What is Rocket Yoga?

I am sure you are super excited to join me in a class, or have already done so and thought, what the heck is rocket yoga? Lots of us have practiced yoga, in some form or another, but few of us (I know I never did) look into the lineage of our particular practice. When I started my YTT, I had never heard of ROCKET Yoga. Common names I did hear of in my nearly 15 years of inconsistent yoga experience had been “vinyasa flow” or “hatha” and often times, words like “gentle or beginner’s” applied to classes in addition to “all levels or Level II.” I did my teacher training in the traditional 200 hours with Carson Calhoun’s Yoga with Carson Academy and his school taught me the Ashtanga based Rocket yoga. I learned a LOT about this style in my 3 months of training and it continues to give me a huge appreciation for the yogis who practice it and the history of it! Without further ado, if you want to learn more about the style of yoga I teach, ROCKET – please read on!

Many of these poses require a vinyasa (described below) in between each side or pose as well as the ability to jump your feet from a low push up through your feet to a seated position or arm balance.

Rocket yoga’s sequences are based on Ashtanga yoga, so lets start there. Pattabhi Jois, of Mysore, India is known for developing and popularizing the practice we know today as Ashtanga yoga and is the one of the most prominent figures in the history of this practice. Jois used the teachings of an ancient book, the Yoga Koranta, to create the series we practice today. This book was said to have been eaten by ants, so there is no written record of any of these teachings. According to Yoga Basics, “The word Ashtanga is comprised of two Sanskrit words, “Ashta” and “Anga.” “Ashta” refers to the number eight, while “Anga” means limb or body part. Therefore, Ashtanga is the union of the eight limbs of yoga, into one complete, holistic system. {Today we will focus on the ASANA or pose “Limb” of Ashtanga}. Usually, students begin an Ashtanga practice with five repetitions of Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B. This is followed by a set of standing poses, in 5 repetitions, then a set of seated poses. After you have mastered these three pose sequences, your instructor will guide you through the advanced series, Advanced A, and Advanced B, Advanced C, and D.” (1) Check out this Primary Series poster – Rocket classes are very similarly structured! Here is a video of Jois teaching a set of extremely able bodied and talented yogis this exact series, every pose in the sequences is held for 5 and some of the positions seem unattainable for the average human!

Now, before you get ahead of yourself, remember, I do NOT teach Ashtanga yoga. It is a very vigorous practice with strict series of poses taking years to master. Many poses require extreme strength, endurance, AND flexibility and traditionally, you mastered one before moving on to the next. Even chair pose is affected by the strict Ashtanga rules, requiring your palms together lifted and your feet and knees together (no flexibility of allowing for other hand or feet positions based on the individual’s preference or body). Being authorized to teach this style of yoga is an entirely different journey with even more complex and intense training that lasts years. I have a LOT more respect for anyone who teaches Ashtanga yoga now that I have been through this journey!

Enter Larry Schultz, a student of Jois. The story is, Mr. Schultz was teaching this practice to the Grateful Dead, who became stymied by the strictness of the style of yoga and Schultz decided to mix it up. Referred to as the “Bad Man of Ashtanga,” when Schultz began instructing ashtanga yoga in the west he noticed a need to make this ancient system of practice more accessible. This began the development of The Rocket. In the Rocket system of practice the poses are grouped around the joints of your body. The Rocket offers 45 minute routines up to 75 minute routines. In a Rocket practice you do not see the intense adjustments of Mysore (typical Ashtanga) rather a more gentle approach to adjusting that encourages  you to tune into your inner teacher and use what we all have from within. These routines are a way to develop an ancient practice in a modern setting. (2) The story continues that the Grateful Dead helped coin the phrase for this new practice as, “The Rocket” since, “it gets you there, faster!”

According to Carson Calhoun, my yoga teacher trainer, Rocket (Specifically Rocket 3 for our Blog today) classes typically contain Sun Salutation A + Sun Salutation B + Rocket Fundamentals + Rocket 1 + Rocket 2 + Rocket Closing. The Rocket poses origin are from the series of Ashtanga, most commonly, primary and secondary series. Let’s break that down a bit further below, listing out the Sun A, Sun B and Rocket series we just mentioned. As we discussed, “The intensive physical processes in Ashtanga are all about pushing through mental blocks, and emotional baggage to cultivate mental clarity, mindful breathing, physical strength, flexibility, and endurance”(3) – I believe Rocket Yoga also offers this to us as well, allowing less able bodied people (whether you can do the splits or not – I can’t – doesn’t keep you from practicing yoga).

As we move through simple sequences we are familiar with, Sun Salutation A or (Surya Namaskara A in Sanskrit) includes the following (traditionally moving to your breath, one breath, one movement – I – Inhale, E – Exhale)

  1. Mountain Pose / Samasthiti – standing tall, hands at your side
  2. I Upward Salute – fingers lift towards the sky look at your thumbs while you root your feet into the ground
  3. E Forward Fold – look at your navel
  4. I Half Lift – gentle look forward, flat back
  5. E Chatarunga Dadasana – four limbed staff pose / low pushup (this can be replaced with all stepping back to hands and knees)
  6. I Upwards Facing Dog -tops of feet / hands are the only thing on the ground, chest opens, look forward (you can drop to your belly and do a low cobra here or cobra pose keeping your hips and thighs on the ground)
  7. E Downward Facing Dog – traditional held here for 3-5 breaths
  8. I Half Lift ( we get here by stepping or hopping to the front of the mat)
  9. E Forward Fold
  10. I Upward Salute
  11. E Mountain Pose / Samashiti – arms at your side gaze forward

Sun Salutation B or Surya Namaskar is the traditionally the following:

