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 the mind and body, and pushes your mental and physical abilities, ashtanga yoga is a great practice. 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 has a great variety of postures. An instructor leads these classes, whereas some of the more challenging classes are self-run.
Ashtanga Yoga is a vinyasa-style class with a lot of structure. There are six Ashtanga asana series. 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). It continues with a series of standing poses done on each side. Then, it progresses to seated poses and twists, then backbends. Lastly, it finishes with a set of inversions, which a vinyasa sequence links together.
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.
Through regular practice, focus, willpower, mind-body awareness, and confidence improve 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 can work more effectively. With a challenging form of yoga, such as Ashtanga, it is important that your body and mind work as one. 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).
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 requires a great deal of strength, mental clarity, and time. The traditional practice is a daily ritual; so ashtanga really is a lifestyle. This may be intimidating to start, but it can be well worth the effort.
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’s 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 start with a Yoga Basics, Restorative, or another introductory class to learn how their body reacts to yoga. After you have come to an understanding of what yoga is and what your body can handle, we would love to have you join us in an ashtanga class. If you’re an athletic beginner and 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.