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What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga yoga is a comprehensive system of yoga designed to purify the body and still the mind.  Its great teacher and exponent was Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1916-2009).

Every Ashtanga student starts out learning the Primary series — a set series of postures linked by movement (Vinyasa) and breath.

Right from the beginning, students learn to:

  • breathe steadily and evenly during practice
  • maintain correct Drishti (gazing point)
  • engage the bandhas (core energy locks), which provide strength, stability and lightness

Most Ashtanga yoga classes are conducted “Mysore-style” — students do their own practice with one-on-one assistance from the teacher.  Once a week, the teacher leads the class and everyone practices at the same time.

A comprehensive explanation of the practice and technique of Ashtanga yoga is available at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI) in Mysore, India, website.

 

What does "Ashtanga" mean?

The word "Asht-anga," in Sanskrit, means "eight-limbed."  There are eight distinct areas of yoga practice that make up the Ashtanga system (listed below).

The starting point for practice is the third limb — asanas (postures).  Through regular asana practice, one prepares for the development of all the other limbs.

Yamas and niyamas are about how to relate to others and ourselves properly and ethically.  Pranayama is breath control, which strengthens the mind.  The remaining four limbs are essentially deeper and deeper forms of meditation, which are not formally taught, but rather arrived at naturally, as the student is ready.  

Intentionally or not, by doing asana practice, every Ashtanga practitioner is touching the practice of all eight limbs.

 

The 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga

  1. Yamas (moral restraints)
  2. Niyamas  (ethical observances)
  3. Asanas (practice of postures)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal)
  6. Dharana  (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (contemplation)
  8. Samadhi (meditative absorption, bliss)