Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient traditional form of yoga that was described thousands of years ago in the Yoga Korunta and written by the rishi Vamana. This yoga system was popularized by S.T.Krishnamacharya and one of his students S.K.Pattabhi Jois (affectionately known as Guruji) during the 20th century. They refined the system for householders: a daily one or two-hour practice that would give the most benefits, mental and physical.
The Ashtanga system is based on Vinyasa and Tristhana. Vinyasa is defined as the synchronization of breath and movement. Tristana are the three points of focus in the practice: posture, breath, and gazing point.
Ashtanga yoga students are expected to learn a sequence and have the ability to practice an entire class from memory. The role of the instructor in many classes is simply to guide and to help adjust postures and stances when necessary.
In the ancient language Sanskrit, “ashtanga” means eight limbs. If you’ve been studying and practicing yoga for a decent amount of time, you’re probably familiar with the eight limbs of yoga.
Without going into too much detail, the eight limbs of yoga refer to the all-encompassing acts of what a yoga practice is. It includes the yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi. With consideration of all eight limbs of yoga, you have your complete practice and experience the greatest benefits.
The traditional way that Ashtanga yoga was introduced to western culture was by having students attend classes for multiple days in succession, where they would learn the sequence they were going to practice for the allotted number of days. As they would progress and improve within their specific ashtanga practice, the instructor would help make modifications, and then add new postures to the overall practice. However, the sequence is done by the practitioner almost completely on their own, with simple guidance here and there.
Ashtanga yoga is focused on removing any hindrances within the body that may be caused by tight hips, or other major muscle groups in the body. Through Ashtanga yoga, the student can open up pathways and channels in the body and experience a greater degree of health, calmness, and oneness in their daily life. However, traditional Ashtanga yoga was fairly intensive.
Ashtanga yoga classes may seem fairly reminiscent of many other types of yoga classes as well. Part of the reason for this is because the typical sequences used in Ashtanga include sun salutations, forward folds, seated folds, and hip-opening poses. Many other types of yoga use the same poses. Ashtanga yoga can sometimes be a little tough physically and create a decent amount of heat in the body.
Ashtanga practices are definitely a little different in many ways from your typical 60-minute, or 20-minute yoga flow, given that the intention behind them was originally fairly different.
One of the greatest advantages to the emergence of Ashtanga yoga was the way it was taught. Students were encouraged to dive really deep into their practice and become extremely proficient at the basic poses that they were practicing. Only once they had reached a level that they were satisfied with, would the teacher introduce ore challenging poses. This offered students the chance to really focus a lot on delving deep into the basics of their practice before moving on. Sometime, yoga can be a little intimidating if it is being taught in a group setting, as the teacher is trying to make it both challenging enough for yoga enthusiasts, and simple enough for beginners.
When a yoga practitioner is given the time to become comfortable with the physical, mental, and spiritual focuses of yoga practice, they can grow in their understanding at a much deeper level.
Give Ashtanga yoga a try someday if you’re looking to get even deeper into your yoga practice!