Ashtanga Yoga is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009).
This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs.
The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.
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. These eight-limbs of yoga represent the various branches of the philosophy of the yoga sutras that form the foundation in the Ashtanga Yoga School. The Ashtanga philosophy is to integrate all of the eight limbs of yoga, which include: Yama (moral codes), Niyama (self-discipline), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (oneness with the self).
Ashtanga is a very dynamic and athletic form of hatha yoga, made up of six series or levels, with a fixed order of postures. It is rooted in vinyasa, the flowing movements between postures, with a focus on energy and breath. While it is a very physical practice, it also promotes mental clarity and inner peace.
There are several key principles that underlie the practice of Ashtanga. This multiple-pronged approach promotes physical health and mental wellbeing. These five principles are necessary for a successful ashtanga practice.
- Ujjayi pranayama: This specific breathing technique is used throughout the practice. The victorious breath is a slow audible breathing technique used to warm, energize and increase focus and concentration. Additional pranayama techniques are only taught to advanced students.
- Drishti: A specific drishti, or focal point, is used in each asana. This helps create a more focused and meditative practice.
- Vinyasa: The core of the practice is synchronizing the breath to the sequence of postures and transitions in the series.
- Bandha: The engagement of the bandhas, or body locks, is encouraged throughout the class to seal in the prana energy and create core stability.
- Daily practice: A six-days-per-week routine is encouraged, with Saturday as the rest day. “Moon days,” the days on the full and new moon are also rest days, and women often refrain from practicing during menstruation.
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. The structure and frequency of the practice is designed to help you quickly improve your body and overall wellness. The set sequence of posture creates a strong framework that allows one to focus on the inner limbs of the yoga sutras.
The benefits of Ashtanga yoga are numerous. It is known to be strenuous, so it is great for athletes and people that are looking for a good workout. Like most styles of hatha yoga, Ashtanga focuses on breath, poses, and meditation. A regular yoga practice can improve your flexibility, breathing, and balance. It can increase your stamina, bone density and muscle strength, control your bodyweight, lowers your blood pressure and relieve stress. The benefits of the Ashtanga yoga are not only limited to physical factors. It also helps mentally and spiritually by boosting mental clarity, creating mental calmness and developing better concentration in daily life.