Meaning of Ashtanga Yoga

The meaning of “Ashtanga” is “eight limbs” or branches. Physical yoga poses or asana constitute of one of the branches while pranayama or breathing constitute of the other branch. Hence Ashtanga Yoga can be described as the yoga done for the benefit of eight limbs. The Ashtanga is a particular style of yoga which consists of six series founded, codified and popularized by K. PattabhiJois during the 20th century. At present it is widely known as the modern-day form of Indian classic yoga. Both Pattabhi and his grandson, SharathJois encourage the practice of Ashtanga yoga-all eight limbs. Yamas and Niyamas, the first two limbs are given particular emphasis for practicing along with ‘asanas’ and pranayama of the 3rd and 4th limbs. In the year 1927, Sri K. PattabhiJois at the age of 12 years started his yoga studies and he established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute for teaching the practice of specific yoga which is now known as Ashtanga Yoga.

“Power Yoga” is the generic term which refers to any variety of vigorous yoga exercise which is derived from the Ashtanga yoga.

Sequences in the Ashtanga Yoga

Emphasis is given on practice of Ashtanga yoga in a particular sequence. Usually the practice of Ashtanga yoga is begun with Surya NamaskaraA (done five consecutive times) and followed by Surya Namaskara B (also done five consecutive times). Lastly, it closes with a standing sequence. After this the practitioner starts with one of the six series which ends by a sequence better known as closing sequence. Following are the six series:

  • The Primary series: Yoga therapy, Yoga for health or Yoga Chikitsa.
  • The Intermediate series: NadiShodhana or the Nerve purifier
  • The Advance series: Cantering of strength or SthiraBhaga
  • Advanced A or 3rd series
  • Advanced B or 4th series
  • Advanced C or 5th series
  • Advanced D or 6th series

Some believe that one must have mastered postures before being permitted to teach other people. Whereas others believe that students should be allowed to practice in a little variation of the established protocol. Now many teachers offer variation in postures and teach Ashtanga Yoga with various different postures giving emphasis on breathing and alignment.

The Practice Ashtanga Yoga

Drishti (looking place), asana (the posture) and pranayama (breathing system) are very important for practicing yoga and cover the three levels of purification namely mind, nervous system and the body. These three elements (‘drishti’, ‘asana’ and ‘paranayama’) must always be practiced in relation to each other. PattabhiJois suggested that the duration to stay in a particular pose should normally be of five to eight breaths or the student should stay for as long as possible in a particular posture. Breathing instructions comprise of working on inhaling and exhaling (rechaka and puraka) for as long as possible. However it should be sufficient to do rechaka and puraka five times to eight times for each posture.

Principle Of  Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga “bandhas” there are three main principles alongside Drishti and Breathing. These three principle bandhas are supposed to be internal body locks. They are

  • Mula Bandha: also known as root lock at the pelvis floor (drawing in the perineum)
  • Uddiyana Bandha: to draw back the stomach, about 2” below the naval; and
  • Jalandhar Bandha: throat lock which could be achieved by lowering the chin towards the chest simultaneously raising the sternum.

Both Pattabhi and Sharath recommend regular practice of Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha irrespective of practicing of any yoga asana. They say that you should exhale completely and apply Mula Bandha then after inhaling you should apply Uddiyana Bandha. Both of these bandhas are very important. It is said that breathing will be incorrect without bandhas. After practicing bandhas you should keep your attention to the location of application and the attention must be maintained at all the time, while sleeping, talking, walking and after finishing the walk. You should control the mulabandha at all the times. You would not get any benefit from asanas if your breathing is incorrect and breathing shall be incorrect without bandhas. Where you focus your eyes during asanas is known as “Drishti”. In the process of Ashtanga yoga, there is always a prescribed point of focus for each posture. There are nine distinct ‘drishtis’: between the eyebrows, left side, right side, hands, feet, thumb, up, nose and navel. The breathing system in yoga is known as “Vinyasa”. Asanas should never be done without Vinyasa. The mind will be under control when theVinyasa would be perfect.

Vinyasa has been described as breathing aligned with movement. There is one breath for each movement. All asanas are assigned a particular number of Vinyasa. Internal cleaning is the main purpose of Vinyasa. The combined action of movement and breathing in the course of yoga performance makes the blood hot, as this combination boils the blood. The scientific reason behind this heating is cleansing of blood. Thick blood is dirty and could cause number of diseases in the body. Hence, the generated heat helps in cleaning the blood and thinning it to allow free circulation.

All About Ashtanga Yoga