About Ashtanga Yoga

About Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga was transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). This understanding of yoga involves 3 basic principles individually having nothing to do with the postures themselves but influences their outcome with strength, lightness, great stillness and ease. It is a stepping stone to profound levels of concentration. Ashtanga yoga is a reliable practice that brings an unusual heat to the body. When practiced with rigor, this heat burns fat, toxins, aerates the lungs and oxygenates every cell in the body. Suitable for all levels the practice includes sun salutations, standing poses, the body of the practice and closing postures.

“The only person who cannot practice Ashtanga Yoga is the lazy person”

Sri K Patthabi Jois

The physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga, which is this practice, is based on the 2500 year old teachings of Patanjali and his 8 limb system to enlightenment. It is a spiritual tradition drawing from several traditions and countless influences of his time.  In this system, we use asana as a stepping stone towards even greater stillness.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are 196 aphorisms framed within 8 subdivisions. They are designed as instructions and guidelines for the path to an unfettered mind. Further exploration of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali can be discovered through many translations such as Desikachar’s “Heart of Yoga”.

This lineage as it is today can be traced back to the early 1900’s when Krishnamacharya taught Sri K Patthabi Jois, Guruji, that yoga is not only for devout renunciates, or sanyesens, he claimed it for everyone.He taught many times the only person that cannot practice yoga is a lazy person. (Graphic courtesy by: Boonchu Tanti)

Practice alone is the path. Body and mind are inseparably related. If pleasure and pain are experienced by either the physical body or the sense organs, the mind will experience them as well.“ YogaMala – Guruji

Asana (literal translation is seat) or the posture is the physical tool to purify the body and mind and is the 3rd limb (subdivision) in Patanjalis’ system. Asana is taught to prepare the body physically and emotionally for more inwardly focused practices and insights.  The “goal” is to practice maintaining sustained internal focus while the asana or posture is stable and tranquil. (stira, sukha)  Without stability the other limbs cannot be possible. Stability means that the fluxuations of the mind do not affect awareness.

Vinyasa is the technique that links the breath intelligently with movement, sustain it throughout the practice. Injury often occurs during the inhale and holding the breath.  At all times throughout the practice, breath retention is to be avoided. Not only constant awareness on breath, but also internal control and an attentive gaze build concentration as well as strength.

“Free breathing with sound” is the technique that keeps the mind focused and the body in rhythm. Deep nostril breathing creates heat in the body. Bandhas, engaging and sustaining groups of muscles that create internal locks. These unified internal actions contain and utilize energy. Uddayana Bandha, (or flying upward) is supported by the exhale and involves keeping the area below the navel still and utilizing the area from the navel up and outward for a more stable, useful and filling breath. It provides incredible stability for the lower back while engaging it allows the practitioner to strengthen the stabilizing muscles in the upper back.  Mulah Bandha (or root lock) is supported by the inhale and involves the subtle lifting and engaging of the pelvic floor muscles. This brings great lightness to the body, collecting and unifying internal energy by holding it in the body. Bandhas serve the breath. Although they can be simultaneously engaged and sustained, observe Mulah Bandha on inhale and Uddayana on exhale.

The Drishti or attentive gazing keeps the mind focused.

These are the key components to this practice: Put together they form Tristhana or 3 places of attention. Tristhana specifically practiced with patience and persistence brings deep concentration and levels of absorption in the present moment.

There are 2 ways of practicing Ashtanga Yoga. “Led” style, known as Vinyasa Krama (step by step) is instructed by a qualified teacher using the Sanskrit count. A practitioner understands through the led class the timing and placement of each inhale and each exhale as they are instructed.  The other method of practice is a self-led practice that is supervised by a qualified teacher, also known as Mysore Style which is named for the city where it was introduced by Patthabi Jois in 1948. In this method, the teacher is mostly silent and observing or teaching on an individual basis as needed and using hands on adjustments. In this method the practitioner observes deeply their own experience of yoga as he/she moves through the sequence up to their individual ability. Mysore classes builds understanding of the postures, Led classes build understanding of Vinyasa. “It is consistency and constant attention that increases true strength and endurance. Doing a shorter practice and doing it well is far more beneficial than doing a longer practice with an over achieving mindset” Matthew Sweeney yogatemple.com

There are 2 mantras of importance in Ashtanga Yoga, standing in Samastitih, hands in Anjali Mudra, they are chanted before and at the end of practice in Sanskrit, the traditional language of India. The Opening Mantra “Ashtanga Mantram” is a blessing of gratitude offered to the lineage of teachers and their students who have enabled this ancient practice to survive through thousands of years so that we can experience its benefits today. Acknowledging Guruji , Krishanmacharya, Patanjali , the texts and teachers that inspired them, a gesture of respect and appreciation. This mantra cleanses the energy of the space, as well as preparing the mind, body and emotions for practice.

The Closing Mantra, “Mangalam Mantram” brings the practice to a peaceful end, sealing in the work as a dedication to improve the state of the world, it is a universal request of fairness and peace.

The practice of Primary Series, the first of Six Series, also known as Yoga Chikistsa, is suitable for all levels and encourages an overall strength and wellness to the body. Below is an outline of Primary Series

Surya Namaskar

6 postures in Standing

30 postures in Primary Series or Yoga Chikistsa  (the preservation of youthfulness and longevity of life) starts with Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana and ends with Setu Bandhasana

12 postures in Closing starts with Urdhva Danurasana and ends with Uth Plutih (10 LONG BREATHS)

Surya Namaskars and the 48 postures should take approximately 90 minutes

Practice patiently and persistently with great care and compassion. It takes many years of practice to fully understand the subtle and powerful energies outlined by Guruji. Practice daily if it is possible, taking a weekend day off and moon days. “All is coming…..”