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The Comprehensive Guide to Ashtanga Yoga

The Comprehensive Guide to Ashtanga Yoga

In yoga circles, Ashtanga Yoga has become the new way to practicing this sacred art for beginners. Ashtanga Yoga goes beyond the practice of physical asanas and considers the spiritual growth of the individual. It also focuses on flexibility, and relaxation.

Yoga has been a part of the Indian culture for thousands of years. Yoga gurus and experts know that it offers the best way to find mental and physical relaxation from the stress of daily life. In the Sanskrit language, the word Ashtanga refers to the “eight limbs”.

Indian sage Patanjali first used the term in his Yoga Sutras. He described the eight limbs that you should practice to recognize true potential and transcend suffering. The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga include Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.

Let us now dive a bit deeper into the origins of this sacred art.

The Origin and Spread of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga finds its place in Yoga Kurunta written by Vamana Rishi. Krishnamacharya learned the text from his guru, Rama Mohan Brahmachari. He later passed on the knowledge to Pattabhi Jois when Jois was under the tutelage of Krishnamacharya in 1927.

Although the word Ashtanga Yoga came into being in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It were Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois living in Southern India state of Karnataka who developed the art we know as Ashtanga Yoga.

Krishnamacharya is the person responsible for the origins of the modern-day yogic practices. He also taught Jois a series of asanas that suited the needs of individual. He also introduced difficult yogic postures to help Jois increase his flexibility, and strength. Krishnamacharya would then completely change the routine and replace it with a new one.

The student in each yoga class had to practice on an individual basis unlike what is taught today in group settings. He would have to practice each yoga posture under an experienced teacher’s guidance.

Pattabhi Jois continued spreading the same to students and named each sequence to Primary Series, Intermediate Series, and Advanced Series.

A Little About the Practice of Ashtanga Yoga

You learn to combine breathing with movement for practicing a pure and meditative style of yoga. With more practice, you overcome mental and physical obstacles, enjoy good health, and also have better self awareness.

The “Mysore Style” Ashtanga Yoga

The “Mysore Style” Ashtanga Yoga was taught by Pattabhi to westerners in Mysore. You might not be familiar with it but there are a whole lot of benefits this particular style of Yoga offers. Mysore Style is the traditional method of practice in which you have to master each posture individually in the supervision of an expert Ashtanga Yoga teacher training.

In a nutshell, following is how the Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga works;

  1. You need to be at the practice session during early hours of the morning
  2. The Yoga Guru gives you specific set of asanas to memorize and practice
  3. You return each morning for at least 6 days and practice the same sequence
  4. Teacher at the practice session assists you but does not guides
  5. After you have mastered the specific postures, the teacher introduces advance level postures
  6. Next, you move to the Intermediate Series and then Advanced

However, merely knowing the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga does not gets the work done. Let us now understand these in-depth.

The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga

The 8 limbs of yoga serve as guidelines on living a life of meaning and purpose. These provide you with the moral codes for ethics and self-discipline. You get to understand the spiritual aspects of life.

8 limbs of yoga

1. Yama

The first ethic of Yama deals with ethical standards and how you conduct in life. It works on the basis of the Golden Rule – Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Five types of Yamas include;

  1. Ahimsa aka Non-Violence
  2. Satya that means Truthfulness
  3. Asteya which means Non-stealing
  4. Brahmacharya meaning Continence
  5. Aparigraha meaning Non-covetousness

2. Niyama

Second limb of Ashtanga Yoga is Niyama that takes into account self-discipline and spiritual observance as attending church service or temples, practicing own personal meditation practice, or contemplating.

The five types of Niyamas include;

  1. Saucha meaning Cleanliness
  2. Samtosa that means Contentment
  3. Tapas meaning Spiritual austerity
  4. Svadhyaya meaning study of the sacred scriptures
  5. Isvara Pranidhana meaning surrender to god

3. Asana

The third limb is the Asana. Yogic culture takes the body as a temple for the soul that requires consistent care for spiritual growth. Asanas help you develop discipline and concentrate, both of which is important for yogic meditation.

4. Pranayama

The Fourth limb is the art of Pranayama or breathing helps you gain mastery over the respiratory process. It also helps you understand the connection between breathing, emotions, and the mind. The regular practice of Pranayama rejuvenates body and mind for the day ahead.

