What is Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga provides a systematic approach to the practice of yoga. This system was brought to light by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his teacher Kishnamacharya. The philosophy that underpins it is Patañjali Yoga Sūtras.
The Eight Limbs
Ashtanga means ‘eight limbs’ so this is the yoga of the eight limbs:
Yāma – Internal purification, social codes of behaviour.
Niyāma – Internal purification, moral codes of conducts.
Āsana – Practice of postures.
Prāṇāyāma – Control of prana or life force.
Pratyāhāra – Withdrawal of the senses.
Dhāraṇā – Concentration.
Dhyāna – Meditation.
Samādhi – Complete absorption.
Students are always introduced to this system through the practice of āsana which should be practiced in its correct sequential order under the guidance of a traditionally trained teacher to avoid physical or mental injury. A disciplined approach to the practice of āsana will help the student embody the yāmas and niyāmas and must be properly established before attempting prāṇāyāma.
The first four limbs are external and the last four internal. According to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois when the external limbs are strongly established the last four will occur spontaneously. The practice gradually leads the students to rediscover their fullest potential and to gain a greater level of awareness.
The heart of this yoga is vinyāsa, the synchronisations of movement and breath. Vinyāsa creates internal heat which is essential to the practice; the blood gets thinner and it runs freely through joints and organs removing toxins and expelling them out through sweat. The body becomes supple and strong and the mind focused and clear.
In Ashtanga yoga we refer to tristhāna which is the union of posture (āsana), breath and dṛṣṭi. Āsanas purify and strengthen the body. The breath used in this practice is known as 'free breathing' in Mysore; the inhale and the exhale are the same length and a gentle sound is created. The breath helps to purify the nervous system. The dṛṣṭi or gaze point, of which there are nine, help to focus and concentrate the mind.
Ashtanga Yoga Mysore Style and Led Classes
The traditional way to learn this practice is within a self-practice environment often called 'Mysore style' after Sri K Pattabhi Jois who taught in Mysore. Students are taught individually within a group environment at their own pace. The teacher teaches them a precise sequence of asanas and provides hands-on adjustments. At the beginning the student may have a short practice but as the student becomes comfortable in the asana and commits the practice to memory the practice grows with the student, according to their individual needs and physical abilities.
Led classes are there to support the Mysore Style classes, they teach students the proper vinyasa, the connection of movement with breath. Each asana has a particular vinyasa associated with it e.g. Surya Namasakara A has nine vinyasas. Classes at Ashtanga Yoga Covent Garden are taught with the traditional Sanskrit count.
Mysore style classes are suitable for everyone, from beginner to experienced practitioner. Led classes are not suitable for complete beginners.