Ashtanga Yoga’s Long History
Sri Krishna PattabhiJois, student of Krishnamacharya, began this more stringent and rigid line of yoga that focuses on various physical abilities and harsher practice techniques. This strict collection of requirements does not refer to overall flexibility and strength, but instead the rigorous things necessary for its practice. PattabhiJois was not interested in adapting Ashtanga yoga so that more people could practice it comfortably. He believed this would profane the method and render it of little worth.
In the 1970s, the first Western practitioners of this yoga school came to PattabhiJois. They trained rigorously, learned a lot and many have now become teachers as well. Some of these individuals are Richard Freeman, Tim and Chuck Millar, Nancy Gilgof, David Swanson and Lino Miele. The first PattabhiJois seminar was held in the United States of America in 1975, which led to the spread throughout the Western world.
PattabhiJois built a school in Mysore, India. Many students from the United States pay the high tuition to attend and learn all he has to offer. Retreats with the master were held in the US, Australia and Europe for many years.
Guruji Sri Krishna Pattabhi Joi passed away on May 18, 2009 in Mysore, Karnataka, India at the age of 94. He launched and spread the rigorous tradition of AshtangaVinyasa Yoga throughout the world. He is well remembered as a great teacher and leader in the development and accessibility of yoga.
Ashtanga’s Eight Stages
“Yoga Sutras,” the popular treatise by Patanjali, gives this of yoga the name Ashtanga. This word translates directly to mean eight stages or branches.
The practice of Ashtanga yoga does indeed have eight different stages that lead people through a personal development toward a fulfilling and happy life. While some people believe that yoga is simply a series of physical exercises, the true practice includes instructions on improving mental and emotional health as well. It also has a spiritual component that helps people reach new levels of being.
Patanjali describes the first four stages as pertaining to the physical body and the perfection of identity. All of these provide stepping stones to leads the practitioner to their internal exploration and journey. You will become more familiar with the inner workings of your mind and your emotions which will ultimately allow you to explore new layers of consciousness.
The first stage is called Yama. It is considered a universal law that governs how people should conduct themselves when involved with people around them. It is extremely similar to the classic Golden Rule found in many cultures around the globe. There are five parts to this stage as well: Aparigraha (do not be greedy), Brahmacharya (abstain from pleasure), Asteyya (do not steal), Satya (tell the truth) and Ahimsa (do not be violent).
The second stage is called Niyama and has to do with spiritual discipline of the self. It instructs people to visit temples regularly, practice meditation on a frequent schedule, take contemplative walks and do other activities that focus on the internal self and spirit.
The five parts of this stage include IswaraPranidhana (surrender to God) ,Swadhyay (set aside time to study spiritual books) Tapas (practice religious fervor) Samtosha (find satisfaction in the spirit) and Saucam (maintain purity).
The third stage deals with asanas, which are the physical poses and positions people make when doing yoga. The teachers and gurus who have practiced you go all their lives understand that the body is the house of the spirits and it must be kept strong, flexible and pure in order to allow you to grow spiritually. Practicing asanas builds discipline, increases concentration and can facilitate meditation.
The fourth stage is called pranayama in Ashtanga yoga. Prana translates into breath or the essence of life. The entire word has to do with extending your vitality through a process of controlled breathing techniques. This can be done as an exercise on its own while simply sitting in a comfortable position or can be combined with various asanas to be an intrinsic part of yoga practice. The ultimate goal is to establish a bond between the physical body, the life force within and the spirit and emotions.
The fifth stage of Ashtanga yoga is called pratyahara and has to do with reducing any possible distractions from the outside world or the physical body when one is doing poses or meditating. All of the practitioner’s efforts are focused on paying attention toward the center of concentration and not what is going on around them. This also helps quiet the mind and reduce its natural habit of jumping from one topic to the next. This chaotic state could dampen the flow of positive energy and reduce the chance of having spiritual advancement, so this stage of yoga helps you overcome that.
As a yoga practitioner works through the various stages in order, skills and capabilities are built upon each other so that you can advance to the next level. So far, the five branches of Ashtanga yoga have prepared you for this next stage: dharana, which means concentration.
You have now learned to position your body, control your breathing, block out external stimuli and look inward in a emotional and spiritual sense so that you may now come to a place where you exist in a detached state from your exterior surroundings.
This stage teaches you how to concentrate by slowing and controlling the process of thought through focus on a particular sound, object, divine symbol or core of energy.
