Ashtanga yoga was developed by yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and incorporates regulated breathing in a series of asanas (positions) to raise the body’s core temperature, which releases toxins from the system. This technique enhances the body’s circulatory system, improves overall health and clears the mind.
Ashtanga yoga is based on the Yoga Korunta, an ancient text written by yogi Vamana Rishi. In 1927, Pattabhi Jois studied the text and, through his interpretation, began teaching its principles to students in 1948 at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. Ashtanga, or eight-limbed, yoga follows the eightfold path, which first appeared in the Yoga Sutras from the Classical period in the 1500s.
The eightfold path consists of the following:
- Yama, ethics;
- Niyama, study;
- Asanas, positions;
- Pranayama, regulated breathing;
- Pratyahara, inwardness;
- Dharana, concentration;
- Dhyana, meditation and
- Samadhi, self-realization.
The first four practices are external
cleansing rituals to prepare the student for achieving internal clarity and are the foundations of Ashtanga yoga.
To master the asanas in Ashtanga yoga, students are instructed to use vinyasa and tristhana. Vinyasa is the breathing technique while assuming each pose, and each asana has a specific number of vinyasas involved.
Tristhana deals with three things performed simultaneously:
- Proper posture
- External focus.
The asanas in Ashtanga yoga are performed in six progressive steps as building blocks to develop the student’s balance and strength. The breathing is a controlled inhale and exhale; both must match in terms of duration and strength. As the student of Ashtanga yoga becomes more accustomed to the breathing technique, the breaths are prolonged, which increases the body’s ability to stretch and attain each posture easier. The student must also focus on internal locks, or bandhas, which require muscle control in the anal and lower abdominal areas. Finally, the student is directed to focus on an external area, such as the navel, hands or feet.
After the student of Ashtanga yoga fully learns and can perform the asanas with the proper vinyasa and tristhana techniques, the pranayama instruction can commence. Pranayama is breath control and consists of:
- Inhaling and
- Holding or retaining the breath.
Along with the bandhas, the pranayama technique is the final step in the process to control the mind in readiness for accessing the universal life force, the ultimate goal of Ashtanga yoga.