My yoga journey started way back in 1992. Movement for Modern Life founder, Kat Farrants, shares her journey from Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga to a Wellbeing Revolution.
I was an 18 year old in India, looking for answers to existential questions. Looking for ways to simply make me feel better. I had a tricky relationship with my body as a teenager, with eating disorders, and some terrible experiences from school sports. From this place I began to discover Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
I started to learn the basics from an Indian textbook. I really enjoyed the movement, the spiritual intentions, and of course the doctrine of non-violence (as a vegetarian already). My path was sealed to be a lifelong yogi.
I could see my progress and I knew where I was headed.Kat Farrants
When I was back in the UK and looking to continue my practice, I came across Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. It was a practice that seemed to really suit me. It was very dynamic, which matched my high energy. I enjoyed the pace of the practice, the complicated shapes and, of course, the challenge.
The discipline of doing a practice that was the same every single day really appealed to me. I could see my progress, and I knew where I was headed. Perhaps it makes sense given that I had an eating disorder when I was younger, and as a result I was a person who needed to be in control. Especially of my body.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Ashtanga Vinyasa is a great practice to learn discipline and to build routine. Traditional Ashtanga is practiced at sunrise every morning. The benefits are:
- It increases your energy levels
- Builds strength
- Improves flexibility
I found it really fun, challenging and exciting. I loved the feeling of adrenaline from these practices, as my heartbeat increased and I started to sweat!
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga really is a perfect practice for:
- Those of us with excess energy
- People who want a physical challenge
- Anyone wanting to improve their discipline and routines
- People who want to master the control of their body and mind through the breath
In many ways, a practice like this is great. It takes the mind away from the distractions and concerns of everyday life. The movement and breath helps us to focus on the here and now. It’s a really great training for the mind, as well as the body. But this element of training the body and mind is also what attracts people with pre-existing disordered relationships to their body or eating patterns. As a result Ashtanga Vinyasa often attracts people who are (consciously or unconsciously) looking to control their bodies in a way that is not always healthy.
Ashtanga also often attracts ‘type A’ personalities – hence it was a practice that suited me! Why? Because Ashtanga is a busy, active practice, perfect for us ‘type A’ people who are energetic, dynamic, and ambitious. A goal orientated practice gave me something to strive towards and focus on, simultaneously training my mind and body control. I was hooked.
If you go to a led Ashtanga practice, the Ujaii breath (victorious breath) and the asanas, are timed with the teacher’s count. In the practice you move in time with the breath, and the breath is in time with the teachers’s count. This made for a very busy practice for me, whilst it also took away my ownership of my breath and movement pattern.
In all the excitement of the practice, I often forgot to breathe if it wasn’t cued. With the trickier, more exciting poses, my breath would disappear altogether (a sure fire sign that I should back off and do less!).
Having said all of this, I am aware that this is a practice which suits so many different people, and so many different bodies – I’m just giving my own experience of the daily Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice.
I Lost my Yoga
For me, the problem was that with the adrenaline, the fun and sweat, I somehow lost my yoga.
These days, if a teacher counts or tells me when to breathe in a practice, I feel slightly rebellious. I now have a very sweet, intimate relationship to my breath. I’ve been watching my breath for a few decades now (although I’m still a beginner to breathing, yoga and meditation!). As I now watch my breath, I like to allow it to move to its own will. These days, I prefer not to do so much ‘breath control’ practices, but rather I let my breath run slowly and smoothly. I want to practice at the pace of my own breath, rather than someone else’s.
If a teacher counts or tells me when to breathe in a practice, I feel slightly rebellious.Kat Farrants
As the decades have rolled past, I have a slightly more sensitive body, I’m more aware of how my body and mind feels and how I am breathing. I’m aware of the movement that my body needs in each moment. Sometimes that’s an energising class with plenty of strong movements, other times it’s something more peaceful.
The days of me being on my ‘moon’ (as they would say in traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa practice) and sitting out of yoga class for that day, are long gone. In contrast, I tune into my own innate wisdom to know what type of yoga or practices my body needs as I’m pre-menstrual and menstruating.
I came across fabulous the Uma Dinsmore-Tuli who’s life work is in women’s power, and working with the menstrual cycle to regain our innate body wisdom. From this work, I found that when I did practices which were in line with my menstrual cycle, I had fewer menstrual symptoms, I was happier, I had a much greater sense of vitality and health. In a collaboration with the Red School and Uma, we created the amazing Women’s Health Course on MFML, which has been a real game-changer in continuing to reclaim my power at all times of the month.
It’s revolutionary and counter-cultural to say ‘no’ to the messages that dictate the way you should be moving and the classes you should be doing. When magazines or social media outline the newest trends, or the top teachers, it’s very easy to go along with these suggestions without listening to what you need.
What is revolutionary is to do exactly what’s right for you, no matter what the culture says about it. If my body says it’s tired and exhausted, I simply rest in the peace of the breath, rather than push out another chaturanga. How would it feel to try a restorative yoga class to replenish your depleted energy, instead of pushing when you’re tired?
Permission to Listen
It’s revolutionary to do a Yin yoga class in the morning, when our culture says we should start with a coffee and a workout. It’s a more subtle and interesting to feel our way into our body and breath. For me a morning Yin practice has led to so much more energy, more creativity and a lot less irritability.
Sometimes my practice is just Yoga Nidra, which I think really is the secret to living my best life. It certainly is my secret for how I got to know myself well enough to know that I needed to start MFML!
Don’t get me wrong, I still do practice Vinyasa classes. But I generally practice in a more mindful way, much more aware that I’m practicing for my wellbeing, and not to achieve any goals. When I remember my practice is for my physical and mental health, I’m much more likely to practice mindfully, with a softer breath, a softer attitude, a softness in my limbs. I’m less likely to lock out with my arms, and instead i’ll reach softly. I keep a softness in my knees. I protect and take care of my joints. I’m more likely to reach for a prop, to bring the ground closer to me, so as not to overextend, to over-mobilise.
Because I listen, I know where my body needs more strength and I work towards that, but gently. If I’m feeling particularly energetic, I still do go back to Ashtanga, and I love the classes we have on MFML. I love Corrie Ananda’s style and tone, and also Norman Blair’s teaching of Ashtanga.
A Sustainable Practice
The truth is, as a result of my first decade or so doing Ashtanga Yoga, and then dynamic and challenging Vinyasa yoga, is instability in my Sacro Illiac joint (thanks so much to Mimi for filming this class for me to help me with this). I also have a dodgy knee from fast transitions between yoga poses and slightly dodgy hips too. I also know this isn’t just me… there are many yoga practitioners out there who’ve had surgeries and hip replacements!
I’m not saying that thee kinds of yoga will always result in injuries. I’m saying that if they’re done in a way which doesn’t suit your body, at that moment, if you’re goal or ego-oriented, instead of focusing inward on your own journey, then you’re much more likely to injure yourself. Now when I practice Ashtanga it’s because I choose to and always in a much more sustainable, kinder way to my body.
The Wellbeing Revolution
These learnings over the last couple of decades have led me to start a Wellbeing Revolution.
This is a quiet revolution where we listen deeply to our body. We take our bodies and minds seriously. We don’t focus on goals, but on how we feel right now, at this moment. Our commitment is to do what’s best for our bodies and minds.
This is a movement towards health and well-being and away from fitness. If we’re injured, or tired, or recovering from the challenges of life, we listen to our bodies wisdom and slow down. If we’re needing to shake things up and we need to invigorate, then we move. Only you know what you need, and your own inner voice is truly your best teacher.
It’s time to sit still and listen in.
Written by Kat Farrants, Movement for Modern Life founder.