Ashtanga is a breath-centered, healing method of yoga. The heartbeat of Ashtanga is the synchronization of breath and movement called vinyasa. Each breath literally leads each movement. This yoga method follows a fixed sequence of postures beginning with the Primary Series. Through conscious breathing (breath), purposeful movement (posture/bandha), and concentration (drishti), the practice gradually creates steadiness in body and mind.
- Opening Chant vande gurunam charanaravinde sandarsita svatmasukhava bodhe nihsreyase jangalikayamane samsara halahala mohasantyai abahu purusakaram sankhacakrasi dharinam sahasra sirasam svetam pranamami patanjalim om
- Closing Chant om svasthi praja bhyaha pari pala yantam nya yena margena mahim mahishaha go brahmanebhyaha shubamastu nityam lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu shanti shanti shantihi
VINYASA Vinyasa is the synchronization of breath and movement. Each breath literally leads each movement. The continuity of breath-syncronized movements build internal heat that detoxifies the body and calms the mind.
BREATH Breath is key. Inhales and exhales should be even, steady and of equal length. Breathe in and out of the nose, creating a gentle hissing sound in the base of the throat. Smooth, deep breathing helps rid our bodies of toxins and calm the nervous system. “Ashtanga is breathing practice, the rest is just bending.” —Sri K. Pattabhi Jois ASANA Asana means posture. All asanas are connected to each other and prepare for the next in series. One should practice mindfully and go at their own pace gradually building strength, stability and health. Aim for quality, not quantity. A relaxed, easy attitude is key in this process. DRISTHI Dristhi is the gazing point; the place where you look while in the asana. There are nine places of dristhi in the asana practice. Keeping the eyes still helps focus the mind and improve concentration. This creates greater awareness and presence that can carry over into daily life. BANDHAS Bandha literally means "to close" or "seal". Bandhas are energy locks used simultaneously with the breath to direct energy in practice. This is achieved primarily through mula bandha (root lock, or lifting of the pelvic floor) and uddhiyana bandha (lower abdominal lock). Engaging bandhas throughout practice seals in energy and gives lightness and strength to the body. TRISTHANA Tristhana refers to three places of action, or awareness, during yoga practice: posture, breathing and gazing point. These should be observed and performed simultaneously. In doing so, purification takes place on three levels: the body, nervous system and mind. EIGHT LIMBS Ashtanga literally means eight limbs (ashta=eight, anga=limb). Ashtanga Yoga is a path of eight limbs, or steps. These are described in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras as: yama (restraints), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (deep realization).
To take a closer look at the eight limbs, including more on the yamas and niyamas, read on.
References: Astanga Yoga Anusthana by R. Sharath Jois. The K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, kpjayi.org.