5. Pratyahara

Pratyahara is the fifth limb which stands for withdrawal or going beyond the senses. You are required to make a conscious effort to move away awareness from external stimuli. Pratyahara offers you the chance to step back and observe yourself. It gives you the tools to know if a craving is affecting your lifestyle.

6. Dharna

Dharna, the sixth limb of Ashtanga Yoga refers to concentration. We have to deal with distractions of the mind by slowing down the thinking process with concentration on a single object.

7. Dhyana

Dhyana, which refers to meditation or contemplation is the seventh limb that requires uninterrupted flow of concentration. Concentration and Meditation might appear to be the same but there is some difference between the two. The element of Dhyana takes into account a still and quite mind with minimal or no thoughts.

8. Samadhi

The eight and final limb of Ashtanga Yoga is Samadhi or the state of ecstasy. You now merge the point of focus and move to higher self. It helps you realize the connection with the divine and spiritual connection with everything in the world.

The Three Components of Ashtanga Yoga

It is time we focus on the three major components of Ashtanga Yoga which includes Vinyasa, Drishti, and Bandha. Let us now explain these three in details;

1. Vinyasa

The base of practice of Ashtanga as it utilizes Ujjayi Pranayama, which is a breathing technique. You have to fill your lungs and breath through the nose. Every action in Ashtanga done via inhalation or exhalation by linking breathing with movement.

2. Drishti

Drishti refers to the practitioner’s spot of attention during an asana or pranayama. You have to fix the gaze on thumb or big toe. The focus is done with the intention to help you develop concentration and it creates a balance between inward and outward consciousness.

3. Bandhas

Bandhas or internal muscular locks helps you achieve and maintain alignment during asana practice. The use of Bandhas during the practice works to intensifies the energy of prana.

However, that is not all as Ashtanga offers many more benefits to help the practitioner reach peak physical and mental conditioning.

The Advantages of Practicing Ashtanga

Let us check out the eight major benefits of practicing this form of yoga.

1. Improved Flexibility

Regular practice of Ashtanga helps improve your flexibility. The different postures work on the hamstring that affects the trunk movement. A reduction in the hamstring elasticity affects the health of the spine. You also get more flexibility in the shoulders and calf.

2. Minimize Belly Fat

Natural weight loss and a lean body becomes a reality with regular practice of Ashtanga Yoga postures. The majority of postures require using body weight that helps you get a lean toned physique. It is highly useful in ridding the body of fat from the stomach and arms.

3. A Big Stress Buster

With regular practice of different postures you develop a habit of focusing on the physical movements and coordinating the same with breathing. It helps you stay relaxed and get rid of the unnecessary stress.

4. Treat Hypertension

Combining the various postures of this yoga with Ujjayi Pranayama provides you many health benefits. With Ujjayi Pranayama you lower the blood pressure and find a solution to the issue of hypertension.

5. Helps Improve Core Endurance

The issue of core endurance has a direct relation with lower back pain in athletes. Week after week of practice helps in improving core endurance.

6. Improved Inner Strength

Use of Bandhas during the practice of Ashtanga Yoga helps you to control and harness the prana flow. With complete focus on the pelvis, and throat each Bandhas provides added strength and stability to your body to perform the various postures with ease.

7. Master the Art of Breathing

During times of distress and tensions, the first thing to get affected is your breathing. The Ujjayi breathing technique helps you master the art of taking in fresh air through the nostrils. Ujjayi breathing increases the flow of prana, and refreshes the entire system.

8. A Healthy Back

The Ashtanga Yoga is helpful in providing strength to abdominal muscles. It also works in realigning the musculoskeletal system that reduces back pain.

9. Minimizes Risk of Injury

Under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher, practicing the various postures keeps you safe. You get a more balanced and flexible body which reduces the chance of injuries and health issues.

10. Best Wellness Plan

Choosing Ashtanga Yoga over other forms of exercises helps you get a better body, mind, and attitude. It helps you connect with the inner self and move beyond just physical practice of the movements.

Many of those starting their journey towards a peaceful life feel overwhelmed by looking at the different Ashtanga postures. You should know that Ashtanga is a physically demanding practice to achieve the best mental, physical, and mental conditioning.

