Ashtanga yoga is a traditional method of yoga with its roots going back thousands of years to the Yoga Korunta. With the passing of time, ashtanga yoga has been passed down to new generations, evolving its methods but holding on to its core fundamentals. Yoga teacher K. Pattabhi Jois established our modern understanding of ashtanga yoga in the mid 20th century, helping popularize it on an international level. What we consider ashtanga yoga today is based on his teachings.

If you are looking for a form of yoga that exercises both the mind and body, that pushes both your mental and physical abilities, ashtanga yoga is a great practice to engage in. Ashtanga yoga places you in a meditative state where you can remove yourself from your physical being but return to a body that feels corporeally reinvigorated at the end of each class. If you are looking for a style of yoga that you can utilize outside of the classroom ashtanga yoga is right for you.

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga Yoga is a practice of yoga that incorporates the Primary Series and is made up of a great variety of postures. The class is a led class as opposed to some of the more advanced classes which are self-paced. 

Ashtanga Yoga is a highly structured vinyasa-style class. There are six Ashtanga asana series and each student must master every pose of one series before moving onto the next series. Ashtanga Yoga came to the west in the 1970’s through Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who established his yoga center, the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam in March 1948.  He passed away in 2009.  After Pattabhi Jois died in 2009, his grandson Sharath took over the leadership role, including teaching the many students who continue to flock to Mysore to deepen their practices.

The first series begins with ten sun salutations (five A and five B), continues with a series of standing poses done on each side, then progresses to seated poses and twists, then backbends, and finishes with a set of inversions, which are linked by a vinyasa sequence.

The Ashtanga Primary Series

The Ashtanga Primary Series is called Yoga Chikitsa, meaning yoga therapy, because of the cleansing and toning effect it has on both body and mind. On a physical level the asanas (poses) of the Primary Series build strength and flexibility in the body, loosening tight muscles and realigning and detoxifying the body and nervous system. The series begins with forward bends, then twists and hip openers with a vinyasa between each asana.

On a mental level, through regular practice focus, willpower, mind-body awareness and confidence are improved as we overcome the mental obstacles to our practice. On a subtle level the Primary series works therapeutically to clear obstacles in the energy channels in the body (known as Nadis).

This clearing of obstacles allows the Prana to flow more freely so the body and mind are therefore allowed to work more effectively. With a challenging form of yoga, such as Ashtanga, it is important that your body and mind work as one in order to not be overwhelmed. Pushing too far ahead mentally or physically without the other can lead to a less rewarding experience.

Ashtanga Intermediate Series

The Ashtanga Intermediate Series is done in Mysore classes as it is more advanced and challenging. The Ashtanga Intermediate Series or second series, is known as Nadi Shodhana – meaning Nerve Cleansing. This is because of the focus on backbend asanas. The backbends encourage and maintain the suppleness of the spine and as well as working on opening the energy channels allowing Prana to flow freely. (Nadi Shodhana is also the name given to Alternate Nostril Pranayama).

ashtanga in chicago

Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga comes with all the benefits of a regular yoga practice–strength, flexibility, stress management, and inner peace. The Ashtanga primary series is a demanding class that asks for a great deal of strength, mental clarity, and time commitment. The traditional practice is a daily ritual; so ashtanga really is a lifestyle. This may be an intimidating process to start out with but if you are willing to accept these conditions it can be well worth the effort you put in.

Because the series is so demanding you will get really strong really fast. There is no part of the body that doesn’t work hard in this practice. A strong body might be the first thing you realize when taking on ashtanga; it is the physical representation of your hard work. 

Mental strength, while not as outwardly apparent, is the other half to the payoff seen from ashtanga. In order to push your body to achieve each pose on a frequent basis you will need mental strength. The patience, attention, and determination you develop in the classroom can be applied to other aspects of your life as well. Ashtanga really is a lifestyle as it influences your actions, even when you are not thinking about it.

Is Ashtanga Yoga For Me?

Ashtanga yoga is for you if you want a challenge and you love structure. The practice appeals to those who like a sense of order and who like to do things independently.  The practice progresses slowly and at an incremental pace. If you have sensitive muscles or joints, this may not be the practice for you. 

Most beginners prefer to start with a Yoga Basics class, a Restorative class, or another introductory class to get a feeling of how your body reacts to yoga.  After you have come to an understanding of what yoga is and what your body can expect to go through, we would love to have you join us in an ashtanga class.  If you are an athletic beginner and are up for a challenge, you are welcome to try Ashtanga. 

Yoga Now Ashtanga Yoga Classes

Yoga Now offers multiple ashtanga yoga classes. Ashtanga (level 1-3) covers the first half of the Primary Series and Ashtanga (level 2-3) covers the full Primary Series. Mysore class (all levels) operates as a self-paced practice with the teacher giving guidance, and allows both more individualized instruction, and the ability to move onto more advanced postures.  For further details and inquiries, please contact us.