Maria Villella has been a devoted practitioner of Ashtanga yoga for over 13 years. She has made various visits to Mysore, India, studying under the late Patthabi Jois and has been teaching Mysore Ashtanga in Los Angeles for over 6 years. In addition, she is a licensed acupuncturist, Hardtail Forever model, and has a number of Intro to Ashtanga videos. She can refine your downward facing dog with nearly one finger and help you work through injuries in a comfortable, unique way. (I’ve witnessed it!) Here, Maria tells us about Mysore Ashtanga, and her personal experiences.
Q: Were you hooked on yoga after your first class or did it take some time?
A: I was totally hooked on Ashtanga from my first class. It was a led class but not full primary just sun salutations, standing poses, and maybe a few seated. I remember talking to a girl afterward about how amazing the class was and I was shocked that she didn’t love it. I knew from that point that Ashtanga would be my life-long practice. I was very inspired by my teacher and I loved the way I felt during the class and afterward.
Q: What is ‘Mysore’ Ashtanga?
A: Ashtanga is from Mysore, India and when we practice Ashtanga in a “mysore” room it means we are practicing and teaching it according to the way it has been traditionally taught. That means each student is moving at their own pace based on their breath and capabilities within the context of the class. The teacher moves around the room to observe and teach students individually to see when they are ready to move on to the next posture and to teach them individually often through hands on adjustments. This method allows students to cultivate a practice. As with any practice, it gets better over time. What does ‘better’ mean though? The poses get deeper, stronger, more open of course; But the real better is they bring us closer to our truth. We have a consistent practice that we go to daily to observe ourselves and align ourselves with our truth.
Q: What is the toughest part of your practice?
A: This has changed over the years. Initially it was making time for my practice. I had created a very busy life and so I didn’t initially practice every day. Strength was also really difficult and flexibility seemed easy. Now I care less and less about strength as I thought of it before. The fancy handstands, arm balances, and transitions aren’t so important to me. The difficult areas of tension that I’ve discovered are the most difficult part of my practice and they require the most subtle strength to work through because it’s not external large muscle groups that are easy to access. I’ve found some deep places that are really difficult for me to access an opening so I just breath into them and wait for that awareness to start coming. It’s a practice of patience really. It’s also possible that these areas will take my lifetime to work through but at least I’m facing them and working in the right direction.
Q: What advice do you have for yogis with injuries?
A: Learn from your injuries, take responsibility for them, and let go of the story of them as soon as possible. I hear so many people blame teachers and practices for injuries and they are doing themselves a huge disservice. Until we can recognize why we have our injuries and what we did to create them, we will never truly heal. The Ashtanga method has been blamed by many for being an injurious practice but I’ve been practicing it 13 years and I’m healthier than ever. It’s not a practice that hurts someone–it’s the approach to the practice. Some teachers give inappropriate and heavy handed adjustments or misaligning cues that could cause some problems. Usually we have plenty of warnings that injuries are coming or that a teacher may be aggressive or not very well-informed. We fall into the trap of wanting to push to achieve something and then we are attracted to a teacher that will help us push to achieve… So much so that we hurt ourselves but it looks like they hurt us when it was really a collaboration. The great thing about yoga is that it really highlights our patterns and if we take 100% responsibility for our practices and life; We are given a huge opportunity to work through the unconscious behaviors that get us into trouble.
Q: Do you vary your exercise routine with anything besides yoga?
A: I no longer see my yoga practice as exercise, I do it even on days when I would never workout. It’s definitely physical though so I don’t need anything else to be physically fit. My pulse rate is slow, my blood pressure is right where it needs to be and I have enough muscle and fat to be healthy. I do other things for fun like walking, bike riding, hiking, and an occasional fun class with my girl friends. I don’t think of anything physical as exercise because I just love being active and I only do the things I love. I have no interest in going to the gym or running on a treadmill, although there have been times in my life when I was.
Q: What are the first three things you do when you wake up?
A: I hit snooze about 2-4 times, I make myself tea and my dog Ellie her breakfast, and then I read my emails and social media for the day while I drink my tea. Besides feeding my dog, my morning routine is pretty dysfunctional, I should work on that.
Q: What is your go-to breakfast?
A: I’m just starting to change it actually because I recognize that I was falling into some unhealthy patterns. I’ve been pretty much not eating much all day then eating a larger dinner after my practice. I flipped that around so that I eat more during the day and less in the evening. So now I try to have at least a nutritious smoothie light on the sugars in the morning.
Q: Do you have a longtime quote or mantra that you always go back to?
A: “Oh good, and now we get to see the hand of god at work” This is something my teacher George Falcon told me in a story. It reminds me that I’m not in charge and that god is looking out for the best interest of all, and he is working on our behalf even when we can’t see how.
Q: Can you share one of your favorite, healthy, minimal-ingredient recipes?
A: Yes! My Raw Forbidden Rice Salad is so healthy, easy and really delicious! (Get Maria’s recipe here)