Ashtanga Yoga as a physical practice was methodized in the ancient text The Yoga Korunta approximately 4000 years ago by the Vedic seer Rishi Vamana. These texts are the foundation of what makes up the Ashtanga Yoga sequences today. They were re-discovered by the Indian Yoga master Shri T Krishnamacharya and passed on to several of his students, including Shri K Pattabhi Jois. Today his grandson Sharath is teaching in the Shala in Mysore together with his mother, Pattabhi Jois’ daughter Saraswathi.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a dynamic and progressing sequence of postures linked together by the breath. Through practice of breathing (Ujjai), postures (Asanas), and gazing point (Dristi), we cultivate awareness of the body and senses, which brings about a deep internal consciousness. Regular practice of Ashtanga Yoga improves circulation and purifies, strengthens and balances the body and mind. This gives us a light and strong body and a steady and peaceful mind -which enables us to experience our lives as whole and unified beings.
ASHTANGA YOGA – THE EIGHT LIMBS
The term Ashtanga Yoga derives from the Sanskrit words Astau meaning eight and Anga meaning limb. Ashtanga Yoga refers to the eight limbs as taught by the great sage Patanjali who was the first to systematize an approach to classical Yoga in his Yoga Sutras (200 BC). These limbs are steps through which the practitioner can progress to reach a state of Yoga or self-realization. The beauty of the eight limbs is that they teach us to integrate all aspects of Yoga. They are all interrelated and can be practised simultaneously, but they also map out a logical progression in which each limb prepares the practitioner for the next.
The first two limbs are the Yamas & Niyamas. They consist of ten universal principles about how to live in this world, how to relate to ourselves, others and our environment. The very first Yama is Ahimsa, or non-violence, which is the foundation for any Yoga practice. The third limb is Asana, which is the physical practice many westerners associate with Yoga. The Asanas are designed to purify, balance and stabilize the body and the energy channels to allow the breath and Prana (life-force) to move freely. Pranayama, the fourth limb, takes this transformational process a step further as these yogic breathing techniques teach us to harness, direct and channel the pranic energy. The first four limbs lead the practitioner towards the Pratyahara, the fith limb or ‘the bridge’ between external and internal Yoga. Pratyahara is when the senses begin to turn inwards rather than constantly search for external gratification and stimuli. Dharana –concentration, Dhiyana –meditation and Samadhi –a state of bliss or self-realization, are the last and inner limbs which are allowed to naturally unfold as we become established in the first four limbs.