Ten Questions with a Yoga Instructor

1. What is Yoga
Yoga is clean thought, clean action, clean relationship. In my practices I try not to stimulate the mind or get caught up in day dreaming and thought theatre. Yoga can be washing dishes, running, conversing with my four year old son. Yoga can be seated meditation, asana, or giving road directions to a stranger. Yoga is anything and everything that is done with reverence and attention. I use mantra when my mind wants to run. It is wonderful to have the rhythm and beauty of the mantra with me often.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an amazing source for classical yoga contemplation. The sutras begin by setting the atmosphere and introducing the topic:

atha-yoga-anusasanm And now let us talk about yoga

The second sutra gives the definition of Yoga:

yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah Yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind.

The entire rest of the book expounds on this idea. There are tools that help us sync up with the outside world, tools to help us know ourselves and the divine, experiences to note that show us we are getting close or having glimpses of this still state of mind.

I believe we all can live in the state of Yoga day and night. That the attempt purifies itself, and that the extreme of samadhi is as great an achievement as right action based in love.

2. What makes Ashtanga Yoga different from other types of Yoga?
Ashtanga Yoga in the tradition of Krisnamacharia and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is a lovely and multi-dimensional system designed to bring stillness to the mind and peace to the world. I don’t think it is all that different from other traditions of yoga. It just happens to be what I take to. It is extremely physical, like climbing a mountain. There is a set sequence of postures, so it is like taking
the same trail up the mountain every time I climb it. The trail and the views and the varying terrain become familiar. I become moreadept at climbing through the practice of climbing. It becomes a
moving mediation, I no longer need to think my way through.

Ashtanga Yoga is named after the eight limbed path that is explained in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The name is very clever, serving as a reminder of how to approach the mat, how to attempt this big physical practice, how to be content, how to experience these qualities of life
on the mat and then let them overflow into the rest of the day. The practice purifies quickly and anchors calmness, openness, ease in the world.

The eight limbs are:


ahimsa non-harming
satya truthfulness
asteya non-stealing
aparigraha non-accumulation
bramacharya chastity

Yamas are basically all the ways one is respectful to the “outside” world. I think it is interesting that chastity is out of consideration for others, not centered on the self.


saucha purity
santosha contentment
svadhyaya self study
tapas austerity
ishvara pranidana constant devotion to the divine

Asana; postures, the fact that we are mass, or the fact that mass exists
Pranayama; breath regulation, energy regulation, the fact that we are energy, or the fact that energy exists.
Pratyahara; sense withdrawal, change
Dharana; concentration, the ability to focus
Dhyana; meditation, the ability to stay connected, continuous and naturally adjusting focus
Samadhi; absorption, enstasy

3. People tell me “Power Yoga” is the same thing as Ashtanga Yoga. Is that correct?
Power Yoga is the title Beryl Bender Birch, my much loved teacher, choose to name her book that introduced the west to the Ashtanga Yoga System. Power Yoga is written with the average person in mind. Beryl makes the assumption that the dedication required to take on the practice of
Ashtanga Yoga is already alive in each of us and all we need is a little attention to detail. She is really an honest person, always comes back around to the basic good in people.

These days Power Yoga can also refer to practices of Ashtanga like intensity, with out the structure of sequencing.

4. What are the health benefits of Ashtanga Yoga? Everyone wants to know, can you lose weight doing Yoga?
The health benefits of yoga are all encompassing and undefinable. Is it a health benefit if you begin to make decisions more easily? Is it a health benefit if you become part of a community? Even if all
that community does is practice yoga together? Or are health benefits only stronger nails, cleaner teeth and the correct blood pressure? When we start looking at the person as a whole, the community as a whole and the world as a whole then separating things to qualify them doesn’t work so well. It could be a health benefit to my love Scott that I do yoga. Or to my neighbor that my family does yoga.

I teach a class “Yoga for Weigh Loss.” It gets people in the studio, where there is little judgment, where we can love ourselves up in a new way, where we can experiment with movement and contentment and discover who we currently are. The weight loss is a side effect of the

It can go the other way too. The same practices, the same system can add weight on someone who needs more. It is a system of study, the experiment is one’s own.

5. What, if any, connection exists between Yoga and spirituality?
Life is sacred. We are taught to separate and look at small pieces, break things down and apart to look closely. Yoga is about looking at the connectedness that makes up all the parts. Yoga is
working spirituality. Practicing yoga and studying yoga allows us to walk in the world with respect and continuously discover that balance of action and acceptance to what is going on.

6. How can I find an Ashtanga Yoga instructor?
In finding any Yoga instructor you need to look for someone you respect, someone you could drive across the country with. Someone that is consistent in and out of the studio. All yoga instructors are spiritual teachers, but not all to the same degree. Shop around if you are not completely satisfied.

Here are some good sites for Ashtanga teachers (alphabetical order):


7. What if I don’t live near any instructors?
If you don’t live near any Ashtanga Yoga instructors there are a number of good studios around the world where you could get started. I started practicing six months before I met up with Beryl and Thom. I thought everything was going well, I was happy. Then I heard people practicing and watched people managing their own challenges gracefully, with out goals and realized that I was a very very very beginner. I need a teacher, even if I only see her once a year.

There are good books and videos as well, but nothing is like the personal transmission.

8. What is the funniest name for an Ashtanga Yoga pose? Please describe the pose to us.
I think the funniest name for a pose is Tittibhasana, hilarious. Tittibhasana means firefly, the legs are way up over the shoulders, there are a few versions in Intermediate Series. The name sounds like
titty ba assana. First grade humor.

9. What do you think is the biggest misconception about Yoga?
The biggest misconception is “yoga isn’t for me.” Or maybe the biggest misconception is “I am good at it.”

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
What is your favorite yoga posture? And your least favorite?

My least favorite pose is anything involving putting weight on my wrists. My wrists are very weak and fragile, so doing those poses requires a lot of caution and moderation, so they’ve all become my least favorite.

Rebecca, doing the triangle pose.
Rebecca, doing the triangle pose.

My favorite pose is triangle pose. I like this pose because it was the first pose that I noticed that my flexibility had increased. Whenever I do it, I feel that same sense of accomplishment each time.

Kathy McNames has been practicing and instructing Yoga for over 20 years. She lives in Burlington Vermont with her husband, Scott York and their son Sabian York. Sabian is currently 4 years old and loves sledding. Kathy co owns Yoga Vermont with Liza Ciano.
Kathy’s passion for life involves community, service and study everyday.