  1. I Chair Pose – arms up look up, “sit back”
  2. E Forward fold – look navel
  3. I Half lift – look forward
  4. E Chatarunga Dadasana – jump or step back low pushup look forward
  5. I Upward facing dog – shine your heart
  6. E Downward facing dog no rest here
  7. I Warrior one on your right leg, gaze goes to thumbs
  8. E Low push up – look forward
  9. I Upward facing dog – look up
  10. E Downward facing dog – eyes to quads
  11. I Warrior one on your left side, gaze up
  12. E Chatarunga dadasana – low push up look forward
  13. I Upwards facing dog
  14. E Downward facing dog – peek at those thighs – hold for 3-5 breaths
  15. I halfway lift – jump or step up to the front of your mat, flat back, gently look forward
  16. E Forward fold – look navel
  17. I Chair Pose / Uthkasana – sit back in your imaginary chair arms are lifted look up
  18. E Mountain Pose / Samashiti – arms at your side gaze forward
triangle pose on left side

The above poses can be “remixed” with the additions of twists and other options for warriors as a instructor adds their unique style for their students. You can even add crow and handstand options within the Sun A and Sun B! Rocket classes then progress with the following, always preceding Sun C:

Chair pose for 3-10 breaths followed by Half chair for an additional set of breaths, after which we release to forward fold and find Malasana, or yogi squat, for 3 breaths with option to play with Crow Pose! This leads us to our Rocket Sun C Sequence which always contains a the following poses that teachers can lead in the below order or mix into a sequence. Students practice all poses on the right, then all on the left.

  1. Warrior One Pose (can also be replaced with Crescent Lunge) Virabhadrasana I
  2. Warrior Two Pose Virabhadrasana II
  3. Triangle Pose Trikonasana
  4. Revolved Triangle Pose Parivrtta Trikonasana
  5. Extended Side Angle Pose Utthita Parsvakonasana
  6. Revolved Side Angle Pose (Often taught as prayer twist) Parivrtta Parsvakonasana

Yoga teachers can also mix the above up and add poses in between for playful transitions. Each one of these poses can be held for 2-5 breaths and after you do ALL these poses starting on your RIGHT side, You get to play with DOLPHIN – goal pose being Pincha Mayurasana, Feathered Peacock Pose or Forearm Stand held for 5-10 breaths. After a short Balasana, or child’s pose, resting from your effort, you move towards the LEFT side repeating all the poses you’ve already done on the RIGHT! After this, you repeat a dolphin, a dolphin drill, or forearm stand for 10 breaths then another small rest in child’s pose.

Now we can move onto Rocket Fundamentals – choosing a vinyasa from childs pose to downdog, or just steping into it, we push our hands back to the back of a mat or walk our hands back to meet our feet and meet in forward fold.

Now we do three folds –

Padan Ghusthasana – Big Toe Forward Fold

Pada Hasthasana – Hand under Foot Forward Fold

Forward Fold – Yogi’s Choice – Example, Rag Doll, Hands in bind behind head, etc.

After these folds we slowly lift to our tippy toes and get to the front of the mat somehow challenging our balance – perhaps actually ON our tippy toes and taking tiny steps to the front as we slowly control our breath with our eyes on the horizon. Other options here are toe tapping to the front of the mat, from forward fold, leaning over our hands firmly planted on the ground and trying to lift our feet just a bit to tap our wrists with our toes!

Now we have another set of pose “blocks”

  1. Wide Legged Forward Folds
  2. Splits
  3. Seated Forward Folds

After folds, we will do ROOT LOCK POSE or Mulabhandasana (we call these Mula Bhanda check ups) working on core compression with a wide legged or staff pose set of leg lifts and booty lifts off the ground – guaranteed to challenge you and possibly make you cramp up in your belly or hamstring!! (Other options here are Dandasana Leg Lifts, Lolasana, etc.) Moving on…..

  • Back Bends
  • Balancing postures

Tree Pose is one of the oldest balancing postures in yoga history

If you look at the above list of poses, you are probably wondering how we fit all this into a class! Typically speaking, we DON’T! This is where the fun comes in and an instructors’ creativity can work within this set of sequences. Swapping out different back bands, folds, and balancing postures class to class or month to month allows us to work on poses we know and improve in them while we vary our transitions and muscles engaged!

To finish this all off, we close class with a long holding pose, opening hips or shoulders (think half pigeon or broken wings pose) then do one more inversion like bridge, shoulder stand, or plow pose. For some – staying in waterfall (legs up the wall or straight up in space) is exactly what is needed!

Once we close – we find stillness in our final posture – Shavasana – or corpse pose. “Corpse Pose is a rare form of conscious relaxation,” (4) allowing us to finish our practice with a quiet mindful rest. I love this final posture and as simple as it is, some find it very difficult to be still but it allows us to rest after our efforts. After a few minutes, we find gentle movement together and seal our practice with a bit of gratefulness or choice of mantra, chant, etc. depending on your flavor of yoga. I like to thank my students for joining me and taking one final big breath in and out in unison.

There you have it – Rocket Yoga in a nutshell! I realize we moved through all of these poses almost at a glance today and it is a LOT to review each of them and the various benefits they all have. That’s one of the reasons I love this practice – ALWAYS something to learn! So, Got more rocket questions? Please let me know! Did I miss something? Do the same – this is a practice which I will never stop learning and I encourage the feedback, thanks for reading!

Bibliography

  1. https://www.yogabasics.com/learn/ashtanga-yoga/ http://www.yogabasics.com
  2. https://www.rocketyogaacademy.com/blog
  3. Carson Calhoun – Yoga With Carson Academy
  4. https://www.yogabasics.com/connect/yoga-blog/skipping-shavasana-think-again/

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