What is Ashtanga Yoga?

I currently teach two styles of yoga: Ashtanga and Hatha, but I’m aware some of you may be wondering just what is Ashtanga yoga? And I’m not sure about Hatha either… Well I’ve got you covered, as in this post I’ll explain a bit about Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga and in the next one we’ll delve into Hatha!

Origins

Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga was introduced to the world by K. Pattabhi Jois, a yoga teacher and Sanskrit scholar from Mysore, India. With its roots in ancient text, the Yoga Korunta, it was passed through the generations eventually being passed on to Jois by his teacher, Sri T Krishnamacharya in the early 1900s. Pattabhi Jois developed and taught Ashtanga in Mysore, and the style was brought over to the West in the 1970s by Westerners who travelled to India to learn more about yoga, and thus brought it back with them.

The practice is based on Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, with the word “Ashta” meaning “eight” and “Anga” meaning “limbs/parts”. There are 3 series of Ashtanga yoga, with every student starting with the primary series and working their way through, only advancing to the next series once they’ve mastered the asanas of the one they are currently on. Each series increases in difficulty and has a different focus, with the advanced series split into 4.

The Ashtanga Yoga Series

The Primary Series, called “Yoga Chikitsa”, includes 75 poses and begins with Sun Salutations A and B, called “Surya Namaskara”, which are used as a warm up. The class then progresses through fundamental asanas, standing asanas, seated asanas, reclined asanas and finishes in Savasana, or “corpse pose” (not the most pleasant name!). It generally takes between an hour and a half to two hours to complete the full sequence, and the aim is to build strength and flexibility, detoxify and realign the body.

The Secondary Series, “Nadi Shodhana”, is sequenced similarly to the Primary Series, but includes different, more advanced poses and aims to cleanse and strengthen the energy channels throughout the body. These channels carry “prana” through the body, which is our life force energy, thus allowing the energy to flow freely and easily around our being.

The Advanced Series, “Sthira Bhaga” is divided into 4 separate series. It started as only 2, but was cut down further into 4 to allow greater accessibility. These series include very advanced poses, elaborate arm balances and backbends. Although they have been divided into 4 to allow for more accessibility, there are actually very few students who make it past the Secondary Series!

There are 3 areas of attention throughout all the Ashtanga Yoga Series:

  • Vinyasa¬†– Linking movement with the breath
  • Bandha¬†– Muscular Locks
  • Drishti – The focal point, where your gaze lies

Class Styles

Ashtanga Vinyasa classes can be taught 2 ways, either led by a teacher, or “Mysore Style” which is a self led practice. Mysore Style allows for students to conduct their own yoga practice, but have a teacher on hand to make any adjustments or help out with anything the student is having difficulty with.

In my beginner Ashtanga classes, I break down the Primary Series in order to teach students the correct alignment for each posture, and help them memorise the sequence! I also like to teach about the other aspects of yoga as well as the physical asanas. Ashtanga can sound a bit daunting to a beginner, but if you make sure to find a class suited to your level there’s no reason why this style can’t be a fun, challenging class for everyone!

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