Ashtanga Yinyasa Yoga (often abbreviated to simply ‘Ashtanga Yoga’) is a form of yoga which aims to be a ‘modern day’ version of classical yoga. The style was popularized by Pattabhi Jois who began studying yoga at age 12 in 1927. By 1948 he had established an institute for teaching the ‘eight-limbed’ yoga (the translation of Ashtanga).
Ashtanga Yoga can be referred to as a form of ‘power yoga’ which is a term used to describe any more vigorous and challenging form of yoga, most of which are derived from Ashtanga.
The term vinyasa here refers to the coordination and alignment of movement with breath, a method that turns yoga postures into more of a flow between postures. Here the yogi will exhale continuously while transitioning between the postures. The length of the outward breath dictates the speed of the transition, and the postures between are then held for a defined number of breaths.
The vinyasa flow is a variant of the Sun Salutation which is used in various forms of yoga. One example of a standard vinyasa would be to move from plank to low plank to upward facing dog to downward facing dog, and this would be done all timed against a steady cycle of inhales and exhales which also aim to give the practitioner a mental focal point.
Another principle is ‘bandha’ in which the practitioner tried locking and contracting their muscles in order to focus energy and as a form of exertion. At the same time this is tied closely to breathing.
There are three bandhas and these are used in combination with the postures. This is a contraction of a certain group of muscles maintained for a short period of time – not only in the posture but also while moving in and out of it. The Mula Bandha or ‘root lock’ for instance is performed by tightening the muscles in the pelvic and perineum area, while Uddiyana Bandha is bringing the navel to the base of the spine and the Jalandhara Bandha is the ‘throat lock’ achieved by lowering the chin while raising the sternum and palate and focusing the gaze on the tip of the nose.
The eight limbs referred to in the name Ashtanga Yinyasa Yoga are as follows:
• Yama – Moral codes
• Niyama – Self-purification and study
• Asana – Posture
• Pranayama – Breath controllable
• Pratyahara – Sense controllable
• Dharana – Intention
• Dhyana – Meditation
• Smadhi – Contemplation
Ashtanga Yoga Practices
Ashtanga yoga uses predefined poses which makes it different from other forms of yoga classes in the West. A practice will usually comprise of four separate parts:
• Opening sequence
• One of the main series (of which there are six)
• A back bending sequence
• A set of inverted postures known as the ‘finishing sequence’
The practice then usually ends with a ‘savasana’ or ‘resting pose’
Of the six main series these are arranged into categories based on difficulty – primary, intermediate, advanced A, advanced B, advanced C, or advanced D. The primary series provides the basis of the rest of the other systems. Some of these poses are very difficult in terms of balance and strength and will involve holding hand stands or difficult plank positions. However the ultimate goal is not to be able to achieve the most difficult poses, but rather to be able to maintain complete focus throughout.
Practitioners are highly encouraged to practice daily, and Ashtanga Yoga is often taught in ‘Mysore style’ which is ‘supervised self practice’.