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A little look at Ashtanga Yoga

About Ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga:  Also called Ashtanga Yoga, is a physically demanding form of yoga practice originally taught by Pattabhi Jois in the 1940s. You will follow a set sequence of postures each time, gradually progressing through the series.

History and Origins:

 Ashtanga Yoga is a system of yoga said to be derived from an ancient manuscript called the Yoga Korunta. The text of the Yoga Korunta was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya around the 1900s who then taught it to his student Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.  Jois then used this as the basis for Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga which he started teaching in 1948.

Philosophy & Principles

The Sanskrit word Ashtanga translates as eight-limbs, referring to the Eight-limbs of yoga as outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (an important yoga text).  Patanjali envisioned the eight limbs of yoga as the interconnecting branches of a tree. The eight limbs are Yamas [moral codes], Niyamas [self-purification and study], Asana [posture], Pranayama [breath control], Pratyahara [sense control], Dharana [concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (union with the true universal self). Working on any one limb encourages the others to grow in turn, leading ultimately toward enlightenment. Ashtanga yoga focuses initially on the third and fourth limbs, asana and pranayama. As your practice develops you may wish to draw on the remaining six limbs in order to extend your yoga practice and take it off your mat and into other areas of your life. 


The Ashtanga system is characterised by 4 elements.


  • Vinyasa – the linking of movement and breath

  • Ujjayi Pranayama – breathing technique

  • Bandhas – energy locks 

  • Dristis – gazing points

The term Vinyasa refers to the alignment of movement and breath but is also used to describe a series of movements used to link each asana in a series. The asana system is a moving meditation with the transition between each pose being as important as the postures themselves. Central to the practice is Ujjayi (victorious) breath. This deep audible breath helps the student to keep the attention on the breath and thus focus on the practice. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is also practiced with the use of bandhas: mula bandha, uddiyana bandha and jalandhara bandha. These are locks or seals which help to direct energy in the body and create stability. Finally the dristis direct the gaze in each posture to focus the attention on the practice.

The benefits of a regular Ashtanga practice

A regular practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga helps the mind to be clearer and the body stronger, balanced with increased mobility. The ujjayi breath and the moving in and out of postures helps to create internal heat in the body which improves circulation and detoxifies the system. Mentally, physically and emotionaly we free the body and mind of old habits leading us to feel refreshed, energised and happy. Yoga recalibrates the bodymind. There are postures in the practice that will challenge you, you may feel stuck! but stick with the practice and you will see how you move on, overcoming the obstacles. You will achieve things you didn’t think possible and this lesson will serve you well in life. A lttle yoga a day (or a couple of times a week)  goes a long way. 


What you really need to know … I’ve said far too much in some ways but for some of you it’s nice to have the background information. The most important thing you need to know regards the practice is that you just need to show up, get on your mat and for that hour or so focus on what you are feeling, what you are actually doing. Don’t worry about work, the shopping or whatever it is you think you have to do. Don’t worry about what you look like in the posture, if you are doing it right or wrong, your way is right for you.  In that class all you have to do is feel your way through the practice, feel the posture for yourself, begin to feel your hand, your neck your big toe, feel your whole body and the connection of the parts which are infact just… of a whole.! And then you are doing yoga perfectly well.  Get out of your head and into your body!  This is actually the way to clear the head and empty the dustbin mind!


This is all just words, practice and you will discover the magic of yoga for yourself ……..

"Practice, practice...all is coming..."Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


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