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 loosens and warms up the body and importantly binds the mind to the breath through movements that enhance the inhael and exhale shapes.
The Standing Sequence works on strength, balance and coordination as we find our connection with our foundation.
The Seated Sequence takes us deeper into the postures as we have created internal heat. ( This part increases in intensity and difficulty as the Series' progress, whilst the other parts remain the same).
The Finishing Sequence is where we wind down and relax into some inversions and quieter postures to settle the body and absorb the energy we have created.
Cures aches and pains
Stretches and releases muscles
Increases neuro muscular pathways
Increases bone density
Increases strength and stamina
Improves nervous, respiratory, circulatory and digestive systems
Stimulates organs and detoxifies
Brings about self observation
Increases self confidence
Activates parasympathetic nervous system to improve relaxation and sleep
"It’s relatively easy to be happy and kind when everything in life is going to plan, when we are healthy, successful, surrounded by loving friends and family. But real strength is to remain calm when things fall apart. Sooner or later each of us will have to face those earthly dramas of pain, sickness, separation, death.... Our daily yoga practice, with all its challenges and discomforts, is not to make our bodies fit the fanciest yoga outfits, but to prepare us for such moments. So we can face them with peace, strength and dignity.
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. Ujaii breath is strong, steady and smooth and maintains focus and stamina.
Activating the Bandhas (internal locks) we support the spine and create space and lightness. Combined with the Ashtanga breath they work on an energetic level.
There are 9 Drishti. (gazepoints) crucial for concentration, keeping the focus inwards, softness and balance.
Ashtanga yoga is steeped in tradition and the method has changed very little since it was spread throughout the world by the late Sri. K. Pattabi Jois (1915- 2009), fondly named 'Guruji' by his students. The method was learnt and perhaps put together into the very specific format we use today by him and his guru, the great T. Krishnamacharya. Although recent research by scholars shows that the origins of many of the elements of our modern day AshtangaVinyasa practise have actaully come not straight from anceint 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. 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 wehn they are ready under the guidance of their guru or teacher. 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.
Go to my blog page to see an article I wrote on this secret Ashtanga magic! Abracadabra Ashtanga!