Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was transmitted by Rama Mohan Brahmachari to his disciple Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900s and later transmitted to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois during his early studies with Krishnamacharya around 1927.
Ashtanga yoga as we know it was derived from ancient teachings and popularised by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois during the 20th century, and focuses on the asana, or physical practice, of Yoga.
This iteration is a challenging form of Yoga and focuses on increasing strength through many planks and weight-bearing postures. Flexibility is another key element as each Ashtanga class will include every type of posture – forward folds, backbends, twists, balancing postures, and inversions – for the maximum benefit to your practice.
Cardiovascular fitness is encouraged through constant movement and the inclusion of Sun Salutations – a dynamic sequence of 11 postures performed between each static pose. Through this, you will build endurance, but make sure to complete an active recovery workout after an intense Ashtanga class to help your muscles feel less fatigued.
In the Ashtanga Yoga method, as taught by Pattabhi Jois and his grandson Sharath Jois in Mysore (South India), the following components are emphasized: Vinyasa (system of breathing and movement) and Tristhana (the three points of attention or action) .
Vinyasa is the synchronization of movement with breathing, that is, for every movement there is a breath. For example, in Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) there are 9 vinyasas.
The purpose of vinyasa is the internal cleansing of our organism. By synchronizing the movements that we perform during the practice of asanas with the breath, we warm our blood, or, as Pattabhi Jois said, “it boils the blood”. Thick blood causes diseases in our body and the heat created in Ashtanga Yoga cleanses the blood and makes it thin so that it can circulate freely through the joints, alleviating body aches that occur due to a lack of circulation. Warm blood also moves through all the internal organs, removing impurities and diseases that leave the body through the sweat caused during practice.
Sweat is an important product of vinyasa because, according to Sharath Jois in his book Ashtanga Yoga Anusthana, only through sweat does disease leave the body and purification takes place. If the method is practiced correctly, the body becomes strong and healthy (first series of Ashtanga Yoga which is called Yoga Therapy - Yoga Chiktsa).
Only after purifying the body is it possible to purify the nervous system and sense organs, and then control of the mind comes automatically. This, however, takes many, many years of practice. Vinyasa creates the foundation for this to occur.
Tristhana are the three points of attention or action: postures (asanas), breathing and points of eye fixation (dristhi). Practicing Yoga with attention to these aspects covers three levels of purification: Body, Nervous System and Mind.
Asanas purify, strengthen and make the body flexible. Breathing means inhaling and exhaling. Both the inhalation and exhalation in practice should be firm and even. The duration of inspiration should be the same as that of expiration. Breathing in this way purifies the nervous system. Dristhi is the place we look at while practicing asanas. In the Ashtanga Yoga method we have 9 dristhis: nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. The function of dristhi is to purify and stabilize the functioning of the mind.
One of the most important components of the breathing system (breathing in postures) is mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. Bandhas are physical and energetic locks or locks in our body. Mula Bandha is the closure in the pelvic floor region, while uddiyana bandha is located in the lower abdomen region. Bandhas give lightness, strength and health to the body, as well as helping to build a strong internal fire. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct and asanas will be of no benefit. As said by our masters in Mysore: “When mula bandha is perfect, mind control is automatic.”
A vital aspect of inner purification, taught by Pattabhi Jois, is related to the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart. In ancient Yoga scriptures, it is said that God dwells in our heart in the form of light that is shrouded by six poisons: kama (desires), krodha (anger), moha (disillusionment), lobha (greed), matsarya (envy), and mada. (laziness). When the practice of Yoga is done with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the fire generated burns these poisons and our inner nature can finally shine.