Ashtanga has a beautiful lineage (parampara) that we can trace back close to five thousand years. The wonderful thing is that the line of teachers is unbroken in their study and what is taught. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) is credited for spreading this yoga reaching millions of students all over the world and his legacy lives on through his grandson Sharath Jois, who now runs the Shala in Mysore, and many teachers throughout. Yoga Shala of San Antonio continues this legacy today and connects you to the great teachers who have come before us.
Ashtanga Yoga is a systematic practice that has been thoughtfully designed. Each posture lends to the next, therefore it is meant to be practiced in entirety without skipping postures. Ashtanga is a vinyasa system, which means that we are connecting one breath per movement, using ujjayi breath. There are three sequences. The Primary Serie:, Yoga Chikitsa, which is man’s first attempt at unitive understanding of mind-emotions-physical distress. This series is known for cleansing and plumbing the system, releasing toxins, and purifying the body; it cleanses the physical body and gives you strength. The Intermediate Series: Nadi Shodhana, which refers to the results of the practice said to purify the subtle energy channels (or nadis) thus allowing prana to flow freely throughout the body; this series also purifies and strengthens the electric wires in the fine nervous system. The Advanced Series: Sthira Bhaga demands complete concentration and steady strength or Divine strength. There are four section of the advanced series and these further explore flexibilitly, vigor and concentration which require high levels of dedication.
The vital organ to our life and our practice is our breath. Guruji says: “Ashtanga practice is a breathing practice…the rest is just bending.” This is the key to Ashtanga, it allows our practice to become a moving meditation. By focusing on the breath during practice we free the mind of thoughts, welcoming tranquility and bringing more control to our movement. It is also a beneficial tool to have off the mat. By learning to control the breath and expand the mind, we can help issues that may arise like anxiety, harnessing the ability to remain calm in stressful situations.
According to KPJAYI, tristana means “the three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place. The posture or asana includes the correct engagement of the bandhas. We discussed how important the breath is, in ashtanga we use ujjayi breath, which is inhaling and exhaling through only the nose and slightly constricting the throat (it sounds as if you trying to fog a mirror). The looking place is your drishti or place of extreme focus. Some of these aspects may sound foreign, if so, feel free to ask anyone at Yoga Shala and we would be happy to explain them more.
The Eight Limbs
Ashtanga is based off of Patanjali’s eight limb system. Dedicated asana practice prepares yogis for the more subtle limbs. The heart of yoga is living ethically with compassion and honesty. The eight limbs are described as:
1. Yamas - Self Restraint
2. Niyamas - Observances
3. Asana -Postures
4. Pranayama - Control of Breath
5. Prtayahara - Nonattachment
6. Dharana - Concentration
7. Dhyana - Meditation
8. Samadhi - Absolute Bliss