Ashtanga yoga is the royal eight fold yoga (8 limbs yoga) systematized by the ancient sage Patanjali.
8 LIMBS OF YOGA (ASHTA=8, ANGA=LIMB)
- Yama – attitude towards others
- Nyama – attitude towards ourselves
- Asana – physical postures
- Pranayama – breath control
- Dharana – concentration
- Prathyahara – sense withdrawal
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi – complete integration
THE PURPOSE OF YOGA PRACTICE:
As we walk through life we accumulate all sorts of physical and mental patterns. These patterns are influenced by our upbringing, environment, daily habits, things we pick from other people around us and society’s norms. We learn to survive in this world, but we often lose our true ourselves in trying to comply to the rules. In one way or another we all search for the purpose of life and want to genuinely live our story and not somebody else’s expectations of us.
Yoga is a system that is meant to make us aware of those mental and physical patterns accumulated throughout our human journey. It is a journey of self-awareness, self-development and self-mastery with very great physical benefits. It is a journey of meeting ourselves on deeper layers and coming back to our hearts.
In the Western world, yoga is often associated only with physical postures. But the reality is that mind, body and emotions are never separated, but they are always interconnected. Through the regular practice of asanas (postures) we do not only influence and improve the physical, but we always touch our subconscious mind. We discover that we always have the ability to change and improve and reinvent who we are. Sometimes experience extreme changes and discover that we are stronger than we thought. Our current conditions and temporary limitations do not define us, but we always have the power to influence who we are and create a better improved version of ourselves.
Nowadays ashtanga yoga is mostly associated with the sequences of postures prescribed by the yoga master Pattabhi Jois who was a student of Krisnamacharya considered the father of modern yoga. There are 6 series of asanas in Jois’ yoga method of practice. These series and poses increase in difficulty, allowing students to work at their own pace. The poses are meant to challenge our body, mind and create balance in the system with regular practice.
This practice is meant to challenge you physically and mentally so that it can bring you on the edge of your comfort zone in order for you to break your current patterns and constantly reinvent yourself. By seeing that change is always an option, our minds remain flexible throughout our life and do not get stuck in old unproductive patterns and habits.
HOW DOES ASHTANGA YOGA WORK?
Ashtanga yoga uses the traditional Vinyasa tool. Vinyasa refers to connecting breath with movement. It uses the breathing technique called Ujjayi which is breath with sound. Ujjayi creates heat, deep focus and depth in our breath.
In the ashtanga sequences every little movement has a purpose and a vinyasa count (number associated with the movement). This allows the mind to stay focused and the body to move freely. Students will find it challenging in the beginning to respect the vinyasa and it might take a long time until they become ready to master their breath to match the count. As we practice, our breath becomes deeper, our body becomes stronger and more flexible, our mind becomes more focused and balanced.
In ashtanga, we practice and learn the sequence (it starts with primary series) at individual pace in a class that’s called Mysore style. This is like a private class in a small group setting. Each student builds independence in their practice is this way. By becoming their own guide, they can better experience early meditation technique in their practice. This type of practice allows the student and teacher to work together like a team, to progress at individual pace and set a stable foundation for the student’s practice. We take into consideration not only the physical capacity of the student, but the whole person (mental, emotional, different stages of development). The teacher tries to constantly listen and observe the changes in the student so that it can give better support and constantly develop. There is constant progress either physical or mental.
We do not change the sequencing in ashtanga unless it’s really needed. Each pose builds on the previous one. What makes ashtanga to be ashtanga is that the sequence doesn’t change. Physical obstacles are seen as a way to grow, not like limitations. Our job as students is to observe and learn. The student learns the sequencing together with the teacher. The repetition allows for depth, more awareness and ability to investigate into details of movement patterns.
The reason why this is a repetitive practice is because it work with patterns. By repeting we become more aware and sensitive. We see with more clarity and we also make faster progress. Through the daily practice, we start to see the details. We learn to understand our body and mind in a better way. Physically we make a lot of progress and the body becomes strong and flexible. The practice is meant to become a mirror of our internal world. We learn to find the magic in the ordinary routine.
