What is Ashtanga Yoga

Woman practice yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is a powerful and dynamic practice of yoga that involves a series of specific postures and movements, combined with deep and regulated breathing techniques. This style of yoga is also known as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and is an ancient system of yoga that has been practiced for centuries in India.

The History and Origins of Ashtanga Yoga

The Ashtanga Yoga system was first developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who was a renowned yoga teacher and practitioner from India. He studied under the guidance of his teacher, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, and later went on to develop the Ashtanga Yoga system himself in the 1930s. The system is based on a set of six sequences of yoga postures, each of which is designed to focus on different aspects of the body and mind.

Ashtanga Yoga gained popularity in the Western world in the 1970s, when Jois began teaching in the United States and Europe. It quickly became known for its physically demanding practice, which includes a series of flowing movements and deep breathing. Today, Ashtanga Yoga is practiced by people all over the world, and has been adapted to suit different levels of experience and physical ability.

The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga Explained

In the Ashtanga Yoga system, there are eight limbs, which represent the path to achieving enlightenment. These limbs include yama (ethical standards), niyama (self-discipline), asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (state of bliss). Through the practice of these limbs, students of Ashtanga Yoga can achieve a deeper connection with their inner selves and reach a state of spiritual enlightenment.

Each of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga is interconnected and builds upon the previous one. For example, practicing ethical standards (yama) and self-discipline (niyama) helps to prepare the mind and body for the physical postures (asana). The physical postures then prepare the body for breathing exercises (pranayama), which help to calm the mind and prepare it for meditation (dhyana). Through the practice of all eight limbs, students can achieve a state of blissful awareness and connection with their true selves.

The Benefits of Practicing Ashtanga Yoga

Group people practicing yoga lesson with instructor
Source: Istockphoto. Group people practicing yoga lesson with instructor

Ashtanga Yoga offers numerous benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. It can help to improve flexibility, strength, and balance, while also reducing stress and anxiety. The practice of regular deep breathing techniques (pranayama) can also help to improve respiratory function and circulation, while promoting mental clarity and focus.

Another benefit of practicing Ashtanga Yoga is that it can help to detoxify the body. The various poses and movements involved in the practice can stimulate the lymphatic system, which helps to remove toxins and waste from the body. This can lead to improved overall health and a greater sense of well-being.

In addition, Ashtanga Yoga can also help to cultivate a sense of mindfulness and self-awareness. By focusing on the breath and being present in the moment during the practice, practitioners can develop a greater sense of connection to themselves and their surroundings. This can lead to a greater sense of inner peace and a more positive outlook on life.

Ashtanga Yoga vs Other Types of Yoga: What Makes it Unique?

One of the unique aspects of Ashtanga Yoga is the structured sequence of postures, which allows for a consistent and comprehensive practice. This system is also focused on the concept of bandhas, which are internal energy locks that help to channel energy throughout the body. Additionally, the practice of vinyasa (the linking of breath with movement) is an integral part of Ashtanga Yoga, giving it a dynamic and powerful flow that distinguishes it from other styles of yoga.

Another distinguishing feature of Ashtanga Yoga is the emphasis on daily practice and the concept of Mysore-style classes. In a Mysore-style class, students practice the Ashtanga sequence at their own pace, with the teacher providing individualized guidance and adjustments. This allows for a deeper understanding and connection to the practice, as well as the opportunity for personal growth and development. Ashtanga Yoga also places a strong emphasis on the spiritual and philosophical aspects of yoga, with teachings on the Eight Limbs of Yoga and the concept of self-realization.

The Role of Breath in Ashtanga Yoga Practice

Woman yoga instructor doing yoga
Source: Istockphoto. Woman yoga instructor doing yoga
  • One of the most important aspects of Ashtanga Yoga is the focus on breath control. The practice of deep breathing techniques helps to regulate the flow of vital energy (prana) throughout the body, while also calming the mind and promoting relaxation. The controlled breathing also helps students to maintain a steady and consistent rhythm throughout the practice, helping to deepen their connection to the present moment.
  • Another benefit of breath control in Ashtanga Yoga is that it helps to build endurance and stamina. By learning to control the breath, students are able to sustain their physical practice for longer periods of time, without feeling fatigued or out of breath. This is particularly important for more advanced practitioners, who may be holding challenging poses for several minutes at a time.
  • In addition to the physical benefits, the practice of breath control in Ashtanga Yoga also has a profound effect on the mind. By focusing on the breath, students are able to quiet the chatter of the mind and enter a state of deep relaxation and meditation. This can help to reduce stress and anxiety, while also promoting a sense of inner peace and well-being.

The Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga: A Step-by-Step Guide

The Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga is a specific sequence of postures that is designed to detoxify the body, build strength, and increase flexibility. The series is typically practiced in a set order, and begins with sun salutations and standing postures, before moving on to seated postures, backbends, and inversions. The practice of the Primary Series can be challenging, and is typically practiced under the guidance of a certified Ashtanga Yoga teacher.

One of the unique aspects of the Primary Series is the use of vinyasas, which are movements that link each posture together with the breath. This creates a flowing, dynamic practice that helps to build heat in the body and increase cardiovascular endurance. Additionally, the Primary Series includes a variety of postures that work to strengthen and stretch the entire body, including the arms, legs, back, and core.

While the Primary Series is a challenging practice, it can also be modified to suit different levels of experience and ability. Ashtanga Yoga teachers are trained to offer modifications and variations to help students safely and effectively progress in their practice. With consistent practice, students can experience a range of physical and mental benefits, including increased strength and flexibility, improved focus and concentration, and reduced stress and anxiety.

Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga: What to Expect

Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga is a self-practice method, where students work through the Ashtanga primary series at their own pace, while receiving guidance and adjustments from a teacher. This style of practice allows students to develop a personalized practice, while also building discipline and focus. In a Mysore class, students are typically given specific postures to work on based on their individual level and progress.

One of the unique aspects of Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga is the use of breath-synchronized movement, known as vinyasa. This means that each movement is linked to an inhale or exhale, creating a flowing and meditative practice. Students are encouraged to focus on their breath and movement, rather than on external distractions.

Another benefit of Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga is the sense of community that develops within the class. As students practice alongside each other, they create a supportive and encouraging environment. This can be especially helpful for beginners, who may feel intimidated by a traditional led class. In a Mysore class, students are able to observe and learn from more experienced practitioners, while also receiving individual attention from the teacher.

Common Misconceptions about Ashtanga Yoga

One of the most common misconceptions about Ashtanga Yoga is that it is only suitable for advanced practitioners. While the practice can be challenging, it is accessible to students of all levels, and can be modified to suit individual needs. Additionally, some people believe that Ashtanga Yoga is not suitable for those with injuries or health concerns. However, with the proper modifications and guidance, Ashtanga Yoga can be a beneficial practice for individuals with a wide range of health conditions.

How to Incorporate Ashtanga Yoga into Your Daily Routine

If you are interested in incorporating Ashtanga Yoga into your daily routine, there are several steps you can take. First, find a qualified Ashtanga Yoga teacher who can guide you through the practice and help you to develop a personalized practice. Practice regularly, even if it is only for a few minutes each day, and be patient with your progress. Finally, try to incorporate the principles of Ashtanga Yoga, such as breath control and focused awareness, into your daily life.

Overall, Ashtanga Yoga is a powerful and transformative practice that can help to improve physical health and mental clarity, while also fostering spiritual growth. By understanding the history, philosophy, and practice of Ashtanga Yoga, you can develop a deeper appreciation for this ancient system of yoga and how it can benefit your life.

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