Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
The popular style Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga was developed by Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, which he began to teach in Mysore, India in the late 1940’s. This vigorous and dynamic asana practice is made up of 6 ”series”, all of which has a fixed order of postures. There’s a primary series, an intermediate series and four advanced series. Progression through the series is traditionally done under the supervision of a teacher. The practitioner can only beginning practicing the next series when the teacher feels that the student is ready. Ashtanga-Vinyasa focuses on linking breath with movement. Ujjayi breath is used throughout the practice.
Many popular styles have developed from Ashtanga yoga, the most popular being Vinyasa yoga, or Vinyasa Flow. The most common Vinyasa sequence used in many yoga disciplines are Surya Namaskar A and B (Sun salutation A and B).
Ashtanga Yoga History
The Sanskrit word Ashtanga ( Ash- Eight Tanga- Limb) refers to the eight limbs of yoga, as described by Patanjali in the ancient Yoga Sutras, written between 1700-2200 years ago. The exact date the Sutras were complied is unknown, but it is traditionally thought that the Sutras existed many years before Patanjali was born, and they were learnt by memory and passed down from teacher to student for generations.
According to Patanjali’s system, the path of Yoga is based on 8 spiritual practices-
1) Yama- restraints, abstentions and social conduct
There are five Yamas-
a) Ahimsa or Non-Violence.
This is the essence of this conduct, and also serves as the foundation for many religions. Ahimsa means non violence towards all living things, including yourself. As well as having non-violent physical behaviour, it also refers to spoken word, thoughts and day dreams. Don’t occupy your mind with violent thoughts about another person. If someone really practices this yama, they will have no enemies and a good energy about them.
b) Satya or Truthfulness.
”There is no virtue greater than truth.”
Practice living a truthful life. Be true to yourself. Speak the truth to others.
But Satya must also be combined with Ahimsa (non-violence). If the truth could harm others, sometimes it’s best to stay silent.
c) Asteya or Non-Stealing.
This yama refers to material and non material possessions. Do not take what is not yours, whether it be an object, or an idea.
Asteya also includes not telling others about confidential information that we have been entrusted with.
d) Bramacharya or Non-Lust
Now, this yama is a little bit controversial for the western mind! It refers to abstinence from sex and lustful behaviours. Yogi’s believe this energy should be used for higher consciousness, and is wasted during sexual activity.
For the western mind, it can be considered as this. Try to not waste your sexual energy. Let sex be a spiritual as well as a physical connection. Use it to deepen your connection with another person. Don’t use sex as a tool, as a way of manipulating others into getting what you want.
e) Aparigraha or Non-Possessiveness
Aparigraha refers to living a life free from greed. Don’t expect anything from others. Do not accept gifts from others if you feel reliant on them. Try and live an independent life.
Try not to be too occupied with accumulating material possessions, on being a consumer. Also, don’t be possessive over loved ones.
2) Niyama- Observances, personal conduct
There are 5 Niyamas-
a) Sauca or Cleanliness
This niyama is concerned with both inner and outer cleanliness. Living in a clean environment, but also practicing keeping the mind and body clean and pure.
The practise of pranayamas, asanas and yogic cleansing practices to detoxify and cleanse the physical body are necessary to achieve inner cleanliness.
b) Santosha or contentment
This niyama is concerned with acceptance and gratitude for what one has. Try and find at least three things every day that you are grateful for, instead of thinking about things that aren’t going the way that you want them to go. There’s always something to be grateful for, whether it be the sun, the delicious food you eat or the fresh air that you breathe.
Practice humility,modesty and try to find contentment with what you have and who you are.
c) Tapas or Austerity
This niyama refers to keeping the body in good condition. Eating foods that are good for your body. Not over eating. Practice doing what is good for you.
d) Svadhyaya or study of the sacred text and of one’s self
The niyama is concerned with self study. With knowing yourself and your essential nature, and your connection with all other living things.
e) Isvarapranidhama or Living with an awareness of the Divine
This niyama encourages us to let go of any false sense of control we feel that we have over our lives. To let go and connect with the divine, which gives us a sense of wholeness and sacredness.
Even if you do not practice Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, or you do not have any yoga practice at all at the moment, the Yamas and Niyamas are a beautiful guidelines to live by in order to feel peace in your life. You can take what you want from them, they are purely guidelines for a peaceful mind.
3) Asana- Physical Postures
Asana practice tends to be the beginning of the yoga journey for most people. Asana practice helps to open and clean the entire body, and it prepares the body for sitting for long periods of time in meditation.
Patanjali emphasised the importance of seated asanas, and believed asanas should be steady and comfortable physical postures.
When you have been practicing asanas for many years, and your body is strong, flexible and cleansed, asana practice is no longer necessary. One has become beyond the physical level, and can begin to enjoy the subtle levels more.
4) Pranayama-Breath Control
Pranayama refers to the regulation of the breath to increase the prana (life force). Pranayama includes many breathing exercises which help to oxygenate the blood, detoxify the body and bring the practitioner back to the present moment.
The breath and the respiratory system is the only system in the body that we can consciously control. The body will automatically breathe for us, but by taking control of this system and performing Pranayama, yogi’s believe we can purify the body, calm the mind and experience higher consciousness.
5) Pratyhara- Sense Withdrawal
Pratyhara is sense withdrawal. We are too often slaves to our senses. We must learn to control the senses and bring them back to their natural state, instead of being ruled by them.
Pratyhara is the key between the inner an outer aspects of yoga. It is the bridge between Asana and Meditation. Without Pratyhara, it is required to jump from body to mind, forgetting all that is in between.
” With Pranayama we control our vital energies and impulses and with Pratyhara we gain mastery over the unruly senses- both are prerequisites to successful meditation” David Frawley (for David’s full article click here)
6) Dharana- Concentration
Dharana is concentration, or as Patanjali describes it, the ”binding of consciousness to a [single] spot”.
We can find concentration in many activities in life whether it be music, sport, art, cooking… any activity which absorbs our attention completely and allows us to be in the present moment. When you are focused and ‘in the moment’, you cannot be in two minds about something, there is no conflict between action and thoughts.
In asana and pranayama practise, it is important to also try and practice dharana. To concentrate fully on feelings, sensations and movements as they happen.
7) Dhyrana- Meditation
Only once you achieve dharana are you able to practice dhyrana, or meditation.
Meditation is a state of mind which is free from restlessness, unconnected/dissimilar multiple thoughts and it connected with inner joy and inner peace.
When we first still the body for meditation, it is often very apparent how active the mind is. And this is perfectly fine. You can still practice meditation. The key is to not get connected with the thoughts as they enter your consciousness. Let them pass. Be alert and watch like a cat at a mouse hole, for the next thought to arise. It’s the space between the thoughts that contains the joy and the peace, and through practice, these spaces will become longer and easier to become one with. This space, this joy and peace, is your essential nature.
Samadhi refers to union and absorption into the divine, or ‘enlightenment’. To everyday people, that concept may be hard to relate to, or to understand why that would be relevant or necessary in our day to day lives.
”Samadhi is a state of being intensely present without a point of view. In others words, in samadhi you perceive all points of view of reality at once, without focusing on any particular one. To imagine this better, imagine that each of us has a grid of a filter in front of us.” The mesh of this filter is constructed of all our experiences and ideas, and affects how we perceive the world. ”Samadhi is the state in which we no longer experience reality through a grid; instead we experience reality directly” Judith Lasater- (Yoga Journal Writer)
Through the practice of Ashtanga yoga, we can remove the obstacles in our bodies and our minds, and experience our true peaceful nature.