A Deeper Look Into Ashtanga Yoga

A Deeper Look Into Ashtanga Yoga

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On January 11, 2018
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Ashtanga Yoga is a Method

Ashtanga Yoga is an 8 limbed system which, when properly used, helps the individual attain a state of absorption into Samadhi (enlightenment) in which one's true self joyfully shines without any armor, all conditioning dissolved. In the ancient Indian language Sanskrit, ashtau means 8 and anga means limb. In the Western world, we are familiar with many "step programs" (ie: 12 steps in AA). This is a similar method which we know of through many texts from India but specifically from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

We approach the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system first through asana practice. We do a set of Sun Salutations and asanas (bodily postures) threaded together on a breathing and movement pattern—this is known as vinyasa. We follow a very specific sequence designed through a lineage of yogis over many years, with each asana preparing the body for the next. The thread of asanas can be long or short, depending on the individual. A Mysore Ashtanga practice is individualized and typically lasts about 1-2 hours, depending on the practitioner. A full led Primary Series lasts about 90 min with an added rest period of 10 minutes. Both these styles of classes include Pranayama or breathing practice. Ashtanga Yoga can be practiced by anyone—young or old, injured or not, weak or strong. This unique system has informed many styles of yoga that have cropped up throughout the western world in recent years. Styles which have taken heavily from Ashtanga are flow, vinyasa, anusara, power yoga and rocket style. Some people have taken what they learned from Ashtanga, added and subtracted some elements, and then named the modified style after themselves. It's good to know that it's an inspiring practice!

Approaching the 8 limbed system through asana brings health and fitness to the body. Yoga can help prevent injury from sports by balancing the body and making it supple, strong and very responsive. The breathing and movement create a lot of heat, triggering a cleansing sweat which is said to purify the body. Ashtanga cultivates focus, which when practiced regularly over a long period of time, should lead to authentic meditation. Ashtanga Yoga is meant to be done over a whole lifetime and is modified as one's body changes throughout life.

There are 6 sequences in this asana system. Most of them are meant for demonstration only whereas in Primary Series, the first sequence is meant to be practiced 5 or 6 days a week until fully mastered and memorized. Don't worry though, if you can't make it to class that often you can join us once or twice a week and still take benefit!

The 8 Limbs of Ashtanga

1. Yama: Observances and behaviors which regulate how we behave to others
« Ahimsa- nonviolence
« Satya- truthfulness
« Asteya- non-stealing
« Brahmacharya- preserving healthy boundaries
« Aparigraha- nonpossessiveness

2. Niyama: Commitments to ourselves, and daily principles to follow
« Sauca- purity and cleanliness
« Santosa- contentment
« Tapas- self-discipline
« Svadyaya- self-study
« Isvarapranidhana- surrender

3. Asana: physical yoga posture practice
4. Pranayama: breathing practice
5. Pratyahara: sense withdrawal
6. Dharana: concentration of mind
7. Dhyana: meditation
8. Samadhi: absorption

The first 4 limbs are quite practical and when we master them, the next 4 come naturally on their own. This system is lineage based and meant to be passed on from teacher to student in person. This type of transmission is called Parampara. We can read as many books as we want and watch as many videos as we want, but having a teacher is extremely important. All of our Ashtanga teachers at The Front have learned from other teachers that have learned from Sri K Pattabhi Jois, the modern father of Ashtanga or his grandson R. Sharath Jois. Some have studied personally with Sharath, the current lineage holder of this method.


The Front Climbing Club is home to Salt Lake Ashtanga Yoga. Come join us in our shala and get a taste of this delicious medicine! Remember that if you are new to Mysore Style Ashtanga, you should show up at the beginning of class time so that you can learn the correct method and get the attention you need. Plan to stay about an hour your first time. If you are new to Primary Series, go to Mysore and Ashtanga Foundations to get your bearings first before attending full Primary Series class. Learn more about our Ashtanga Yoga program here.

BY SARAH JANE
YOGA DIRECTOR AT THE FRONT CLIMBING CLUB