The Ashtanga practice has a set sequence of postures that flows uninterrupted, with a slow, steady breath, from one posture to the next. This flowing style is known as Vinyasa, and Ashtanga is the basis for all yoga classes that are called Vinyasa yoga, Power yoga, or Flow yoga. Ashtanga yoga is the most beautiful asana practice because it is so complete. The sequence of the postures is so brillantly and intellegently composed, that by the end of the practice, the body sings like a finely tuned instrument. It is a demanding and rigorous practice, but for those who can overcome it’s obstacles, Ashtanga yoga offers strength, purpose, vitality, and radiant health.
Ashtanga is founded upon the ancient esoteric teachings recorded in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali in the first or second century AD. Patanjali explains that yoga has eight limbs. Asana, or the yoga postures, is just one of the limbs. The other seven limbs are Yama, Niyama, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Asta means eight and anga means limbs; as Ashtanga yoga emphasizes all eight limbs of yoga as described in the Yoga Sutras.
Ashtanga yoga isn’t just exercise. It’s a moving meditation. There are five characteristics that make the Ashtanga yoga practice unique. The first characteristic is the focus on the breath. The breath is regulated using the Ujjayi (victorious) breathing technique so that the inhalation and the exhalation have the same length and quality.
Next, we have the asanas, or yoga postures. In the Ashtanga practice, the poses are performed sequentially one after the other in a constantly flowing movement that is connected to the breath. This movement system is known as vinyasa, the third unique characteristic of Ashtanga yoga. For each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namskar there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together; the second is exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas.
The forth unique characteristic of the Ashtanga yoga practice is the engagement of the deep core muscles known as the bandhas, or locks. These locks operate more like valves that regulate the flow of prana (life force energy) through three main areas in the body. Like water spraying from a garden hose that is bent and then released, the body energy is regulated through mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha.
Lastly, in the Ashtanga yoga practice we have the dristi, or “looking place.” The eyes are always open and the gaze is constantly fixed upon set points in a focused but relaxed manner.
The asanas, vinyasa breathing system, and dristi together form what is known as tristhana, the foundation of Ashtanga yoga practice. Consistent practice will purify the body and mind, making the consciousness ready for the revelation of God.
- Increased Strength
- Increased Flexibility
- Increased Stamina and Vitality
- Improved Balance
- Lowers Blood Pressure
- Lowers Cholesterol Levels
- Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
- Changes Hormone Levels bringing them into balance.
- Increases Lung Capacity for fuller, deeper breathing. Slower, deeper breathing increases oxygenation in the body for greater tissue vitality and the elimination of metabolic waste.
- Calms down the body and quiets the mind by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Improves your relationships.
- Experience greater happiness.