Best Ashtanga Yoga Poses for Beginners

Let us find out the best five Ashtanga poses which beginners can practice without much hassle.

1. Padangushtasana (Big Toe Pose)

Here’s how you can perform this asana;

Padangushtasana
  • Assume Tadasana and spread the legs at least 3 to 4 inches apart
  • Breathe out and hinge forward by folding at the hips
  • Your hands need to be touching the floor with firm grip of the big toe
  • Hold the pose for a minute

2. Utakasana (Chair Pose)

Given below are the steps to performing the Chair Pose;

Utakasana Chair Pose
  • Stand in the Tadasana position with feet hip-width apart
  • Raise your hands overhead with both palms facing each other
  • Bend the knees and form a pose similar to sitting in a chair
  • Shift the body weight on the heels and hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds

3. Janu Sirasana (Head to Knee Pose)

Here’s how you can practice this Ashtanga pose;

Janu Sirasana Head to Knee Pose
  • Sit on the mat on the floor with legs stretched in front and hands on the sides
  • Fold your left knee outwards and keep the sole on the right inner thigh
  • Breathing in raise the arms upwards and overhead. Breath out and hinge the torso forward on the right leg folding from the hip joint
  • Make sure the forehead is touching the right knee and also hold the right foot with hands
  • Remain in the pose for a minute and then release. Practice the same on the other side

4. Chakrasana (Wheel Pose)

Here’s how you can perform this pose;

Chakrasana the Wheel Pose
  • Lie flat on your back on the floor with both feet together and hands beside the body
  • Fold the knees and let the sole of the feet touch the floor. Pull them closer to the hips
  • Open your fingers and keep both hands behind the shoulders
  • Lift your entire body off the floor and shift the body weight on the limbs
  • Let your head be in the air but do not strain the neck

5. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Read the guidelines below to understand how to practice this pose;

Bhujangasana
  • Lie flat on your stomach on the floor with feet together and hands beside the body
  • Slide your hands upwards besides the shoulder and inhale with lifting your torso off the floor
  • Move your head backwards by giving a slight arch to the neck and back

It is now time for you find a reputed Ashtanga Yoga teacher training school to begin your journey towards mental, physical, and spiritual growth. However, with so many yoga schools promising the best results it might be a bit hard to pick the right one.

Guidelines to Finding the Best Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training School

If you want to start your journey towards becoming an Ashtanga teacher, it is wise to look for a yoga teacher training school for the right guidance.

1. Yoga Alliance Certification

The school has to have a Yoga Alliance certification. It makes sure you enroll in a yoga school that comes under the Registered Yoga School category with a fixed syllabus according to Yoga Alliance. Training with an RYS makes you eligible for becoming an Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT). The school with a Yoga Alliance certification provides you with the original training for becoming a yoga teacher.

2. The Teachers

No syllabus or set of rules can be as efficient at teaching you Ashtanga as a teacher with experience. Make sure the teachers at the school are all Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) as they carry more knowledge of the field. You will receive the best of training from someone who has been there and done that.

3. Check Out the Reviews

In the age of Internet it has become easier to know how a particular service performs. You get the chance to know what previous students of the school felt and how they completed their yoga training. It helps you get an idea about the teaching methodology, the curriculum, and personal experiences of previous students. You should read the online yoga school reviews before choosing one.

4. Curriculum and Syllabus

Another important thing to keep in mind when searching for Ashtanga Yoga school is checking about their curriculum. The majority of schools offer 200, 300, and 500 hour yoga teacher training courses to help you become the best teacher. The course should offer in-depth theoretical and practical knowledge about Ashtanga and its various poses.

5. Food and Accommodation

The right type of eating habits have a tremendous effect on how good of Ashtanga teacher you are. Diet affects how much information you are able to grasp about this art. You also need to check into the type of accommodation they offer, and recreational activities.

The practice of Ashtanga Yoga helps you not only gain mastery over body movements but also over thought process. Ashtanga Yoga helps you become more joyful and less stressful in everyday life. With so much stress and confusion in daily life it is only natural that you find an outlet to find mental peace and physical relaxation. The path of Ashtanga offers you that way to keep all the unnecessary chaos and stress at bay and listen to what your mind and body really needs.

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