This summer it has been three years since I started practicing Ashtanga yoga.  I can not believe this, three freaking years, life zooms by and don’t you forget it.  But yes, three years, I’ve had my little home practice, with videos or not, religiously six days a week at times, at other times fourish practices a week.  I’ve taken weeks off, been lazy, done lots of half practices, gotten on the mat by promising I “just had to do the surys” (and then ended up doing the whole thing), then gone through second and third and forth winds where I’m thinking about the next practice the minute I finish today’s and can’t stand to take a day off.  In other words, the works.

I got curious about where I started and where I am, asana-wise, through all of this up and down, back and forth, and so I cut and pasted some Before and After shots from the archives (and some new pics taken the other day), to see if I’d gotten anywhere at all.

Turns out, I have.

Actually, I figure there are probably two ways to look at the change:  1) Three years, no adjustments (except a few during the David Garrigues workshop this spring), no shala, no teacher, and a conservative practice (meaning, I don’t push hard, easy does it) and wow, I still came pretty far!

OR, 2) That poor woman, three whole years have passed and she has barely progressed at all.  In other words, I don’t even know what I don’t know.

Feel free to weigh in on this in the comments!  I don’t know what a normal rate of progression is, I doubt there even is one, so I can’t compare to others, just to myself.  Which is probably for the best, right?  But still, I might be seen as flailing by myself out here in the yurt, or I might be seen as doing okay, depending on your perspective….

Anyway, here it is.  Oh, and I certainly am NOT saying my current asana are All That.  Not perfect, not to be emulated.  Just, hey, check it out, progress has been made.  And if I do another post like this in three more years, I’ll have Before, Middle, AND After shots to take a gander at.

(There is not, of course, a shot for every asana in Primary, just a few highlights—otherwise this post would be absurdly long.)

Standing poses….

Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana, 2009…2012

Toe grab!

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Even though my parivrtta parsvakonasana is still pretty lame, I couldn’t do anything like it when I started, could only sort of look down at the ground, propping my elbow up on my knee.  I mostly skipped it.  So no Before pic for this one, just the after.

Prasarita Padottanasana

From straight arms to head on the ground!

Now a few seated poses….

Paschimottanasana

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Forehead to the shin now and I can hold my own hands, though not the wrists.

Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana

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Full bind on this one now, plus forehead to shin.

Marichyasana B & D

This pose has about the most change of any of them, I think, from barely being able to sit up without propping my torso with my hands, to a full wrist bind.  My chin isn’t on the floor yet, but that leg is comfortably in half-lotus, all when I used to barely be able to bend the other knee half-way up when my lotus-leg foot was just on the thigh.  Hip openers, you gotta love em.

Still have worlds to go on Mari D, though.  I love the shot of Henry doing a twist right alongside me, haha.

Bakasana

David Williams suggest beginners do Bakasana as a prep for Bhujapidasana, so that’s what I did for at least a year in the beginning, although I had one toe down for most of that.  Now I can do a pretty decent both-feet-up arm balance, although my arms are still bent.  BUT….

….now I can do an okay Bhujapidasana, too. Although, again, my arms are bent and my chin is miles from the floor.  And lets not even talk about jumping into it, shall we?  Maybe in three more years.  Still, I can get those feet a few inches off the ground, so I’m calling it a win.

Kurmasana

Legs are almost straight for kurmasana, and my face is on the floor, whereas it was at least a foot above ground three years ago, and oh how I remember this pose aching in my hips when I started.

Sophie, my photographer for all of these shots, of course, can do a kurmasana that is as flat as a pancake.

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

That baby cobra was all I could manage when I started and even that used to kill my lower back.  In other words, I couldn’t do an up dog AT ALL.  And I’m still super tight in my upper back.  But at least I can do a whole vinyasa now.  My Up Dog is okay, doesn’t hurt, although I can’t look up the way some of them do.

Urdhva Dhanurasana, 2010…2012

The “before” shot here is actually a year in, 201o, so this is only a two years difference, not three.  This is because I couldn’t do any sort of backbend at all, not even this terribly lame, contraindicated one, when I started, couldn’t bend that much and certainly couldn’t hold myself up.  I can actually hold myself up for a few seconds now, and my arms are straight, so that’s something.  I’ve got a ways to go before my hands are under my ears, or my legs straighten out any, or I can get a full five breaths on the second or third time up.  I’d like to get more bend in the upper spine and not crank so much on that one spot in my lower back, too.

I don’t know why but back bends freak me out.  I get all scared and have to really psyche myself up to do them.

Unlike Sophie, Queen of All Things Backbend, who adores backbends and wanted me to shoot her bendy back, too.  To be fair, Sophie is a great cheer leader for me in my lame back bending attempts, “You can do it, Mom,” she says and, “hey, that was better!” But one look at her flexi-spine and I just hang my head.  I’ll certainly never be as bendy as she is, ever again, if I ever was to start with.

