not Worth It
When I breath/move during my asana practice (that is, practice vinyasa), I notice that my ego — the sense of myself that lives in the future and the past — is strongest when my breathing stops. Put another way, my breathing stops so that a sense of my future self can expand.
This future self is a few seconds away, sitting perfectly and peacefully in a twisted pose.
(There are many times we want our breath to stop, especially during the Ashtanga pranayama sequences we practice, but these are careful and calculated, and take place while we sit still.)
When I stop breathing, often I struggle to fit my body into the posture in the future picture in my head. This picture is of what the "completed" asana should look like.
I try to stop moving, regain my breath, and maybe take 3 or 4 more breaths to get into the shape. Sometimes I call it good for the day.
It is just not worth it to hold my breath and contort myself.
2. More Is Not Better
If a body part is bothering you, adding additional stress (asanas) is never helpful. In fact, I would encourage you to do less.
3. When There's Doubt There Is No Doubt
The Ashtanga sequences can kick up some adrenaline, cortical cannabinoids, endorphins, and other stuff doctors and scientists will discover later, and result in a nice hazy glaze.
So if I am not sure if I feel a pose in my joints (wrist, shoulder, knee, low back usually), or if I'm not sure if a posture hurts, I just assume I am hurting myself. I then stop doing the pose.
When I use this approach, what is the worst-case scenario? I remain uninjured.
Jason owns and directs Portland Ashtanga Yoga.