Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, as taught by Guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, is a vigorous and dynamic style of yoga that has been developed as a system of movement, postures and a certain breathing technique to progressively purify and tone the body whilst developing skills to quiet the mind and adopt a positive and healthy attitude in life. Through synchronizing the breath with postures and movment intense internal heat is created that produces purifying sweat detoxifying muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.
The Ashtanga Series
The Ashtanga Vinyasa system is intelligently sequenced so that each posture prepares the practitioner for the next. One must master each posture and sequence before moving on to the next. The series gets progressively more demanding, challenging the body to increasing levels of strength, flexibility, agility and balance as well as challenging the mind to increasing levels of concentration and relaxation.
The Asthanga Vinyasa system is comprised of six series: Primary series, Intermediate series, Advanced A, Advanced B, Advanced C and Advanced D series. Newcomers start with Primary series, also called Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy, which gradually strengthens the body externally, cleanses the body internally and increases flexibility. Mastering a series can take many years, depending on physical ability and dedication to the practice. Bear in mind, yoga is not about physical achievements…
Elements of the Practice
The traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa method offers a dynamic series of sequential poses (Asanas). At the core of the practice are three places of action and attention (Tristhana). Practiced in conjunction with each other, they help purify the body, nervous system and mind:
1. Ujjayi (breath) – including Bandhas
2. Asana (posture) – including Bandhas
3. Drishti (gazing point)
The breath is central to the Asthanga Vinyasa practice. It is the key to purifying the body and mind, allowing the practitioner to move into a meditative space and enter subtle internal states. The breathing method used in Asthanga Vinyasa yoga is called Ujjayi breathing, a diaphragmatic breathing technique that creates a hollow, deep and soft sound coming from the back of the throat. Read more »
Asana (posture) & Vinyasa
Each series has the same structure: The practice is started with the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara) followed by a set of standing postures. Then the practitioner moves on to a set of seated postures, which are different for each series. The finishing postures, again the same in each series, close the practice.
The linking of the Ujjayi breathing technique and movement into postures is called Vinyasa (e.g. Inhale = Raise your hands up, Exhale = Lower your hands down). This creates a meditative flow, a strong foundation for the deeper aspects of the practice.
In the traditional Asthanga Vinyasa method, one must master each posture and sequence before moving on to the next. Starting with the Sun Salutations, the student is given one posture at the time to be added to the practice. Gradually increasing physical and mental abilities, the student has to complete one series before moving on to the next.
Drishti (gazing point)
Each posture has a designated gazing point (Drishti) that helps to focus the mind and maintain a meditative balance. Dristhi has little to do with our physical sight but encourages an internal awareness. By concentrating on a gazing point, the visual distraction of the outer world is limited, which enables the practitioner to focus inwards on the practice – breathing, posture and bandhas.
Bandhas are a number of energy gates within the subtle body that help regulate the internal flow of energy throughout the practice. They are activated by a combination of awareness and engagement of fine muscles. It takes most practitioners many years to develop a sound understanding and correct use of the bandhas.
To start one wants to focus on locating and activating Mulabandha (root lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (“Upwards lifing”), two important components of the breathing system. These energy locks at the bottom of the pelvic floor and in the lower abdominal area seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal heat.
Mysore Style Self-Practice & Led Classes
Traditionally Ashtanga Vinyasa is taught in Mysore Style, named after its place of origin in India. In this self-practice format each practitioner moves through the series at his or her own pace according to his or her own level of ability under the guidance of the teacher. It is the ideal way to learn for committed students whether you are a complete beginner or an advanced practitioner.
Alternatively, many studios offer led Ashtanga Vinyasa classes that lead through parts or all of Primary series but will almost always follow the same class structure starting with Sun Salutations and standing postures, followed by some seated postures and ending with finishing postures. A full Primary series practice class lasts minimum 1 hour 30 minutes and includes relaxation and meditation. At selected studios one might find Second series taught in classes too.
Help, I am not flexible enough!
There is no such thing as flexible enough in yoga. Even though it is impressive to look at seemingly impossible contortions, it is important to remember that we all have different bodies, abilities, predispositions and priorities in life.
The aim of the yoga practice is beyond physical achievement. Thus, yoga is quite literally for every body at every age. With the help of an experienced teacher the practitioner can learn to master modified postures or variations and progress according to their individual ability.
“Practice, and all is coming….” Sri K. Pattabhi Jois