Ashtanga yoga is an ancient system of yoga developed by the sage Vama Rishi and recorded in the Yoga korunta. It was passed down to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois during his studies with Sri T.Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927.
Ashtanga literally means ‘8 limbs’ in Sanskrit, referring to the 8 limbs of yoga as outlined by Patanjali in the yoga sutras – an 8-fold path to self -realisation.
1. Yama (moral codes)
2. Niyama (self-purification and observances)
3. Asana (postures)
4. Pranaayama (breath control)
5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (self-realisation)
Pattabhi- Jois describes the 1st 4 limbs as external disciplines; we begin with asana (postures), which leads to control of the breath and brings calmness and clarity to the mind. Greater awareness on a physical level can prompt us to examine our social and personal conduct, possibly leading us to make positive changes within our lives. It is thought that once the 4 external limbs are mastered, the last 4 internal limbs will happen spontaneously over time.
“Do your practice and all is coming.”
Sri K. Pattabhi-Jois.
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a dynamic form of hatha yoga where we flow from one posture to the next synchronising our breath with the movement (vinyasa).
Each body/ breath movement is counted, this encourages our mind to be in the present and in time the practice may become a moving meditation.
The asana (postures) are performed in a set sequential order, each opening and strengthening specific areas of the body, each posture being a preparation for the next.
One of the unique qualities of Ashtanga yoga is its structure. As we perform the same sequence of postures, the practice becomes the constant, giving us a benchmark to our physical and mental wellbeing, a tool to gain greater awareness of our true selves.
A regular Ashtanga yoga practice can promote balance strength and flexibility in both mind and body.
“99% practice, 1% theory”
Sri K. Pattabhi-Jois.
There are 3 groups of sequences in the Ashtanga system:
- The Primary series is called ‘Yoga Chikitsa’ which translates as yoga therapy. It is designed to build strength, flexibility and stamina, aiming to realign and detoxify the body.
- The intermediate series or ‘Nadi Shodhana’ purifies the nervous system by opening the energy channels.
- The Advanced A,B,C,D or ‘Sthira Bhaga’ which integrates strength with grace of movement.
Mysore self practice
This is the traditional method of ashtanga yoga as taught by Sri K. pattabhi Jois in Mysore, South India and is suitable for all levels, including complete beginners.
Each student moves through the set sequence of postures at their own individual pace while being supervised and adjusted by the teacher. This is a wonderful way to practice, especially for beginners as it has all the benefits of one-to-one tuition but with the energy of practising in a group environment. It is not necessary to know the sequence of postures before attending as your teacher will guide you, adding more postures as your body becomes stronger and more flexible.