Entering a meditative state through the exertion of physical practice: that is the goal of Ashtanga Yoga. A style of yoga that promotes flexibility, strength and stability. Ashtanga Yoga is often referred to as the hardest yoga style or the supreme discipline of yoga.
Ashtanga Yoga consists of six series. However, many yogis only practice the first series even after months and years of practice. Because only when you have completely mastered one of the demanding exercise series you move on to the next. There are few people who get past the second series.
The history of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga was developed by Patthabi Jois. The yoga teacher lived and practiced in Mysore/South India. Around 1960 he published his book "Yoga Mala", in which he explains and describes the individual series of exercises he has developed as well as his yoga style. Finally, in 1975, Jois began teaching yoga seminars in Europe and the United States. He himself was a longtime student of the Indian Yoga and Ayurveda teacher Krishnamacharya. He is known, among other things, as the "father of modern yoga".
In Germany, Dr. Ronald Steiner (here in an german interview with OGNX) as one of the best-known representatives of the Ashtanga Yoga tradition. As a direct student of Patthabi Jois, he provides extensive information about the yoga style on his Ashtanga website (including downloadable PDF cheat sheets for the first three series).
Ashtangas - the eight limbs
Ashtanga means “eight-limbed”. The word is composed of “ashta” (“eight” in Sanskrit) and “anga” (“limbs” in Sanskrit).
The eight limbs have their origin in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra. This is one of the basic works of yoga philosophy. The goal of the eightfold path is enlightenment, which comes from living by these rules.
- Yama = behavior towards others
- Niyama = behavior towards oneself
- Asana = physical exercises
- Pranayama = breathing exercises
- Pratyahara = withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana = Concentration
- Dhyana = Meditation
- Samadhi = enlightenment
Ashtanga Yoga: Exercises
Each of the six series in Ashtanga Yoga consists of a fixed number of positions (= Asanas). These are each held for five breaths and combined with one another through a flowing transition (= Vinyasa). During the practice sequence, students breathe using the Ujjayi breathing technique. Yoga studios usually only teach the first two series in public classes - each of them consists of many individual exercises that the practitioners should internalize exactly. From series to series, the postures become more complex and demanding.
As a rule, the respective series begin with sun salutations, followed by standing postures, several sitting postures and a final sequence including Savasana (= final relaxation). The first series called Yoga Chikitsa (in German: Yoga Therapy) consists of a total of 41 asanas - among other things, the chair position, warriors I and II or the boat are practiced.
The sun salutations at the beginning of the series lay the foundation for Ashtanga Yoga practice. With the help of the Ujjayi breathing technique, a regular breathing rhythm is established. The Bandha technique (= contraction of certain muscles) helps Ashtanga yogis to consciously direct their energy in the body. A focused look ( = Drishti) ensures the necessary concentration during practice.
The subsequent exercise sequence of standing and sitting asanas after the sun salutations is intended to bring the energetic and physical body into balance. The culmination of the exercises is in the final sequence, in which mental calm sets in and the energy (= prana) is completely in flux.
The complexity of Ashtanga Yoga lies on the one hand in the exercises that make up the individual series and which become more demanding with each series. But above all in learning the three yoga techniques Ujjayi, Bandha and Drishti and at the same time applying them when practicing the asanas.
The special features of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga is an extremely physical Vinyasa yoga style. In order to switch back and forth between the individual exercises in the spirit of Vinyasa, Ashtanga yogis often perform powerful jumps - for example from the push-up forwards to the floating position. They keep their breathing under control with the help of Ujjayi.
Especially at the beginning of an asthanga yoga "career", the teacher plays a big role, as he or she helps to convey the sequences in a way that is good for the body and not harmful.
Traditionally, Ashtangis practice yoga six days a week (Sunday through Friday). There is a pause on moon days (full and new moon). The goal is an independent, regular yoga practice.
Ashtanga yoga for beginners?
Yoga newcomers should not be put off by the term "supreme discipline": Ashtanga Yoga is a good introduction to Indian physical science. It is designed to develop a self-contained yoga practice.
As a beginner, you begin by learning a number of basic positions that you may already be familiar with from hatha yoga. You then build the first series on this ability. If you are new to Ashtanga, it is highly recommended that you attend a beginner's course. In the beginner lessons you will learn the sequence of exercises from scratch. In addition, many studios have special offers called Mysore classes.
During an Asthanga Mysore yoga class, all yoga students have the same exercise plan. However, the teacher supervises each individual and makes sure that the positions are carried out correctly during the lesson. Learning the exercises in the right way is important, otherwise the risk of injury is very high with the dynamic Vinyasa flows. For starters, there are so-called cheat sheets with the exercise sequence. However, these are usually no longer necessary after a short time.
Compared to other yoga styles, many Ashtanga yoga studios do not offer trial classes, but instead offer trial months. It usually takes more than 60 or 90 minutes to start learning and understanding the exercise sequences.
For body and mind - Ashtanga Yoga and its effects
The Ashtanga practice can have a positive effect on both your body and your mind. On a physical level, regular exercise has the effect that your muscles and body parts become more and more defined, flexible and strong.
On a spiritual level, the practice developed by Patthabi Jois has a cleansing and clarifying effect: through full concentration and attention to the practice, Ashtanga Yoga shows you a way to clear your head. The Ashtanga practice allows you to take a break from everyday life and connect with yourself.
Ashtanga yoga is a calm, physically demanding style of yoga in which the focus is on the precise execution of the asanas. If you have a lot of discipline and dedication or if you want to integrate these skills more into your life, you will like this type of yoga. The six series of Ashtanga Yoga invite you to develop yourself further and take on new challenges step by step.