TRISTANA, THE 3 PILLARS OF ASHTANGA YOGA:
Ashtanga yoga uses 3 primary tools in order to make our mind and body work as one:
- Ujjayi breathing
- Bandhas ( energetic locks, physically we learn them initially as core control)
- Drishti (gazing point that helps us concentrate)
BENEFITS OF ASHTANGA YOGA
In practicing ashanga yoga we need an undogmatic and curious approach in order to make progress and feel its benefits. It’s both body and mind practice.
The way we perceive the practice will depend on different stages of our life and yoga experience, how open we are into committing ourselves to this way of practicing.
BENEFITS OF ASHTANGA YOGA FOR YOUR HEALTH
- Improvement of mobility, elasticity and flexiblity
By practicing the daily repetitive movements, your body will change. As we grow older, the body becomes more and more stiff and we lose our ability to move freely as we once did when we were younger. The practice of ashtanga yoga allows a deeper progress and it preserves the body’s ability to move in a healthier way. You might find yourself being more flexible and stable than you were 10 years ago ,just because you now put the work into keeping your muscles happy and healthy.
- Increase in muscular strength and power
By using the technique of Vinyasa our body gets strong and stable. We use our body weight to lift up, to jump back, to jump forward. This creates heat and focus. We practice so many chaturangas (the yoga pushups) that we might lose track throughout an hour of practice. This creates stability and healthy patterns for more complex postures that will follow later on .
- Increased balance and control
Ashtanga challenges our balance at all times not only in balancing postures on one leg but in every single posture. We learn to move from the core and this creates a more balanced body. By balancing on one leg, not only do we make our stability muscles work, but our mind is making a huge progress in trying to process that information. It is mental training too.
- Increased agility, precision and body alignment
Many people notice a huge progress when they switch from other yoga styles to the regular practice of ashtanga. The repetition is essential into integrating a new movement pattern and understand the depth of each pose and our bad body habits created throughout daily life. The practice becomes both a prehab and rehab into reversing the effects of bad habits and too much sitting in our modern life.
Many people notice how they become more coordinated in their movements. The move better. They are more aware of their bodies. And the body alignment changes too. I, for example, feel a grew a few centimeters since I practice, because my body alignment changed so much. A good friend of mine could not keep her knees together when she started practicing. 15 years later she can do that. Yoga works!
- Better posture and NO BACK PAIN
In ashtanga primary series we do lots of geometrical postures, lots of hip openers. We have lots of chaturangas (yoga pushups) that create strength and stability.
By having more open hips we prevent and treat back pain. All the strength work creates a strong back and shoulders which gives better support to our spine.
Open hips give more access to the spine. Straighter pain free backs. More comfortable sitting on the floor. Our ancestors didn’t have the issues of rounded backs that we can nowadays see in our society. Sitting on the floor and in squat is a natural resting positions for humans. But we’ve lost that ability in the modern world. Squat has even become a yoga pose when in fact is a common resting position for humans.
- Improved breathing control – more relaxed mind and nervous system
As the body becomes stronger and more flexible, our breathing also changes. The body changes the breathing. The breathing changes the body. A breath with depth and control gives a peaceful mind. A tool of emotional management and more relaxed mind and nervous system. The breathing improves our ability to concentrate our mind and observe how our thoughts and emotions influence our decisions and reactions. A calm breath gives a calm and focused mind. Yoga’s ability to relax our body and minds is based on our breath. It’s a breathing practice with some bending involved.
- Better stress and emotional management
The pressure of our modern world often leaves us overwhelmed and exhausted. The practice gives us energy and ability to manage our reactions to the external stimuli in a better way. We learn to actively relax and filter through the sea of thoughts than we have every single day. We see things with more clarity.
There are many, so many benefits to practice ashtanga yoga. The longer we do it, the more secrets we discover. It’s a never ending journey of exploration into our minds and bodies.
WHO IS THIS PRACTICE FOR?
Ashtanga yoga is for everyone! For everyone who is willing to learn and develop, everyone who wants to take better care of their body and mind. It is for complete beginners, practitioners of other yoga styles and people with more experience equally. In the yoga room we all become a team and we are equal. What unites us is the willpower and the intention for a more peaceful life.
Join us for a class in Gothenburg, Sweden. We would gladly come to your beautiful shala somewhere else in the world 🙂
© Unfold Your Mat 2019