Ashtanga yoga is the name given to the system that was transmitted by Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. We often equate Ashtanga practice to this well-known Indian school of Hatha yoga. This needs some clarification:
The original definition of “Ashtangayoga” means “yoga in eight steps”, as pointed out by Patanjali in his yoga sutra. The yoga sutra of Patanjali is the very first text that provides a structured explanation of the different steps of Ashtanga yoga.
The Eight Steps Of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga:
1- Yama (Ethical rules)
2- Niyama (Self discipline)
3- Asana (Seated)
4- Pranayama (Breath awareness/control)
5- Pratyahara (Sensory withdrawal)
6- Dharana (Concentration)
7- Dhyana (Contemplation)
8- Samadhi (Absorption)
The postural sequences (asanas) purify the physical body, while breath control (pranayama) combined with concentration (dharana) calms the senses (pratyahara), preparing the practitioner for meditation (dhyana) and finally mental fluctuations cease (samadhi). A balanced asana practice is based on ethics (yama) and self-control (niyama).
From a practical perspective, Krishnamacharya developed the concept of ‘’vinyasa’’, which helps the yoga practitioner to integrate the eight stages of yoga described by Patanjali into one whole. This methodology allows the series of postures to be synchronised with a specific type of breathing (ujayi pranayama). Using this process, the body produces internal heat and deep perspiration that detoxifies the muscles and organs.
In Ashtanga yoga, the first series of postures are called yoga chikitsa (yoga therapy). Practicing the preliminary series is intended to purify the body and internal organs. Each posture has specific benefits. For example, forward bends tone the organs. The Ashtanga yoga system gives equal importance to strength and flexibility.
The result is a light and harmonious body, improved energy flow and a calm mind.
Under the guidance of a competent instructor, the practitioner can then cultivate their Ashtanga yoga practice.
“Happiness is the target, yoga is the bow, and you are the arrow”