In the beginning, despite performing the asanas and pranayama correctly, you may find it difficult to reach a highly focused state where the outside world disappears from your attention. That was why is called the practice of yoga and why it is an ongoing process. As you do breathing exercises and practice the postures and positions that got you to this stage, you will begin to improve your ability to concentrate until you are able to meditate for longer periods of time without distraction.
The seventh stage of yoga is that continuous ability to meditate and contemplate internally. It differs from mere concentration as described above in a very subtle way.
Dharna offers a focal point, such as a picture or object, to concentrate on. On the other hand, Dhyana intends for you to lose focus on anything through relaxation and the acquisition of a serene state. Being able to get to the point where you can achieve this requires a lot of practice. Yoga itself is a physical, mental and emotional journey that you take and each stage or step along the way is important for those that come after it.
The eighth and final stage of ashtanga yoga has been described by Patanjail as pure bliss. The practitioner now merges with everything and loses the confines of their own body and being. This is when a true connection with the divine spirit, the universe and all other living beings on earth occurs.
The peaceful feeling that occurs at this stage is greater than any other ever felt before. This is a state of absolute bliss and oneness.
The concept may seem more like a fairy tale to some people when they begin the yoga journey at stage one. However, each person that begins has a few intrinsic goals in common: joy, freedom, peace and self-fulfillment. Each of these can be realized through the careful and dedicated focus to ashtanga yoga. Patanjali outlined this eight-stage journey to help others achieve the enlightenment they seek if they are willing to practice with true dedication.
This term refers to a connection or bond that forms between a particular yoga series’ asanas. As you practice different poses and positions, breathing through the ujjayi or throat slit combines with the locks to form considerable hot temperatures within. This releases beneficial sweat to help remove toxins and increase a sense of lightness and strength throughout. Another essential part of the vinyasa instructs you to release the tension of an asana and go back into straight alignment when it is complete.
The direct translation of this word is top and victory. The term relates to a yoga method focused on balancing udana, which is one of the most important life forces and energies we have. While performing this technique, it increases your inner energy all the way by breathing in a particular, controlled method. Physically, this results from a narrowing of the glottis and can be identified as you listen to your own breathing and tilt your head forward until the chin rests on your chest. Breathing gets louder and more focused.
This ujjayi pranayama helps to reduce tension, prevent insomnia and even may provide benefits for people with heart disease. If you do this breathing exercise in combination with balasana, or the child’s pose, you can alleviate the discomfort of menstrual cramping. If done in the makarasana, or crocodile pose, spine issues can be alleviated. This breathing technique is used in conjunction with many different asanas in order to improve your focus and open up the power of your central energy channel or stimulirvatsushumna.
Rather than relaxing or letting go, this word means to squeeze or hold tightly to something, which directly describes the physical process of doing it stupid. One body part or section at a time, you will tighten and tense the muscles and hold them in that state for a certain period of time. This cannot only strengthen those areas, but also teaches you to mentally focus on particular parts of your physical being and exercise appropriate control over them.
Every organ, muscles, nerves and all other physical systems can be partially controlled by the will of the person they belong to. Being able to manipulate their energy and start or stop the flow of prana allows you to also affect the processes and capabilities of my. Everything is interwoven. With this practice of control comes the eventual ability to completely relax different physical parts or systems and allow your mind to explore new heights of awareness. The perfection of bandhas practice allows for this.
An important part of these particular yoga techniques includes mula bandha, which focuses on the sensitive region between the anus and genitals, scientifically called the perineum. Ashwini mudra is the first yoga technique required to master the more difficult mula bandha.
The first word in this term means route or base and the second means clip or lock. This practice in yoga has to do with locating the actual physical location of the muladhara chakra, which is the base of not only your trunk and spine but also of kundalini. A rough yet literal translation is a lock reducing the crotch.
In Hatha yoga technique, this particular practice is most often used for women who are pregnant, experiencing other feminine complaints as well as people who have abdominal discomfort, disorder or disease.
The term uddiyana bandha means abdominal lock or to go up and the practice is very similar to the literal translation. Internal organs are pulled inward and upward to facilitate a smoother and more natural energy flow. A more accessible translation is rise of the belly.
These techniques should not be undertaken after a meal or snack. The process includes first and exhalation and then a holding of breath, a rise in the diaphragm and a tightening of the abdominal muscles toward the spine. Some people use this technique naturally in conjunction with pranayama when they are inspired to do so. It is easier for beginners to perform it while holding their breath after emptying their lungs.
