The term ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga”, mentioned in Yoga Sutras by Sage Patanjali. According to the yoga sutras, it is the ultimate way of internal purification. It connects the universal self with the eight spiritual practices or sutras- Yama (morals), Niyama (self-purification and connection), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breathing), Pratyahara (self-awareness and control), Dharana (focus), Dhyana (meditation), Samadhi (dissolving in-universe).
The modern-day form of this classical Indian yoga is developed by K Pattabhi Jois, who himself learned this style of yoga from his teacher Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. The style is energetic and requires the practitioner to synchronize his/her breath with the movements.
Is ashtanga yoga suitable for beginners?
Ashtanga yoga is highly beneficial for beginners and perfect for the newbies to start their practice with. Though it is considered as a difficult style of yoga to master, an assisted regular practice of ashtanga yoga with a professional trainer is the best way to learn. Practicing it five to six times a week is recommended. Ideally, try to practice it at a fixed time every day. If you are capable of taking the vinyasa yoga class, you will be capable of undertaking the ashtanga yoga class. However, ashtanga yoga is a more rigorous form of yoga because of its intense and deeper approach.
What is the purpose of ashtanga yoga?
During the practice of ashtanga yoga, you are forced to focus and grow, thus its ultimate purpose is to purify body and mind.
As explained by Pattabhi Jois, the first for limbs- Yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama- are known to be the external cleansing practices. According to him the shortcomings in the performance of these external practices can be corrected. However, the defects in the process of internal practices- pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi- are the non-correctable ones and could be dangerous. So, the mistakes must be avoided by performing under the guidance of an expert.
How ashtanga yoga can tranform your body?
To perform ashtanga one must incorporate both vinyasa and tristhana.
Vinyasa means synchronizing the breathing with the movement. Due to this synchronization heat is produced which results in cleaning and thinning of blood improving its circulation. Due to increased circulation toxins and diseases are removed from the internal system, joint pain is also relieved. As the impurities are carried out of the body, it becomes light, energetic, and healthy.
Tristhana is the union of the three places of attention that are- body posture, breathing pace, and focus look or the place where you see. These actions cover three levels of purification: body, central nervous system, and the mind.
Introduction to the pranayama is taught only when one starts performing the asanas with ease. Pranayama is nothing but using the subtle power of the wind through rechak (exhalation), purak (inhalation), and kumbhak (holding breath). Practicing ashtanga yoga for years gives the student a clarity of mind, steadiness of mind and purity of nervous system.
Benefits of ashtanga yoga
- It focuses on muscle strengthening and gives improves stamina.
- It builds physical strength and increases lung functioning.
- It rejuvenates the body making it more flexible, controlled, and toned.
- Improves the internal system and thus helpful for overall fitness.
- It reduces body fat and aids in weight loss.
- Increases focus and creativity.
- Reduces stress and anxiety.
- Treats high blood pressure and is great for your spine.
Common Ashtanga yoga poses-
There is a total of six series in the ashtanga yoga- primary series, intermediate series, and four advanced series. Each of these series starts with performing the Surya Namaskara both variation A and variation B. Here are some common ashtanga yoga poses you can start your practice with-
Sun Salutation / Surya Namaskara–
Surya namaskara is termed as the ultimate asana due to its high level of physical and mental benefits. It is usually performed at the dawn but can be practiced at any time of the day. It is generally performed at the beginning of the ashtanga yoga practice. All the eight limbs are involved during the practice of Surya Namaskara especially the Ashtanga Namaskara- one of the sequences in a cycle of Surya Namaskara.
Utthita Trikonasana / Extended Triangle Pose
It is the standing variation from ashtanga yoga. Along with breathing consequences, the drishti involved in this pose plays a vital role. Focusing the drishti on the raised hand, lowering it in subsequent steps helps you to improve your concentration. It stretches the spine, tones the back, opens the hips and chest. Regular practice gives a holistic understanding of your body, mind, senses, and breath in depth.
Parivrittit Trikonasana / Revolved Extended Triangle Pose
It is a counterpose to trikonasana, which increases the flexibility of the hip joints and strengthens the digestive organs, and tones the buttocks. It is quite difficult to perform correctly, in such cases some modifications are generally made by the yoga trainers to accommodate it in beginners’ class.
Prasarita Padottanasana / Spread Feet Stretching Pose
Comes in the starting sequence of vinyasa ashtanga yoga. There are around four variations of Prasarita Padottanasana. It stretches the hamstring and opens the hips, elongates the spine, and opens the chest.
Ardha Baddha Pashchimattanasana / Half Bound Lotus Forward Pose
Though it is placed early in the Ashtanga sequence it is quite a tricky position. It relieves the stiffness in the knees and tones the hips. It improves respiratory health. It is helpful in increasing the flexibility and strength of the body.
Janu Shirsasana / Head-to-Knee Forward Bend
A pose from the sitting sequence of ashtanga yoga, it gets its name for the fact that the head touches the knee in full expression. It massages the left and right inner organs and balances the endocrine system. It is excellent to relieve the stiffness in the hamstring.
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Chakrasana) / Wheel Pose
Chakrasana is often considered to reduce the belly fat and increase the flexibility of the spine. It is highly beneficial in reducing hair fall too. Fresh oxygenated blood gets smoothly into the brain during its practice, providing suitable nutrients to the hair follicle. It stimulates the thyroid and pituitary gland thus balancing the hormones.
Padmasana / Lotus Pose
It is a crossed led meditative pose. The posture awakes the kundalini shakti- the infinite power and ultimate source of enlightenment. Its mention is seen in the ancient texts and scriptures of the Buddhist and Jain origins too.