The Ashtanga Yoga Method
Beginnings of the Ashtanga Yoga Method.
The Ashtanga Yoga method was first described by the sage Vamana Rishi in the ancient scripture, the Yoga Korunta. In 1916, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya traveled to the Himalayas to learn yoga. Krishnamacharya spent seven and a half years studying Ashtanga Yoga, as described in the Yoga Korunta, with his guru, Sri Ramamohan Brahmachari, in a cave in Tibet. During this time, he learned the complete Ashtanga Yoga method, including details about vinyasa, bandhas, drishti, and the exact grouping of the asanas of all six series. Soon after parting with his guru in 1924, Krishnamacharya went to Mysore, where he was hired by the Maharaja to open a yoga school. In 1927, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois became a student of Krishnamacharya’s at the age of just twelve, and remained a student of his for over 25 years. As Krishnamacharya prepared to leave Mysore in 1941, he handed over the teachings of Ashtanga Yoga to his oldest student, Pattabhi Jois. Jois, who is respectfully known to his students as Guruji, taught Ashtanga Yoga for nearly 30 years before the first Westerner (Belgian-born Andre van Lysbeth) came to study with him at his home in Mysore in 1964. Nearly a decade later, David Williams became the first American to begin learning the Ashtanga Yoga method from Guruji in Mysore. Two years later, in 1975, Guruji made his first trip to California, marking the beginning of Ashtanga Yoga in the US. Over the years, Guruji instructed thousands of people in the Ashtanga Yoga method out of his Yoga Shala in Mysore and workshops abroad. As a result of his devotion to the tradition and the efforts of his many students, these teachings have spread all over the world.
Important Aspects of the Ashtanga Yoga Method.
Vinyasa. This is the synchronization of movement and breath. For each posture there is a vinyasa, a specific method for entering and exiting the posture, accompanied by either an inhale or an exhale. This coordination of breath and continuous movement purifies the body as it builds internal heat, and adds fluidity to the practice.
Ujjayi Pranayama. This is a style of breathing that is used throughout the practice. Breathing in and out through the nose, while contracting the muscles of the throat, a subtle sound is made with the breath. Ujjayi pranayama increases circulation and builds internal heat, thereby helping to dispel toxins and purify the body.
Bandhas. These are the energy locks or seals that keep energy from exiting the body during practice. There are three bandhas: 1) Mula bandha―root lock (engaged by lifting the pelvic floor), 2) Uddhiyana bandha―abdominal lock, and 3) Jalandhara bandha―chin lock. Use of the bandhas throughout the practice gives strength and lightness to the body.
Drishti. This is the direction of the gaze in each posture. There are nine possible points of drishti: 1) nose, 2) upwards, 3) third eye, 4) hand, 5) thumb, 6) right side, 7) left side, 8) navel, or 9) foot. Drishti helps to focus the mind and align the neck and spine correctly in each posture.
Postures of Asthanga Yoga.
Ashtanga Yoga includes hundreds of postures which are divided into six series: Primary (also known as the First Series), Intermediate (also known as the Second Series), Advanced A, B, C and D. Each series begins with ten sun salutations, followed by a set of standing poses. Then the postures particular to the series are completed. The practice concludes with a closing sequence, which includes backbends and inversions. The Primary Series is intended to build a strong foundation for yoga practice. Once one becomes proficient in the postures of the Primary Series, one may proceed with the practice of the Intermediate Series, and so on and so forth. It can take several years to integrate the postures and practice of each series.
Mysore vs. Led Classes.
In a Mysore style class, students are introduced to a few postures at a time on an individual basis. Additional postures are given once previous postures have been integrated. Mysore classes are silent classes. Students arrive and move through the practice on their own, and the teacher is there to provide adjustments and instruction as needed. In a Led class, students are led through the practice by the teacher. Traditionally, the teacher calls out the Sanskrit names of the postures and the count of the breath. Unless otherwise indicated, students can expect to go through the entire Primary Series, which typically takes 1.5 hours. If you’re new to yoga, you may consider trying a beginner-friendly class which covers the basics before jumping into a full Led Primary class.
The Ashtanga practice traditionally begins with an opening chant in Sanskrit, which honors the wisdom of Patanjali and teachers who have passed down the ancient traditions of yoga. Practically speaking, the chanting helps us to focus our attention inward and prepare ourselves for the practice.The chant is as follows:
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukhava Bodhe
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
For a sample practice sheet of the Primary Series: http://sourceofyoga.com/ashtangayoga.pdf.
For a sample practice sheet of the Intermediate Series: http://sourceofyoga.com/IntermediateSeriesPracticeSheet.pdf. For other resources on the practice of Ashtanga Yoga:
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (2002). Yoga Mala. 3rd Edition. Patanjali Yoga Shala, New York.
David Swenson (1999). Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual. Ashtanga Yoga Productions, Austin, Texas.
Gregor Maehle (2006). Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy. Kaivalya Publications.
David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga Practice DVDs.