This Sanskrit word means network combined with a mass of the flowing liquid. Put together it essentially speaks of a cluster of pathways. When using this term in a physical sense, jalandhara usually pertains to the network of blood vessels in the body or nerve pathways, but in a more spiritual sense it can refer to pranic pathways instead. It can refer to both physical liquids and also the energies that naturally flow within.
Another way to look at this word is by associating it with the various chakras that exist within the body. The 16 different ones include toes, ankles, knees, thighs, coccyx, perineum, naval, heart, tonsils, throat, tongue, nose, eyebrows, eyes, neck and the crown of the head. Within the pranic body we all have, prana, or life force and energy flows between these chakras. Jalandhar is specifically used to describe the capture of prana in the throat region.
This term means whatever direction your physical gaze or mind is focused on.
In ashtanga yoga, there are nine different points that are used for different mind control techniques while performing asanas. These include:
- Nasagra (nose)
- Angusht Madhya (thumbs)
- Brumadhya (third eye)
- Nabhi chakra (navel)
- Urhva (up to the sky)
- Hastagra (hand)
- Pahayoragra (toes)
- Parsva (far left)
- Parsva (far right)
Depending on where you focus while performing different asanas and techniques, you may achieve “Cittavrittinirodhah” or the ability to silence the misdirection of the mind. This allows you to recognize when the appropriate state of mind is achieved when your breathing, movement, banhas and drishti all align and become synchronized. In yoga, at least 50% of the different techniques are performed when you are consciously thinking about them. It can be quite difficult to identify when a person is also performing mental concentration and focus unless you look closely at their expression and eyes.
This word is a union between vinyasa, bandha and drishti. When the state is achieved the beautiful lotus blossom of ashtanga yoga blooms for you. Ujjayi breathing is essential for vinyasa, but the proper bandha asana is just as vital. When you combine it with the equally important drishti, you will achieve a higher state of being much different from your everyday yoga practice for simple exercise and relaxation.
This phrase literally means sun salutation and describes a set of exercises that is quite popular and easily adopted by everyone interested in yoga. Its popularity has grown because it is simple to do and has considerable and extreme effects as well. The average person interested in practicing yoga will not delve into the complicated techniques and spiritual aspects. The suryanamaskar gives them the opportunity to realize the benefits of body and mind in a comfortable and familiar fashion.
Complicated exercises cover the whole range of yoga practice or sadhana: physical asanas, breath control pranayama and meditation techniques.
For modern people who live largely sedentary lifestyles and have a high level of stress in their everyday life, finding a message to alleviate the physical and mental health issues that come with this is important.
The suryanamaskar yoga exercises can quickly and easily help people with these types of complaints in just about 10 to 15 minutes each day.
This series of exercises includes stretching, massage, muscle toning and organs stimulation to deliver a great full-body benefit. Many Western practitioners prefer this type of yoga because it is removed from most of the spiritual teachings in more traditional types. While contemplation and meditation is still important, the beliefs do not have to be specifically focused upon.
Surya namaskar includes 12 different asanas which can be started even in people of low physical capabilities. Just tilts forward and back, from side to side stretch your spine and body gently and slowly at first. Focused on relaxation as you move into each position. As well as relaxation and increased health and strength, this type of accessible yoga is exceptionally helpful for increasing flexibility.
As the various exercises and positions advance in complexity, it may become more difficult to perform them. As with all yoga practices, it is important to start with easy asanas you can perform without discomfort and then a two work toward the more complex poses. It is important to focus on your breathing as you perform each asana. Synchronizing your intake and outflow of breath with the movement from one position to another will quickly become second nature and quite comfortable. In general, you will inhale and allow your chest to expand when straightening or releasing and you exhale when bending or naturally compressing the abdomen, sides or spine.
Once you have practiced for a while and get more comfortable with the technique, you will be able to go through all of the 12 asanas or suryanamaskar steps fluidly and in control. One position will naturally transform into another as you continue to breathe smoothly. The only exercise that cannot be included in this fluidity is the sixth, ashtanganamaskara, otherwise known as worship with eight points. This is because it requires a breath delay that would interrupt the steady inhalation and exhalation that marks all of the other positions.
If at any time during the suryanamaskar series of asanas you feel excessively fatigued, out of breath or uncomfortable, you should relax your body to a natural state and pause to rest and catch your breath. Take a few deep breaths and stretch lightly before you continue.
None of the asanas that make up this 12 stage process should cause strain, sore muscles or tension. If you are quite sedentary in your everyday life, such as those people who sit behind a desk all day, your muscles may get tired as you move and hold positions. However, every step should be done in a relaxed manner with only slight stretching to rejuvenate your muscles.
