What is Ashtanga Yoga?
The Sanskrit word Aṣṭāṇga, is a comprised of two words, namely aṣṭa (eight) and aṇga (limbs). Ashtanga yoga thus refers to the eight limbs of yoga. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patañjali outlines the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga as yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇa, dhyāna, samādhi as illustrated above. Oftentimes, yoga is wrongly associated with only one limb, namely āsana or postures
Ashtanga Yoga is a traditional yogic method which has been passed down through the lineage of Paramguru Sharath Jois in Mysore, India, his grandfather, Pattabhi Jois, and Krishnamacharya.
The physical practice of ashtanga yoga follows six set sequences, taught sequentially as appropriate for each student: primary, intermediate and advanced A, B, C and D. The primary series is referred to yoga chikitsa, yoga therapy. The intermediate series is denoted nadi shodhana, as it cleanses the nervous system. Advanced A is known as sthira bhaga, for it cultivates stable strength…
Each sequence has a set sequence of postures, practised, and joined together with vinyasa. Pattabhi Jois very much emphasised not doing asana (postures) without vinyasa. Simply put, vinyasa is the synchronisation of movement with breath. For example, as we lift our arms above our head in the Sun Salutations (ekam), we inhale….As we fold forward (dve), we exhale…..Ideally the breath initiates the movement and the movement is coordinated with the length of breath. Vinyasa is practised between the state of each asana as it increases stamina, strength, flexibility and lung capacity. And once it is familiarised, it forms a beautiful meditative flow and coherent chain with the postures, like a mala*.
Ashtanga is traditionally taught in a Mysore style setting where the teacher can give individualised attention within a group setting. Postures are taught sequentially at a pace appropriate for the student. Once a certain amount of the primary series is commited to memory, the Mysore classes are supplemented by a traditional Sanskrit counted led class, to reinforce the correct vinyasa, and develop internal strength. Tristhana is also an integral part of the ashtanga yoga method. Tristhana involved the correct position of the body in asana and vinyasa, conscious free breathing with sound, together with the stipulated gazing point (dristhi). Tristhana really helps focus and presence. In learning how to control the breath and body in practice, we are better placed to be able to control the mind.
Ashtanga Yoga is often seen as one of the most challenging athletic forms of yoga, suitable only for young athletic types. However, this belief is erroneous. The practice is personalised to you and can be tailored to anyone who wishes to practice it, irrespective of age, ability, gender, race, experience etc. If you can breathe you can do yoga, but you might need to do a bit of work :)!…
“Anyone can practice. Young man can practice. Old man can practice. Very old man can practice. Man who is sick, he can practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except lazy people; lazy people can’t practice Ashtanga yoga.” – K. Pattabhi Jois