What is Ashtanga Yoga?


“Ashtanga Yoga is a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K.Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) he is the father of Ashtanga Yoga- This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.” (http://ashtanga.com/)

When translated from the Sanskrit in to English, Ashtanga means “Eight Limbs”.
Ashta (Astau) = Eight Anga = Limb.
Hence, we find it composed of eight elements.
These are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.

When we analyse these eight principals we find the key to harmonious living encased within. Explaining these in a nutshell they are –

1. YAMA : external codes/ value system towards outside world – how to live in this world
2. NIYAMA : internal codes/ how to maintain pure on internal personal level
3. ASANA : Posture/ How I hold my body
4. PRANAYAMA : breath control/regulation of breath
5. PRATYAHARA : withdrawal of senses / not being their slave
6. DHARANA : fixing the mind on an object/directing attention /concentration
7. DHYANA : Meditation
8. SAMADHI: Ultimate enlightenment/one with the universe/union with higher self

1. AHIMSA : non-violence/not causing harm
2. SATYA : truthfulness/honesty
3. ASTEYA :non-stealing/taking only what you earn
4. BRAHMACARYA : preserving of vital energy/ harnessing of self-energy
5. APARIGRAHA : Not taking anything without approval/not taking anything that is not needed/ no overindulgence.
1. SAUCA : cleanliness/purity (kriyas)
2. SANTOSA : contentment/internal passive attitude
3. TAPAH : Austerities/discipline/sacrifice
4. SVADHYAYA : study/reflect on self/take mental energy in a particular direction
5. ISVARA PRANIDHANANI : the feeling of divine presence/a force within you gives joy

So what is YOGA?
Yoga in Sanskrit translates into UNION – literally to ‘yoke’ – so to unite these elements, to unite with your higher self through meditation reaching ultimate ‘bliss’.
This union or yoga is achieved by the controlling or channelization of the behaviour of our mind. – In a way simple mind control…. Don’t we all do this?! Eh…? No, this is a very difficult task to shut off the constant stream of chatter. That is why these elements are here to guide us, to give us a set of boundaries to live by.

It is easiest to start the asana (posture) practice, as over time with a dedicated routine the asana practice become habitual, therefore allowing your breath (Pranayama) to deepen and the mind to slowly quieten: you begin to tame your senses. With a routine practice the body opens up allowing you to sit in Padmasana (or a cross legged seated pose) for longer, the breath – Ujjayi Breath, becomes stronger and your Pranayama practice can deepen., this in turn leads to a comfortable seated pose where you can start to focus your attention – concentration. It is all a process so the main thing to do is enjoy every step, observe your self – cultivate a conscious awareness – this is a great tool to have.

The Asana practice is a beautiful moving meditation, when you get into the flow of it it becomes like a dance, moving to the count of the breath.
MYSORE STYLE (self guided practice) – the traditional way Ashtanga Yoga is taught in the city of Mysore, India (Mysore, home of Ashtanga Yoga – of the late Sri K.Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) and currently his grandson R. Sharath Jois). The same set sequence of asana (postures) that is memorised by the student and each student moves through the sequence at their own pace. Individual instruction is given by the teacher as and when needed. Both beginner and advanced practitioner practise in the same class, the length of your practice depends on you – on the pace and number of poses you are given.

I have found that Ashtanga Yoga has allowed me to be aware of my body, my emotions and my mind. It doesn’t miraculously make you levitate and clear all problems but the eight limbs are a nice set of principals to follow and these are all tools to assist you in creating a more positive life. It takes time and commitment, for sure but I don’t know how I could go on with out it! Everyday there is always something new to learn, I love being a student of Yoga!

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