The 12 steps of suryanamaskar are usually repeated in a certain number of laps, to use the term from running or circuit training. How many laps you are able to do depends on how physically fit you are at the beginning, your overall health and how much time you have. The goal is to perform these yoga exercises for a total of 10 to 15 minutes only, so however many laps you can do within that time is ideal. Beginners may only get in three or four laps while people who have been doing this for quite some time can do 12 or more. There are even reports of some seasoned practitioners doing up to 50 laps one after another. The idea is not to rush or make yourself exhausted, but give some exercise, a bit of sweat and to help you relax afterwards. When you are done with your laps, take a few moments to completely relax using the shavasana or corpse pose. To do so, lie down flat on your back with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms laid out at your sides.
Surya Namaskar should not be undertaken by people with heart disease, high blood pressure, hernias, tuberculosis, paralysis, spine damage or women who are pregnant.
It is recommended to go through the 12 step process of asanas as the sun rises in the morning. Ideally, you should do this outside where the ultraviolet light of the sun can bring extra benefit to your body. Besides, doing these poses and breathing exercises before you do anything else can set you up to have a wonderful day.
The Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga Practice
The entire practice of ashtanga yoga is one that changes based on many factors, but it consists of a step-by-step aggression through a series of positions and poses. These asanas work together with vinyasa, which is an active sequence with a focus on breath technique, form a seamless flow of activity. Combined, these create a considerable sense of heat in the body which helps invigorates organ systems and release toxins and impurities. Because these methods improve blood flow, they also help reduce any possible pain or soreness associated with the asanas.
Performing pranayama, or breathing techniques, as well as bandha, or energy locks on specific body parts, at the same time gives the greatest benefit. While you pose and breathe properly, it is also vital to perform the drishti technique which focuses on concentration. This entire process should be done in a meditative state of mind. Ashtanga yoga is the ultimate combination of body, breath and mental focus.
Yoga has great benefits for the body and physical health:
1 – Muscles in all parts of the body, but especially the abdomen and core, are strengthened considerably by regular yoga exercise.
2 – Muscles become more elastic and can recover quicker from exercise or injury. Joints, tendons and ligaments are likewise helped so that flexibility and mobility can be improved even in the elderly population.
3 – Yoga provides benefits to the complete cardiovascular system.
4 – You will become more aware of and in better control of various physical body systems and be able to practice mind over matter when it comes to your own health.
5 – Symmetrical posture is improved considerably as everything comes into alignment. Yoga asanas can also improve overall body composition such as straightening the spine, reducing shoulders slump, strengthening core muscles and getting rid of the appearance of a sunken chest.
6 – The breathing and physical aspects can help reduce weight, redistribute fat deposits for a more pleasing silhouette and maintain or regain proper proportions.
7 – The long-term regulation and maintenance of weight at a proper level can be helped with regular yoga practice. Underweight individuals may gain and overweight individuals will lose as the body comes into healthy balance.
8 – Frequent yoga exercises can reduce high blood pressure, stabilize it and allow for greater blood flow to muscles and body systems.
9 – Proper breathing techniques help improve oxygenation.
10 – It can help get rid of insomnia and help you get a more restful night’s sleep.
11 – Overall appearance may improve as your skin clarifies, your eyes become brighter and you take on a healthy glow.
12 – Digestion issues of the past will disappear and you will be able to get the maximum amount of nutrients out of everything you drink and eat. Removal of toxins and waste products will become more efficient as well.
13 – Your immune system will improve and you will be more resistant to bacteria, viruses and other diseases that affect your body.
14 – Any illness that you do contract or injury you get will heal more quickly because your body will be working at optimum levels and your overall vitality will be improved.
15 – A significant difference in how well you handle extreme temperatures and pain and discomfort will be found.
16 – Muscular fatigue and mental burnout will become the things of the past because you will have learned the unique relaxation techniques in your practice of yoga that can help you regulate your own energy levels.
17 – Whatever stress exists in your life, whether it is physical, mental or emotional, will gradually dissipate from your mind and body so you can achieve an inner calm no matter what situation you find yourself in.
By carefully performing all of the steps in ashtanga yoga over a long period of time, you will get to experience a true shift from stressed-out person with a sore back, headache and extra pounds on your frame to a strong and flexible individual who is content, alert and stress free. You will feel cleansed, revitalize and powerful.
What is Ashtanga Yoga?