Ashtanga yoga benefits – The roots of Ashtanga yoga benefits are said to be in an ancient text called Yoga Korunta, written by Vamana Rishi. Its teachings were passed on to the famous yoga teacher T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900s by his own teacher, Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari. A student of Krishnamacharya, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, founded the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, now called Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, in the Southern Indian city of Mysore in 1948.
Pattabhi Jois, or Guruji as his students call him, passed away on the 18th of May 2009 in Mysore at the age of 93. Guruji’s daughter Saraswathi and her son R. Sharath continue teaching in the KPJAYI.
The Practice Of Ashtanga Yoga
A central part of the Ashtanga Yoga practice is Vinyasa, breath synchronized movement. For each movement there is one breath: an inhalation or an exhalation. Another key element is Tristhana, the combination of the breathing system (Ujjayi Pranayama), postures (asanas), and gazing point (dristi).
A part of the breathing system are bandhas or “seals”: the mula bandha or anal lock, and the uddiyana bandha or abdominal lock, which are used to seal energy and make the practice strong and light.
Together these elements produce heat, and sweat is a visible part of an Ashtanga practice. The heat purifies the body, the nervous system and finally also the mind from six poisons: desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth.
The Eight Limbs Of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga has a reputation for being a very physical form of yoga. However, physical postures are only one of the “eight limbs” of Ashtanga Yoga, which are described in the Yoga Sutras written by the Indian sage Patanjali approximately 2000 years ago. There are four external limbs:
Pranayama, breath control
The practice of the external limbs leads to the internal limbs:
Pratyahara, withdrawal of senses
Ashtanga Yoga has six series of postures, which are always done in the same order. The Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa or yoga therapy) purifies the physical body, and the Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhana) cleanses the nervous system. The Advanced Series A, B, C and D (Sthira Bhaga) are progressively more and more challenging.
Practicing Ashtanga Yoga Mysore Style
The traditional method of studying Ashtanga Yoga is self-practice or “Mysore style”. When studying Ashtanga Yoga in the KPJAYI in Mysore, students practice at their own pace and within their own limits. Postures are taught one by one, and new postures are added to the practice only when a student can do the previous ones and remember the sequence. “Led classes” are taught in Mysore generally only on Fridays and Sundays.
How To Find An Authorized Ashtanga Teacher
Ashtanga teachers are authorized or certified only by the KPJAYI. There is no Ashtanga Yoga teacher training programme that is approved by the KPJAYI. Authorized and certified ashtanga teachers are listed on the KPJAYI website. Authorized and certified teachers are expected to study regularly in Mysore and teach the system as it has been taught to them by Guruji. Authorized teachers have made at least four study trips to the KPJAYI, each visit lasting a minimum of three months. Certified teachers are advanced practitioners who have usually made at least eight annual trips to the KPJAYI.
How Ashtanga Yoga is Different From Other Forms of Hatha Yoga
Created in the 1950s by Pattabhi Jois, the Ashtanga style has since become a popular form of Hatha yoga in the west. It is a challenging practice, but it’s also fully accessible to beginning yoga students.
If you don’t know much about it, Ashtanga yoga may seem daunting and intimidating. However, if you know what to expect before going to the class, you’ll likely find yourself falling in love with this elegant and inspiring practice of yoga.
A Set Series of Poses
Most types of yoga vary in the sequence practiced with each class. In a led class, it is up to the teacher to devise a series of forward bends, backbends, and twists to be practiced by all students together.
In Ashtanga yoga, a student practices a set series of poses each time she goes to class. This gives students the chance to perfect each pose within the series before their teachers deems them ready to move on to more challenging poses and sequences.
The first series, called the Primary Series, takes about an hour and a half to complete. It is often the case, though, that a student will have to practice parts of the series while leaving out some of the more challenging poses until she is ready.
The Mysore Style Classroom
Most Ashtanga classes are self-led, meaning that there is no teacher standing at the front of the class to guide you through each pose. A student is free to come to class when he chooses, and students will be at different points in the series even though they’re practicing in the same room. A student who has just come to class may be unrolling his mat next to someone preparing for shavansana (the final pose).
Some Ashtanga classes are led, but these are few and far between. The Mysore style (so named because Mysore, India was the home of Pattabhi Jois) means that a student’s practice is very personal, but it also requires a bit more independence than a led class.
A teacher is there to help you remember some of the poses you may have forgotten. She will also adjust your poses, and check to make sure that everyone is practicing safely. However, for the most part, a teacher is there to quietly encourage you to take ownership of your own practice.
It may take a few practices before you remember the sequences by heart, but when you do, you can truly make the series your own.
Specific Plan for Progression
As a student progresses in her practice, the teacher may feel that she is ready for a more challenging series, adding a few poses at a time. It may take months, years, even a decade or so before you move forward even two series.
Even if you don’t move into a more advanced series for years, it’s easy to keep track of your practice’s progression because you’re repeating the same poses. So you’ll be able to easily tell if you can transition into a pose more easily, hold a backbend with less strain, or relax into a warrior pose with more comfort than you were doing two classes before.
How do I Know if Ashtanga Yoga is Right for me?
Since the practice is quite high-energy, as well as being physically demanding, it will appeal to those looking for a physical challenge. Those that enjoy tangible progress will probably also enjoy Ashtanga, since completing the same sequence every time can make even small improvements in your practice more notable.
Ashtanga may also appeal to those who are self-motivated. This is especially true when you begin to practice the series at home. Some people enjoy the freedom of taking their time with the poses, without having to move ahead with the pace of a class.
Most Ashtanga studios have beginner classes to gently introduce you into the world of yoga, before getting into the Ashtanga series.
Whether you’re a seasoned yogi looking for a style to shake-up your practice, or a yoga beginner, try Ashtanga to see if it resonates with you.