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Matej Grožaj
Personal coach
Z-Health Practitioner

How Ashtanga yoga has influenced me

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga yoga in sport
Ashtanga yoga in sport

Ashtanga Yoga (Aṣṭāṅga Yoga, ashta - eight, anga - degrees) is an eight-step path of training, it is a method that includes philosophy, lifestyle, asanas and pranayama. It comes from India.

This approach teaches the yogi to know his body and practice independently. It develops physical as well as mental strength. Focusing on proper breathing, using it in the exercise itself and understanding your own body, teaches the mind to calm down and focus only on the exercise.

Regular yoga practice gradually brings the yogi's body and mind into balance and triggers healing and regeneration mechanisms in the body.

That was also my primary reason why I started yoga in the first place. Spinal problems caused by the one sided strain on my spine from swimming forced me to look for a compensatory exercise system to help.


What will yoga teach you?

To begin with, I want to emphasize that it is very important, and this applies to all sports and certainly non-sports activities, to get the basics from a quality teacher and mentor.

I was lucky in the case of yoga and I met Jara Pávek right at the beginning of my yoga practice. Thanks to his extensive experience and extensive knowledge, I was able to progress very quickly. Depending on what phase of exercise I was at, Jaro anticipated my questions and was able to patiently answer and explain. Later I was taken on by Laci Ank (also Jar's student), who became my good friend and also a very good teacher. Both still teach at Prakriti Yoga Shala in Bratislava.

A quality teacher will teach a yogi that there is more to yoga than the quantity and speed of practicing a yoga series, it is important to have an adequate quality of execution and to adapt the pace of entry into the practice of individual yoga series to the individual state of body and mind. Less is more in this case. The goal is not to get into a yoga position at all costs and practice a series as quickly as possible, the goal is to feel comfortable during yoga practice. He does not compete in yoga. Yoga must not "hurt". A big benefit is that the yogi learns to practice yoga independently. He can choose a place and time for his exercise that suit him.

Eastern culture teaches the yogi patience, humility and at the same time empathy towards his own body. It is the opposite of what the western, commercially oriented, system teaches us. This is a difference that a yogi from the "western" world must understand and accept. Both the body and the mind need time to "let" the yogi into which position. That time is different for everyone. And in the end, the resulting position will also look different for everyone , will develop differently over time, taking into account his physical and mental limits.If the yogi does not respect this fact, he can get injured very quickly and thus delay the overall progress in yoga practice.

Each of us will understand during our life that nothing can compare to our own practice and if we want to prove something, we cannot avoid hard work. We simply have to "feel out" the progress. Each exercise system has specific demands on the human body, and when practicing, a person encounters various obstacles - various forms of pain, unknown, often unpleasant sensations or movement restrictions. It is a natural part of the necessary process in the way to know the given exercise system. The basis is not to give up, to try to understand the signals of your own body and to find a way to overcome the obstacle. Yoga can be very helpful in this process.


What did I go through and what do I use from yoga in my training system?

Ashtanga yoga consists of four sets of exercises in a prescribed order. I have mastered the exercises of the first and second series in my yoga practice.

The positions of the first series of Ashtanga yoga are aimed at developing body movements into flexion:

The positions of the second series of Ashtanga yoga are focused on the development of body movements into extension:

During my yoga practice, I used the opportunity to observe other yogis during practice, what they actually go through in the process of mastering individual yoga positions. How they solve different problems, what their movements look like and what modifications Jaro chose for them to allow them to "immerse" themselves in the position.

Furthermore, I continued my own yoga practice, I experimented a lot with individual positions and found out the boundaries for a "healthy" execution of the position and looked for a moment where I could no longer go. I needed answers to many questions regarding the use of yoga in my own training system.

Range of motion varies from person to person. Swimmers and gymnasts suffer from hypermobility, some people even have it from birth. On the contrary, for example, runners, football players, but also people with sedentary jobs are "shortened". Many people come to me with health problems and movement restrictions. All this needs to be taken into account in yoga when practicing positions.

In order to gain more knowledge (not only from a yogi's point of view, but also from a teacher's point of view), I decided to take an Ashtanga Yoga 1 instructor course in Prakriti, as well as seminars with Manju Pattabhi Jois, Nancy Gilgoff and Davidom Williamsom:

Ashtanga yoga for runners and swimmers in Prakriti, Matej Grožaj, Bratislava
Ashtanga yoga for runners and swimmers in Prakriti

I also got the opportunity to assist in Prakriti during the morning yoga practice and lead yoga classes for groups of swimmers and runners. It opened a new way of knowing myself. It wasn't easy at all from the beginning, but it was a challenge that I gladly accepted. The atmosphere of Prakriti is unique, I had the opportunity to meet interesting people and I got the opportunity to help them in their yoga practice and adopt new positions safely. It was a very pleasant and rewarding experience.

I also used my knowledge from Ahstánga yoga in swimming at foreign swimming camps with Olympic coach Alexander Popov, Andrej Serdinov, Nick Gillighan and Glen Christiansen (more info References). As part of the camps, I led yoga classes and dry training for swimmers.

Yoga taught me patience and showed me my own limits. But most importantly, she taught me that I don't mindlessly follow instructions or a system, but I have to respect my own limits and adapt the training so that I can benefit from it physically and mentally.

And this is the approach that I now apply in training with my clients. This is the main reason why I prefer individual trainings. I know that thanks to the individual approach, progress in training is faster and the possibility of injury is much lower.

I incorporated all my knowledge and experience from Ashtanga yoga into my exercise system under the name functional training.


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