Ashtanga Yoga

Background
woman doing yoga meditation on brown parquet flooring

Sri K. Patthabi Jois (1915 – 2009)

(Images kindly provided by Linda Munro)

Short history of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic and powerful form of Hatha Yoga. Postures (in Sanskrit: asana) which are precisely coordinated with the breath are linked to one another in a defined sequence in a flowlike fashion. A more precise name for this kind of practice is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

Sri K. Patthabi Jois (1915 – 2009) developed Ashtanga Yoga in the 1930s in Mysore (today known as Mysuru), India, based on the teachings of his teacher Sri T. Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989).

Today, the grandson of Patthabi Jois, R. Sharath Jois, is considered to be the lineage holder for Ashtanga Yoga. He currently teaches at the Sharath Yoga Centre in the suburbs of Mysuru as well as worldwide.

The Sri K. Patthabi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, named after Sharath’s grandfather, is now run by his mother R. Saraswati Jois and Sharath’s sister Sharmila.

The eldest son of Patthabi Jois, Manju Jois, has been living in the US since 1976. He has made a large contribution to spread Ashtanga Yoga in North America and in Europe.

Specifics of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is a challenging practice. Done on a regular basis, it increases strength, flexibility, endurance and balance. After the sequence of asanas is established, , students can practice independently from a teacher, the so-called “self practice”.

The role of the teacher

The teacher’s role is to explain how the asanas are performed – and in some cases how they are to be modified, e.g. to address an injury. In addition, the teacher can use so-called assists or adjustments to support the practitioner to get deeper into a pose. In my experience, the most important task of the teacher is to create an enjoyable atmosphere where the practitioners can develop their practice.

My personal view is that the traditional “submission” of the practitioner to the “guru” is in  Western culture not helpful.  Furthermore, it may be, in some cases, actually be harmful due to the danger of the creation of an abusive relationship.

 

 

Lifted lotus pose (Utpluthih) as the final pose

woman in white shirt sitting on brown and white pillow

Heron pose (Krounchasana), 2nd Series

Prana, energy and purification

The underlying assumption in yoga is that the life force (in Sanskrit: prana) is distributed throughout the entire body through minute energy channels (in Sanskrit: nadis). When the flow of prana is impeded, physical, emotional and also mental disturbances manifest themselves.

Through a certain breathing technique (free breathing with sound), the dynamics of the movements and the activation of certain muscular and energetic locks (in Sanskrit: bandhas) a lot of inner heat is created. This heat supports the purification of the body and the opening of the energy channels. This results in more vitality. Healing can occur on all levels.

The practice as a movement meditation

In addition, for each asana a certain gazing point (in Sanskrit: drishti) is prescribed. After years of practice, the keeping of the gazing points, in combination with the special breathing technique and of course the fixed sequence support the attainment of a meditative state – the practice becomes a movement meditation.

 

Ashtanga Yoga is characterized by

A fixed sequence of asanas

the dynamic connection between them

the special breathing technique

the combination between movement, breathing and gazing point (in Sanskrit: trishtana)

the use of the bandhas

the concomitant development of strength and flexibility

the active support by the teacher (verbal and physical adjustments)

and the possibility to practice independently of a teacher (self practice)

Everyone can practice and should practice

In the beginning, you should ideally practice Ashtanga Yoga three times a week.
Over time the practice becomes a daily ritual, with one rest day per week and one further day of rest when it is a full moon or new moon.

Ashtanga is at the same time physically challenging and still suitable for people from all age groups.

“Ashtanga Yoga is for everybody, just not for lazy people.”

(Sri K. Patthabi Jois)

 

What does Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga mean?
Meaning of “ashtanga”

Ashtanga describes a system consisting of 8 elements (the word ashtanga is constituted
from ashtau – eight – and anga – limb):

Yama (= ethical behaviour)

Niyama (= personal conduct)

Asana (= physical postures)

Pranayama (= breathing techniques)

Pratyahara (= withdrawal of the senses)

Dharana (= concentration)

Dhyana (= meditation)

Samadhi (= meditative absorption)

These elements are closely linked with one another. Through the practice according to the Trishtana- System (combining the asana with the special breathing, and the gazing point), Ashtanga Vinyasa
Yoga can develop all of them over time.

Meaning of the term “vinyasa”

Vinyasa means the coordination between
movement and breath. It can also be translated as “moving in a special way”.

Meaning of the expression “yoga”

Amongst many other meanings, yoga in Sanskrit means “to yoke” and in a more abstract sense “union”, “integration” or also “harnessing”. Originally, yoga was a spiritual path, with enlightenment as the goal. In this sense, yoga has been practiced for at least 3,000 years. The physical aspect of yoga has gained more importance during the past 1,000 years – the exaggerated focus on only the one single element of asana is a development of the late 20 th century C.E..

man and woman doing yoga routine

Marichyasana D, 1st Series

“Practice, practice, practice – and all will be coming.”

(Sri K. Patthabi Jois, 1915 – 2009)