What is ashtanga yoga?

17 March 2021 | By Yogobe

Ashtanga – the dynamic yoga style. Here you will learn more about the basics of the disciplined and physically demanding yoga form Ashtanga, which purifies both your body and your mind.

The history of Ashtanga

Ashtanga was developed from hatha yoga, by guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from the city of Mysore in southern India. The word Ashtanga comes from Sanskrit and means eight parts, as in the eight-fold path in the Yoga Sutras, an important text in yoga philosophy.

The word Ashtanga yoga originally refers to the doctrine of the eightfold path, and the yoga style itself has been called Ashtanga vinyasa. In the Western world, the style is now called Ashtanga yoga.

Ashtanga as a yoga form – dynamic and purifying

Ashtanga is a dynamic form of yoga and is often described as one of the most physically demanding forms of yoga. What is typical of Ashtanga yoga is to do a certain number of positions in a certain order, where the breathing is synchronized with the movements in a flow, so-called vinyasa.

The three cornerstones of Ashtanga yoga, known in Sanskrit as Tristhana, are: posture (asana), synchronised breathing (ujjayi pranayama) and gaze point for the eyes (dristi). In Sanskrit, Tristhana roughly means "where you stand". The three parts are all equally important for the practice of Ashtanga yoga and include three different levels of purification; the body, the nervous system and the mind.

The three cornerstones are present in all classes of Ashtanga. The practice also includes working with the internal energy locks (bandhas): root lock (mula bandha), stomach lock (uddiyana bandha) and throat lock (jalandhara bandha). Each position also has a special focus point for the gaze, to slowly but surely bring the attention inward.

The heat that builds up in the body during Ashtanga yoga is said to have a purifying effect as it   increases blood circulation, increases lung capacity and calms the mind.

Ashtanga yoga's different series

There are a total of six series in Ashtanga yoga and traditionally you need to be able to perform the first series before you can move on to the next.

The first series is called Yoga Chikitsa in Sanskrit and it strengthens, balances and cleanses the body. The second series is called Nadi Shodana and balances and strengthens the nervous system. The four advanced series, Sthira Bhaga (A, B, C, D) humbly increase your grace and your strength.

A class in traditional Ashtanga yoga begins with five sun salutations A and five sun salutations B followed by a sequence of standing and sitting positions, asanas, from one of the three different series. The last and final sequence is intended to unwind the body.

Mysore style at your own pace

The traditional way to practice Ashtanga yoga is called the Mysore style or self practice. During a Mysore class, you practice the sequences with others, but at your own pace – while the teacher provides individual help and guidance when needed. Like having a personal trainer, but in a group.

The name of the classes comes from the Indian city of Mysore, where Sri k. Pattabhi Jois lived and worked until his death in 2009.

Ashtanga and the different phases of the moon

Traditionally, Ashtanga yogis usually rest at the full moon and new moon. Maybe extra important to remember for those who go to Mysore classes several days a week.

What is the reason behind the rest days? The human body consists of about 70 percent water and is affected just like much else in nature by the phases of the moon. Those who practice yoga for a long time often come into contact with and become more sensitive to the body's natural signals and cycles. Observing the full moon and the new moon will be a way to pay attention to and honor the rhythm of nature – to make it easier to live in harmony with it.

Here you will find all our classes in Ashtanga online!

Read more about yoga, energy and breathing 

Videos with Ashtanga yoga online

10 min

Yoga with

Learn more about the three Bandhas you work with in the Ashtanga yoga practice.

20 min

Yoga with

We dive into the physical and energetic body and discover three of the Bandhas.

90 min

Yoga with

Flowing through the first sequence of Ashtanga yoga, the full primary series.

10 min

Yoga with

Practice the transition from Utkatasana to Chaturanga.

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