What is Ashtanga yoga?
Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga taught by Yamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. The text was passed on to T Krishnamacharya, who passed it on to his student Pattabhi Joshi.
The word ‘yoga’ means union, and is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj,’ which means ‘to join, unite, subjugate; referring here to control and discipline.’ Interestingly the English word ‘yoke,’ is derived from ‘yuj.’
Yoga dates back to around 5000 BC. It is described in the Vedas.
Ashtanga means eight limbs. In Sanskrit the word ‘Ashta’ means eight and ‘Anga’ means limbs. Ashtanga yoga is based on the teachings of the sage Patanjali.
The eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga
- Yama. This is the moral code or principles by which you live, and comprises Ahimsa, or non-violence; Satya, or truth; Asteya, which refers to the principle of honesty (non-stealing); Brahmacharya, celibacy or continence and Aparigah, the principle of not being possessive.
- Nivama. This is the code of personal discipline. Nivama includes Shoucha, the principle of purity; Santosh, the principle of contentment; Tapa, or endurance; Swadhyaya or self study and Eshwar Pranidham or dedication.
- Asana. This comprises the yoga postures and positions that enables both physical and mental balance.
- Prayanama or the principle of yogic breathing. This is controlling your breath. It increases the flow of oxygen to the body.
- Pratyahara, or the principle of the withdrawal of the senses. This is the mental discipline that increases the power of the mind.
- Dharana or the principle of concentration on one object.
- Dhyan. This is the meditation by which you learn to focus your mind on one object and meditate on it.
- Samadhi or salvation. This is the state of bliss when individual consciousness merges with the universal consciousness.
The purpose of Ashtanga yoga is mental and physical discipline to purify the body and the mind. This style of yoga is energetic and physically rigorous. There are six series of asanas. Each series has a different purpose. Ashtanga yoga classes are not free flowing like Vinyasa yoga. It has all the benefits of yoga; reducing stress, increasing physical fitness, flexibility, endurance and strength.
In an Ashtanga yoga class you will be using vinyasa, the sequence of breath and movement. This is excellent for detoxifying and purifying the blood.
The asanas in Ashtanga yoga are structured into six different series. Yoga Chikitsa, the primary series, detoxifies the body and brings it into physical alignment. Nadhi Shodhana, which is the intermediate series, works to clear the nervous system, by opening the body’s energy channels. Sthira Bhaga is the Advanced series. This is divided into four sections which increase flexibility and the flow of energy, strength, balance and mental focus.
How will learning Ashtanga add to my life?
Ashtanga yoga has several benefits. It increases fitness levels and flexibility. It reduces stress and high blood pressure. It clears the mind and increases overall well being.