Introduction To Ashtanga Yoga: Characteristics and Benefits
Ashtanga is a popular approach to yoga based on Patanjali’s classical text Yoga Sutras. Patanjali was an ancient sage believed to be the Father of Yoga.
Ashtanga means Eight Limbs (“ashta + anga”) in Sanskrit. The limbs are basically certain methods prescribed by Patanjali. With this practice, one can achieve a greater awareness of consciousness. Thus the followers of this path live in peace and harmony with the universe.
A modern style of yoga based on this term is “Ashtanga” yoga, also known as ashtanga vinyasa yoga. This flowing yoga style was developed in the twentieth century by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and T. Krishnamacharya. According to them, this style was derived from a system of Hatha yoga as set forth in the “Yoga Korunta” a five thousand-year-old text on yoga.
What is ashtanga yoga?
Ashtanga is a very structured and energetic tradition of yoga that is performed in a fixed sequence of yoga poses (asanas). The style has six series; each having a particular set of asanas. The series is divided into primary, secondary, and advanced levels.
The tradition of ashtanga yoga is also similar to that of vinyasa. Both styles of yoga are very popular, intense and dynamic. The poses are linked by an uninterrupted flowing motion. Both have a focus on the connection between the body and the breath.
Ashtanga yoga classes may include some vinyasa flows including the flow used in the sun salutation sequence.
Some salient features of the ashtanga yoga:
- In ashtanga yoga, each pose is preferably held for five to eight full breaths, which increases your breath awareness.
- There are nine main drishtis, or gazes (points of focus) in the ashtanga yoga tradition. For example, the parsva drishti or a gaze to the left or right side. Urdhva drishti is the gaze skyward. This helps you gain more concentration and avoid distractions during asana practice.
- It is through vinyasa, each movement or pose of the series is linked with the breath.
- The practice should engage interior body “locks” or yoga bandhas that are believed to move energy through the body.
- It is recommended that you practice ashtanga yoga six days a week to gain maximum benefits
What are the benefits of ashtanga yoga
Even scientific studies on the ashtanga yoga style have outlined the extensive benefits on the human body, as with most styles of yoga.
- increases muscular strength
- improves endurance and flexibility over time
- calms the mind with flowing breathing rhythms and focus points (drishtis)
- contributes to cardiovascular fitness
- aids in weight loss (due to the vigorous nature of physical exercise) when coupled with healthy diets
What are the types of ashtanga poses?
You can expect a number of poses and sequences during an ashtanga yoga class involving standing, sitting, finishing (closing) positions, etc.
The primary series of ashtanga yoga (known as yoga chikitsa) includes
- Standing poses range from standing still to stretching sideways, triangle pose and warrior pose, etc.
- Seated postures include front stretching pose, thumb to feet, etc.)
- Some of the closing poses are the plow pose, lotus pose, fish pose, and embryo pose
The goal of the primary series is to treat or heal ailments while building a fit and strong body. It also builds a foundation for the next levels.
The second series or the ashtanga intermediate series is referred to as the nadi shodhana which means nerve cleansing. The emphasis is on backbend yoga poses.
The advanced series or the sthira bhaga requires a higher level of practice in developing intense inner strength.
Is Ashtanga Yoga For Me?
Ashtanga yoga is a structured style of yoga and it requires motivation and discipline. Unlike vinyasa, ashtanga yoga has a fixed sequence of controlled movements and accompanying breath patterns. There is a certain rigidity in ashtanga compared to other styles and it is more physically demanding. Even gaining a good understanding of the first series of ashtanga may take months or years.
At the same time, this method also comes with its own unique benefits. Because the higher-intensity exercise patterns may result in faster weight loss, muscle toning, and overall physical fitness.
So, as a beginner, you need guidance to make sure you are performing the asanas correctly. If you’re in a class led by a certified yoga instructor, it can be easier to try any new form of yoga or to advance your practice.