A Quick Guide To Ashtanga Yoga
Yoga is conscious effort to train the mind, body and soul to connect with each other through different movements, breathing techniques and meditation. Yoga is an alteration of the human consciousness. The physical exercises, breathing techniques and focus combined help in cleansing the body of unwanted fat as well as unwanted and negative thoughts and emotions. Yoga is a way to be deeply aware of your body. There are as many as twenty types of yogas taught worldwide – Ashtanga yoga is also one of them and is known to be the most powerful form of meditative exercise.
What is Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga is a system that combines a good physical and mental workout along with emotional and spiritual balance and well being. Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as stated in the Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:
Yama [moral codes]
Niyama [self-purification and study]
Pranayama [breath control]
Pratyahara [sense control]
Samadhi [absorption into the Universal] (Scott 14-17)
The first four limbs—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama—are considered external cleansing practices while the last four limbs—Pratyahara, dharana,dhyana and Samadhi are meant for internal cleansing. According to Pattabhi Jois, defects in the external practices are correctable. However, defects in the internal cleansing practices are not correctable and can be dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga yoga method is followed.
A sneak peek into the history of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga traces its lineage to an ancient sage named Vamana Rishi. He recorded his yoga techniques in a manuscript ‘yoga korunta’. This manuscript is known to have many detailed listings and techniques of asanas, vinyasa, drishti, bundhas, mudras and philosophy. Since then, the techniques and teachings of yoga are being passed on to students from teachers, who were once students themselves. Without the efforts of all those wonderful people, we would not have known yoga as it is today.
Pattabhi Jois, is known to have spread the teachings of Ashtanga Yoga around the world. He started getting educated in this art form in 1927, thanks to his teacher Krishnamacharya.
Since 1948, Pattabhi Jois is teaching Ashtanga yoga from his institute in Mysore. Every teacher is required to be a student first for years and master the art of Ashtanga yoga. The training is imparted only at the institute of Ashtanga yoga in Mysore. All the certified teachers are required to get direct training from this institute and before they begin to teach, they must get blessings from their own teachers—talk about being pure and classical!
Understanding the Ashtanga Yoga.
Yoga is mainly about controlling the mind. The first two things that help in complete control of the mind are perfect yama (moral codes) and niyama (self purification and study). One cannot practice and attain perfect yama and niyama without having a stable and strong body. It is therefore necessary to strengthen the body and sensory organs by practicing different asanas (poses) for the purpose.
Vinyasa (breathing and movement)
To perform the poses properly, one must learn the art of breathing and combining posture with breathing and focus. Proper breathing with body movement warms and thins the blood so it can easily flow within the body. Improved blood flow helps with joint pains and removes toxins and makes the internal system healthier. The art of breathing is called vinyasa and is meant for internal cleansing.
Tristhana (three forces)
After vinyasa comes tristhana. It is the union of posture, breathing techniques and focus. This is the basis of Ashtanga yoga.
Poses are meant for strengthening and purifying the body. Ashtanga yoga divides poses into six categories.
- Primary series (yoga chikitsa). It helps with alignment and detoxification of the body.
- Intermediate series (nadi shodhana). It helps in purifying the nervous system and opens the energy channels.
- The advanced levels A,B,C and D. All these levels require higher levels of strength and flexibility.
It is necessary to master one level completely before proceeding to the next.
Ashtanga yoga requires toughness to bend your body into difficult postures and softness to be strong. It challenges the limits of the mind and the body which may otherwise be unthinkable.
The practitioners stretch their limits and expand their consciousness. It might require most practitioners to spend their entire lives mastering the primary series because its level of strength and flexibility is challenging.
Yet the Primary Series is a complete practice that burns through accumulated toxins within the body and creates inner radiance and vibrant health. Without regular cleansing, the body collects toxins from the environment, food and even emotional stresses that if left unattended, can sometimes lead to diseases and discomfitures later in life.
Ashtanga yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory. The highest form of knowledge for the yoga practitioner is the knowledge which has been experienced directly. The forum for this direct experience in Ashtanga yoga is first a physical practice of yoga postures that induce a powerful, cleansing sweat when done regularly.
With the careful coordination of posture, breathe and concentration, the internal fire of purification ignites and this marks the beginning of the journey of transformation. If you try Ashtanga yoga, you will personally experience the deluge of sweat and the heat of purification.
Postures of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga does not come with a strict code for poses. It is designed in such a way that the poses are progressively harder and challenging. The only thing that makes Ashtanga yoga different from other yoga disciplines is its difficult and challenging pose routines. Each pose is more challenging than the previous one and works as a preparation for the next pose.
Ashtanga yoga starts with a routine of sun salutation which comprises of 12 poses, a combination of standing and bending poses. Sun salutation is followed by 6 standing poses that may be the foundation for further poses. After this come the four series which may vary in difficulty. Finishing poses are the finals ones.
It is very important to practice Ashtanga yoga under strict supervision of a certified teacher to avoid any circumstances that may lead to injuries.
Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga
There are numerous benefits associated with Ashtanga Yoga. It is essential to get yourself completely involved and devoted while practicing this art form. Yoga goes as deep as you want it to go.
- You find time for yourself. The busy routine, stress, burdens and responsibilities of daily life make it impossible to take out time that is only for you. Practising Ashtanga yoga regularly and dedicatedly brings the inner you in contact with yourself on a daily basis. Your inner being is nourished and replenished and you get time to understand yourself.
- Makes you feel younger and lighter. It works like a nice massage for your body. Ashtanga yoga helps you get relief from emotional pain, worries and unnecessary stresses that age you before your time and make you feel heavy at heart. It unwinds, relaxes and gives you positive energy. This brings back the youthful glow and your power to tackle things positively.
- Alleviates stress. The breathing techniques help with this. Ashtanga helps in releasing negative energy from the body and keeps you calm and composed. In short, it keeps you in control of your mind – you are proactive in life and not reactive.
- Ensures your wellbeing. A consistent Ashtanga yoga practice ensures the complete well being of your mind and body. You become so used to it that without it life seems incomplete. We need to live authentically in order to live a life true to us. The external factors take us away from our true selves. Ashtanga yoga helps in bringing us back to who we really are.
Yoga is not about getting lithe muscles, thin waist or youthful appearance. In fact, yoga is an intoxicating drug that helps you in connecting with the deepest and innermost part of yourself. This is the key to finding inner peace that will last forever. To learn more about yoga and what works best for you, treat yourself to a yoga retreat.