Straight back bend, fingers brushing her feet.

Then a hang back with a nice namaste….

Then she started fooling around, waving “Hi!” at the camera and making funny faces….

She also wanted to do her Leg Behind the Head pose.  Little show off.

Next Luc wanted to get in on the photographic action, although he was shy and only wanted to be in a picture if I was in it, too.  Look at his little flying lotus!  He’s so adorable.

So there you have it, ashtanga three years in!  What a long strange trip and all of that.

Oh wait!  I almost forgot the best pose ever:  lovasana.  I finish my practice for the day and one or the other of them sneaks over and very gently lays on top of me in a hug.

Here is Sophie, in 2009 at 5 years old…

And here she is, three days ago, at 8.  Look how much she’s grown!

I sometimes think they like lovasana so much because they suck up all the prana and merit I may have generated during my practice, like little sponges siphoning off the extra charge.  Oh well, I guess they can have it.  I feel so honored that anyone would like me enough to want to press their body to me when I’m all tired and sweaty!  I know it won’t last so I try to enjoy it now, haha.

But there you have it, highlights of Primary a few months in, and nearly three years later, from someone who is DIY the whole way.  Who knows, maybe my little pictures might give hope to someone just starting out—or it might depress a newcomer…”that’s all you’ve changed and you’ve been at it for THREE YEARS???”

Either way, I’ll do another of these posts in 3 more years, that is, if I’m still alive and still practicing.  And still blogging.  And if the Coming Zombie Apocolypse doesn’t fry my internet connection.  I’ll be 44 in three years, holy shit.

And my photographer will be 11!

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34 Responses to ashtanga yoga, 3 years in, pics before and after

  1. Michelle says:

    This is awesome! Your progression – without daily assists – is fabulous and inspiring. Thank you for sharing them. (I especially love the pix of you and your children together; so very sweet!)

  2. Loo says:

    Found this via Michelle (commenter above) and want to say how GREAT this is! Brava to you for photographing the ‘befores’ so you have them to review… and you have made enormous progress, especially since you have no teacher adjusting you everyday. I used to write a yoga blog but have signed off for now, glad to have found yours! It’s given me inspiration with my newly-formed-by-necessity home practice — I moved away from my shala of the past 4 years. So thanks!(PS your kids are adorable)

  3. maya says:

    Thank you Michelle and Loo, for commenting and for your encouragement! You can never have too much of that. Good luck, too, Loo, with your home practice! And yes, Sophie and Luc are adorable, I really must agree. :)

  4. Stacy says:

    Beautiful to see, and inspiring – thank you!

  5. These are just great Maya, nice to see the development on so many postures and on one page. everyone a year or so into their practice should see this post. And look at that fine Urdhva dhanurasana. Oh and that Sophie touching her heels in UD, grrrrr : )and Luc just needs a long long beard and some dreads to go with his padmasana.
    Three years seems about right to go from your X to Y look at those nice forward bends and your Bhujapidasana light an airy Bhujapidasana (ok it might not feel light and airy but it looks floaty.

  6. maya says:

    Thank you, Stacy!
    And thanks, Grim of Santorini. I have made a little bit of progress, anyway. I should after all my whinging. And thanks for the virtual post card! I loved it. I’m so jealous I pee green, but stll.

  7. Kathy W. says:

    Wow! Color me impressed. As you developed your home practice, did you start off with taking classes, or books, or DVDs? I am interested in doing more yoga but a gym membership or regular class isn’t really in the budget in terms of $ or time, so I’m thinking about how to make a go of it with a home practice. Would love to hear your advice!

  8. [...] got a comment yesterday on my ashtanga yoga 3 years in (with before and after pictures!) post, asking me for advice on starting a home practice (Hi, [...]

  9. Maria says:

    TOTALLY inspiring! My asanas right now are pretty much where yours were in the beginning—you give me hope that I can someday see improvement if I just keep practicing and STAY on the mat instead of jumping ship. Thank you!

  10. maya says:

    Hi Kathy! I started to write a reply but then it turned into its very own post. I hope it helps you get going with your plans!

  11. Justin says:

    Hello Maya,
    Thanks for sharing your progress. I will reaching my 2-year milestone for home practice by December this year. It is a pity I did not capture my lousy poses back then. Your picture reminds me of the progress I have made through this incredible journey.
    Just curious about your jump back and jump through. Can you share with me your progress? I am still dragging the feet jumping through either way.
    Thanks.
    Regards,
    Justin

  12. maya says:

    Thanks for your comment, Justin! That’s a good question about the jumpback. Maybe I’ll do a post on that, hmmm.

  13. grant says:

    Thank you for sharing this with the yoga world — very inspirational to me.

  14. Sylvia says:

    Wow! I’m amazed. And you know, the reason I’ve not really7 done yoga is that there are all these poses that I just. Can’t. Do.

