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Ashtanga Yoga - Feeling Fully Alive!

by Rowena Warren(more info)

listed in yoga, originally published in issue 164 - November 2009


Looking round at my students as they moved in and out of their yoga positions in the quiet and serene space of my Edinburgh studio I reflected on how nearly ten years ago, nervous and excited, I had entered a small cramped room 6000 miles away from Scotland to take the first steps in learning how to practise these same movements. My passion for Ashtanga yoga began when I was a student of Drama at RSAMD in Glasgow in 1997. There I had tried Hatha yoga and found it helpful in developing the focus and concentration I needed as an actor, and noticed that it improved co-ordination and stamina in dance and movement classes.

Cobra pose

But then a friend introduced me to a type of yoga I had not heard of – Ashtanga. Back then, before celebrities such Madonna and Sting had promoted it, Ashtanga was still a relatively unheard of style of yoga, but from the moment I embarked on it I felt fully alive and energized in a way I never had before. Enthused and curious to learn more, I travelled to Mysore in India in 1999 to study more deeply the Ashtanga system with its founder Sri K Pattabhi Jois and his grandson Sharath. This was to be the first of many subsequent journeys to train with my teachers.

Sri K Pattabhi Jois sadly passed away on the 22nd May 2009. He was the ripe old age of 93 and still teaching till the last few months of his life. He started practising yoga with his Guru, Krishnamachrya when he was twelve years old; as a teenager he assisted in translating an ancient manuscript Yoga Korunta. This document contained the sequence of poses that is now called Primary Series and is the first level of the Ashtanga practice.

In the 1960s the first of Pattabhi's European students travelled to India to see him. Soon his influence spread, and students from all over the world came to learn from him at his Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore. When I first started practising at Pattabhi's Institute over a decade ago, I had never experienced anything like the teaching I encountered in his crowded 15 by 30 feet room. The space was filled with the intense, concentrated energy of over a dozen sweating bodies working hard under the eagle eye of Guruji. It was here I learned the core components of Ashtanga Yoga.

Core Practice

Perhaps the most central and core practice in Ashtanga is Vinyasa, which means breathing and movement – for each asana or movement there is one breath. For example, inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together is one Vinyasa. Exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet is another. The series of about 75 poses takes approximately two hours to complete, beginning with sun salutations and moving on to standing poses, seated poses, inversions and backbends before relaxation. Vinyasa creates sweating which has the effect of detoxing the system, and the practice of Vinyasa also heats the blood. Heating the blood thins it and creates ease of circulation and a healthy, purified body.

The breathing in Vinyasa is long and even. This type of breathing increases heat in the body, burning away impurities as described and strengthening the body and mind. Uneven inhalation and exhalation, or breathing too rapidly, will imbalance the heart and nervous system. Another important aspect of the breathing system are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal fire.

yoga position


Difficult Challenges

Eventually I trained to teach Ashtanga yoga and now I have a thriving studio in the heart of Edinburgh. Most of my students are fit and healthy, but one of the most gratifying aspects to teaching is to see the difference this form of yoga can make in the lives of those of my students who have had to face some difficult challenges. John is one of these as he was involved in a near-fatal car accident in 2001 when he swerved to avoid a small child on the road. John had to be cut out of his car and was in a coma for two months afterwards.

John's long-term injuries include restricted mobility in his legs and he has had to have a full hip replacement operation. He has also had to have reconstructive work done on his nose, which has constrained his ability to breathe. He has found it hard to relax and has suffered from panic attacks. He started practising Ashtanga and Hatha yoga in 2002 and is now doing daily practice of both styles of yoga. He quickly saw vast improvements in his physical body, his strength and flexibility have been greatly enhanced, and he is even able to do advanced poses such as headstands and back bending.

Meditation is a big component of Ashtanga yoga; daily practice has helped John to quiet his mind and ease his panic attacks; he hasn't had a panic attack for over three years and he attributes this to his yoga practice. The breathing work (pranayama) has helped to clear his nasal cavities so that he can breathe more freely. When I first started working with John, he was a great big ball of anxiety and was very reliant on drugs to ease his physical and emotional pain. Since taking up the practice of yoga and committing to it on a daily basis, he has become calmer and more relaxed and is better equipped to handle his disabilities.

Another student of mine, Susan sadly lost her husband two years ago and was struggling, bringing up her children alone in a city to where she had only recently moved. Eventually the stress took its toll, and she developed intractable insomnia. The Sleep Clinic referred her to me and now, a year later, she is sleeping through the night. Susan attributes this to Ashtanga yoga – particularly the breathing and meditation aspects.

Ashtanga is not only for the young and fit – it can be adapted to suit anyone regardless of their levels of fitness. It is by no means a magical cure all, but it can revitalize body and mind, helping you to feel better, cope more easily and feel fully alive!


  1. sfauthor said..

    Nice posting. Do you know about these yoga books?

  2. Fred Gracely said..

    I know that this an OLD post, but it touched a memory for me. The first time I ever did yoga, when I was about nineteen, I felt a very atypical sense of calm and centerdness. For some reason, it took me until I was forty to remember that feeling and realize how significant it was. Nothing else I had done in the interim had reproduced it, and I had tried a lot. I started doing yoga and meditating regularly and now have a significant personal practice that feels like the center of my world. I can't imagine living without it. For me, it's the power of breath and movement coordinated that really is magical. That and a lot of Vipassana meditation to connect with and heal hinderances. Thanks for writing this!

  3. Manish Yogi said..

    Its a wonderful post and very helpful, thanks for all this information.

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About Rowena Warren

Rowena Warren has trained with Pattabhi Jois and is Scotland's only authorised Ashtanga Yoga Teacher. Her style of teaching is disciplined and informal, sincere and joyful. In 2001 she travelled to India and then on to Bali and undertook an intensive teacher training with Louisa Sear at Yoga Arts, also exploring Vipassana meditation at the Blue Mountains Centre in Australia. She also studied with Tim Miller in the USA and John Scott in the UK, earning teaching certification. In 2002 she returned to her home town, Edinburgh, in and set up her first Ashtanga classes. In 2006 she received certification from her teacher Patthabhi Jois and was the first teacher in Scotland to achieve authorization to teach the Ashtanga method. Rowena founded and set up the Edinburgh Yoga Room in 2007 a beautiful studio in Edinburgh City Centre specialising in Ashtanga Yoga.  Her life changed again in 2012 with the birth of daughter, Molly, which led her to complete a training with Birthlight in Baby Yoga. In 2014 she undertook a training with the Rainbow Kids Yoga. Rowena is now a mum of two children, and has now opened her new studio, The Wee Yoga Room in Henderson Street. Rowena may be contacted via


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