A challenging, personal and spiritual path through the eight limbs to yoga
yama niyama-āsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhayo-'ṣṭāvaṅgāni
-Patanjali Yoga Sutra
Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga follows 'Series' of postures in a fixed order and linked in a specific way. Repetition allows the body to learn quickly and certainty to be found. Each breath is counted and used mindfully. Each Series of postures is divided into four parts. They must be completed in order for safety, as any given pose will prepare you for the next or later poses/ series.
The first Series is called Chikitsa and is designed to strengthen and purify the body and mind.
The Sun Salutations loosen and warm up the blood and the body and importantly bind the mind to the breath through precise repetitive movements. The inhale and exhale shapes teach us how to breathe deeply and accurately, showing us where the bandhas are found.
The accessible, almost hands free Standing Sequence works on strength, balance and coordination as we find our connection with our foundation. The limbs are strengthened, the trunk energised, the waist toned and the hips start to open.
The Seated Sequence takes us deeper into the postures and the body, the body is warm and the postures benefit organs and internal systems ( This part increases in intensity and difficulty as the Series' progress, whilst the other parts remain the same).
The Finishing Sequence includes inversions and quieter very special postures to settle the body and absorb the energy we have created. Here the energesing and calming effects of the whole practise are felt psychologically.
Increases both strength and flexibility
Cures daily aches and pains
Stretches and releases muscles
Increases fitness and stamina
Increases neuro muscular pathways
Increases bone density
Increases breathing capacity
Improves nervous, respiratory, endocrine, circulatory and digestive systems
Stimulates organs and detoxifies the body by creating heat and warming the blood
Increases concentration and improves ability to focus
Brings about self observation
Increases self confidence
Activates parasympathetic nervous system to improve relaxation and sleep
the technique to calm and energise the sequence
This is truly what makes Ashtanga Ashtanga!
Vinyasa + Bandha + Drishti
It takes time and practise to really get to grips with these secret unseen allies crucial to the practise of Ashtanga yoga.
Vinyasa means to move mindfully with the breath. Every movement and pose is strung on the breath. Each posture is held for 5 breaths and so inwardly we watch and count constantly.
Ujjaii breath is a supple, drawn out, steady and smooth style of breathing with sound, this maintains focus and stamina and helps to find the bandhas, or yogic core muscles at the ends of the breath.
Activating the Bandhas (internal locks) the all important spine is supported and space, power, control and grace or 'lightness' are created. Combined with the Ashtanga breath they work on a subtle energetic level.
There are 9 Drishti. (gazepoints) crucial for concentration, keeping the focus inwards and soft, helping with balance and the direction or intent of the posture.
Ashtanga yoga is steeped in tradition, albeit a fairly young one, and the method has changed very little since it was spread throughout the world by the late Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois (1915- 2009. Note that it has changed of course, everything must as the world and times change together with it's people and their lifestyle sand beliefs. The method was learnt and perhaps put together into the very specific format we use today by him and his guru, the great Sri. T. Krishnamacharya.
Recent research by scholars shows that the origins of many of the elements of our modern day Ashtanga Vinyasa practise have not actaully come straight from ancient texts and Parampara, ie guru to guru, yet from the social culture of the time and it's people and their activities, needs and personalisation of the methods, techniques and beliefs. The Mysore Palace and it's activities at the time Krishnamacharya was installed there, time spent with his own great guru in the Himalaya as well as texts like the Yoga Rahasya and the Yoga Korunta all hard a part to play in forming this practise It was originally given to young and healthy male students. It is no wonder Jois gave it to his Western students also, as in my opinion perhaps at that time they were also lacking focus, discipline and faith.
Students arrived to India from the West in the sixties, and the system of Yoga quickly became popular across the globe. The video below shows the dedication, effort and focus as well as the surrender needed to practise under the traditional Mysore method, which is where students learn postures one by one when they are ready under the direct guidance of their guru or teacher, who also looked after them psycholgically and spiritually through the way they behaved and handled their practise.
The K.Pattabi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, KPJAYI , recently being renamed by Sharath, in Mysore is the sacred home to Ashtanga Yoga and like pilgrims, thousands of 'Ashtangis' flock there year after year to study under the lineage and be immersed in the birthplace of this practise.
There is a strong bond of community between Ashtanga practitioners throughout the world. We are bound by not only tradition but by the shared experience and spiritual journey of the practise itself.
The Ashtanga yoga sequence is always the same, yet it is always different, always new, we look and listen closely and feel the new experiences as they come and go, ever changing, and like this we learn to be unstuck.
Once the sequence is memorised we have the opportunity to slip behind the mind, to unmani. Through relaxing our acute focus we accept each moment and move on breath by breath, like this we move from focus towards meditation, from effort to effortlessness, calm and stillness. We train ourselves to be free of our minds.
We seek to energise and purify the body through our postures and breathing. The body, our temple, becomes intelligent, skillful, fit and efficient ,and then light, wise and peaceful. The obstacles and challenges we face along the way offer great reward if we stay unattached to the results.
Any work of the Spirit is profound work! Letting go of our ideas, wishes, behaviours etc is hard work, but once you learn equanimity through Ashtanga Yoga the path will only lead to a healthy and peaceful life and you will have the tools to tackle life mindfully and lovingly.