    So to see that you couldn’t do them and that was ok and you still made progress? Wonderfully inspiring. I mean, I didn’t know if it was worth even starting if I couldn’t do the beginning stuff … now I can see that it is.

  15. maya says:

    Hi Sylvia, welcome! oh yeah, you’ve got to just start wherever and accept that you suck, right, haha! I revel in the suckage! Because I still can’t do anything. I just do my little remedial versions and enjoy the heck out of myself, or try to anyway. You should totally do yoga, it’s awesome!

  16. Meg says:

    What a fabulous post and a fabulous blog and gorgeous, bendy children and wonderful yoga.

    You and I are the same age, but I only started out with yoga a couple of months ago. I hope that you post more photos in a couple of years time and I’m inspired to maybe do the same. Your photos are really inspiring and I love your humour. Lovasana is awesome! My little four year old boy likes to crawl under me when I’m doing downward dog or holding a plank. This is making my arms stronger as I desperately try to shoo him out from under me so as not to crush him.

    I’ll be coming back to read more, thanks for being on the internet!

  17. [...] doing some googling and came across this fantastic post on Mayaland and wow, what an inspiring, funny, awesome [...]

  18. maya says:

    Hi Meg, nice to meet you. Thanks for the comment!

  19. Janine says:

    Came here via Google. Lovasana wins the internet for me today!

  20. maya says:

    Nice to meet you Janine! Welcome.

  21. [...] But, I remember that when I started Primary I knew I sucked and couldn’t do anything, so I kind of gleefully didn’t care how lame my practice was.  I did Swensen variations of most of the asana, and I followed David William’s excellent advice: make it feel pleasurable.  In other words, find a variation, a way to do every asana, that feels really good, like that delicious feeling you get when you get out of bed in the morning and stretch, and don’t worry about how it looks.  And I made progress. [...]

  22. rj says:

    you have inspired me..i just started doing vinyasa yoga 2 times a week..and its been about 6 weeks now and i’m wondering how much more flexible I will be…I am esp tight in my hip thigh area and back..so I have inspiration..!! btw do you drink coffee ..I saw where some man says coffee impedes flexibility….

  23. maya says:

    Haha, you are talking to a coffee-head. Coffee makes everything better in my book! Actually, Jois, founder of ashtanga, was also a coffee drinker. “No coffee, no prana!” was a famous, half-joking thing he said.

  24. Marylou says:

    I love this blog. As a beginner, I had no idea what to expect in terms of progress…it is easy to get frustrated with lack of flexibility etc. I appreciated that you posted your asana progress, it gives me hope that with time and patience I too will progress. It’s fun having each little achievement to look forward to and celebrate. I can’t believe you have come so far without attending classes to keep you going. It’s easier for me to be motivated by the energy in a room full of yogis. :-)

  25. maya says:

    Hi Marylou, thanks for dropping by. Good luck with your yoga practice! There’s no question that if you keep at it, your body will change. And possibly also your mind, although I’ve had less luck with that…yeah, I’m still a total spaz! Oh well.

  26. [...] and write at five in the fucking morning, and here is my (also surprisingly popular) 2012 post on my yoga practice after three years of near daily Primary series (including through times of injury!)(with before and after [...]

  27. Aron says:

    A lovely post, and most inspirational! I like how you’re not obsessed with fast results, which is kind of central to yoga, I think… Thank you!

  28. Kelley says:

    Very encouraging! I’m 6 days into Primary Series. I’ve finally found the right yoga for me. You’ve inspired me to take before photos. Thank you!

  29. maya says:

    Glad you’re liking Primary, Kelley!

  30. Helen says:

    Thanks for posting photos they are very inspiring. At 51 years old I am a late starter but one year into my practice and I can see progress. Love the practice despite not being a natural!

  31. maya says:

    Hi Helen, so nice to meet you! good on you for starting at 51! I’ve come to think progress is possible at any age, just push less as the number gets higher, heh heh. I’d love to hear from you in another year. I should do a five years in post this summer…..

  32. Cynthia says:

    I am an absolute beginner and I am inspired by your progress. Thank you so much for posting your pictures of your yoga transformation. You have given me hope that this tired inflexible body can change with a little commitment.I have a daughter (9) who needs to exercise with me, so thanks too for showing us your delightful daughter. I am going to get started now. :)

  33. maya says:

    Hi Cynthia, how nice to meet you! yes, you can totally do it, if I can. Tired inflexible bodies can change!

  34. Melissa says:

    This was exactly what I was looking for! And the lovasana at the end brought up a few tears. I am starting a practice this week and will also do some pics to mark my progress. Thank you so much for sharing and being an inspiration for others you may never meet. I realize this is about 2 yrs old and will be looking forward to your 6 yr mark update. Thank you again.

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