The Ashtanga Yoga system is part of a living lineage of yoga that dates back nearly five thousand years in an unbroken line of teachers, sages and gurus and transmitted to the modern world by Krishnamacarya (1888-1988) and his student, Sri K Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), in Calcutta and Mysore, India.
Ashtanga Yoga is the system of yoga that developed the Vinyasa style and from which “power yoga”, “vinyasa yoga” and “flow” style of yoga grew. For that reason, no matter what style of yoga instructors and practitioners go on to adopt, having a foundation in the Ashtanga Yoga practice will ensure a deeper level of understanding of classical yoga along with dramatically increased physical strength and ability.
The fundamental aspects of Ashtanga Yoga, unlike some other Hatha yoga styles, are the emphasis on: breath, specifically Ujjayi pranayama (victorious breath), bandhas (locks), vinyasa and drishti (gaze). Unlike some Hatha yoga styles, Ashtanga Yoga also places attention on the journey between the postures not just the postures themselves. This journey is referred to as vinyasa. Vinyasa translates as “linking”, which implies the linking of the movement to the breath. It is a dynamic connecting of postures, which creates a flow between the more static traditional yoga postures—a process that produces intense internal heat and one that brings the body back into a neutral position between postures. Essentially, the breath dictates the movement and the length of time held in the postures. The vinyasa ‘flow’ is a variant of Surya Namaskara, the Sun Salutation.
Ashtanga Yoga also differentiates itself from other Hatha practices by focus on developing a practitioner’s personal practice. Students of Ashtanga learn the postures and sequences of the practice so that they may practice in the “Mysore” style. “Mysore” named after the Indian town that is the birthplace of Ashtanga yoga, refers to a self-guided practice whereby students move through the practice at their own rate either alone, with others, or in a studio with an experienced teacher in the room. This unique emphasis on personal practice not only allows each student to develop at his or her own pace, but instills a deeper understanding of yoga in the practitioner on a personal level, a level unattainable by instructor-led classes alone.
Ashtanga yoga is one of the most disciplined and physically challenging forms of yoga. However, Ashtanga Yoga is accessible to all levels of practitioners when learned in the appropriate manner. The result of a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice is improved circulation, a light and strong body and a calm mind.
On a final and more philosophical note, Ashtanga Yoga also means “The eight limbs of Yoga” (Ashta = eight, Anga = Limb), like in Patanjali’s sutras, the eight aspects of Yoga that are like the limbs of a tree. As David Swenson has said, “when (Ashtanga Yoga) is practiced with regulation and awareness, the tree described in Patanjali begins to sprout”. The practice is moving from a pure physical realm (asana and pranayama) to a more spiritual one (Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi). But only regular practice and time will allow the practitioner to reap the benefits of this practice.
“Practice and all is coming!” —Sri K. Pattabhis Jois
Ashtanga Yoga Links
- Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (AYRI) – A source of Ashtanga knowledge and practice. AYRI was started by Pattabhi Jois and is the center for his (now his daughter and grandson’s teaching) in Mysore, India. Ashtanga yoga practitioners are encouraged to return to Mysore annually to study for a minimum of one month. As such, at any given time in Mysore you will find more than one hundred yoga students at the “shala” (Sanskrit for “house”).
- About Krisnamacharya
A Few Senior Western Teachers of Ashtanga Yoga
- Tim Miller – Tim Miller has been studying and teaching Ashtanga Yoga for over thirty years and was the first American certified to teach by Pattabhi Jois at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. Tim has a thorough knowledge of this ancient system, which he imparts in a dynamic, yet compassionate and playful manner. “My goal as a teacher is to inspire a passion for practice. The practice itself, done consistently and accurately, is the real teacher.” Tim teaches workshops and retreats throughout the United States and abroad.http: www.ashtangayogacenter.com
- David Swenson – David Swenson’s introduction to Ashtanga Yoga came in 1973 when he met Tim Miller, David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff in Encinitas, California. David’s Ashtanga Yoga “The Practice Manual” is an excellent source for self-study providing essential information on Ashtanga Yoga as well as a breakdown of each posture and accompanying modifications.
- Richard Freeman - Richard Freeman has been a student of yoga since 1968. He has spent nearly nine years in Asia studying various traditions which he incorporates into the Ashtanga yoga pracice as taught by his principal teacher, K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India. Starting in 1974 he also began an in-depth study of Iyengar yoga, which eventually led him to Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. Richard is an avid student of both Western and Eastern philosophy, as well as Sanskrit.
Ashtanga Yoga Opening Chant
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
I bow to the lotus feet of the Gurus
The awakening happiness of one’s own Self revealed,
Beyond better, acting like the Jungle physician,
Pacifying delusion, the poison of Samsara.
Taking the form of a man to the shoulders,
Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword,
One thousand heads white,
To Patanjali, I salute.
Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.
K. Pattabhi Jois
Ashtanga Yoga Closing Chant
Svasthi Praja Bhyaha Pari Pala Yantam
Nya Yena Margena Mahim Mahishaha
Go Brahmanebhyaha Shubamastu Nityam
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi
May all be well with mankind.
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.
May there be goodness for those who know the earth to be sacred.
May all the worlds be happy.
OM Peace, Peace, Perfect Peace.