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Benefits, History, and Tips for Beginners

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga Yoga, a dynamic and disciplined form of Hatha Yoga, combines breath, movement, and meditation. Originating from India, it involves a specific sequence of poses designed to enhance physical strength, flexibility, and endurance. Based on the eight limbs of yoga outlined by Patanjali, Ashtanga emphasizes not only physical practice but also ethical living and mental focus. This method promotes overall well-being by integrating breath control, postures, and concentrated gazing points to achieve inner peace and mental clarity.

Where does Ashtanga Yoga come from?

The word “Ashtanga” comes from Sanskrit, mixing “Ashta,” meaning eight, with “Anga,” referring to body parts. This shows how Ashtanga Yoga involves eight important parts, as explained in the ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Consequently, Ashtanga represents the integration of the Eight limbs of yoga into a single, comprehensive system. These eight limbs, outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, are:

Yama (moral codes): Principles for ethical living.

Niyama (self-discipline): Personal observances for mental and spiritual growth.

Asana (posture): The Physical poses designed to condition the body for meditation.

Pranayama (breath control): Techniques to control the breath and energy.

Pratyahara (sense withdrawal): Turning the senses inward to focus the mind.

Dharana (concentration): Cultivating single-pointed focus.

Dhyana (meditation): Sustained, uninterrupted concentration.

Samadhi (oneness with the self): A state of complete absorption and enlightenment.

What is the History of Ashtanga Yoga?

In the early 20th century, T. Krishnamacharya crafted Ashtanga Yoga, customizing it for his vibrant pupil, K. Pattabhi Jois. Influenced by the exercises of Indian wrestlers and gymnasts, Krishnamacharya’s method incorporated fast-paced sun salutation movements. Pattabhi Jois kept refining and spreading this method, and eventually, he set up the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. Today, the institute is directed by his grandson, R. Sharath Jois, who continues to uphold the traditional teachings.

What are the Practices and Principles of Ashtanga Yoga?

The practice of Ashtanga Yoga is built upon various essential principles, each contributing to physical vitality and mental wellness.

Ujjayi Pranayama: This particular breathing method, also referred to as victorious breath and ocean breath, is used consistently during the practice. It includes deliberate, audible breathing that generates warmth, revitalizes, and enhances focus and concentration.  Advanced pranayama techniques are introduced to more experienced students.

Drishti: Every pose in Ashtanga Yoga emphasizes a specific focus, known as drishti, enhancing concentration and fostering a deeper, meditative experience throughout the practice.

Vinyasa: Synchronizing breath with movement is the core of Ashtanga practice. The flow between postures and transitions in the series enhances energy and breath control.

Bandha: Life force energy of the bandhas, or body locks, it is known to help harness prana energy and establish core stability.

Daily Practice: It’s advised to maintain a routine of six days per week, reserving Saturday as a rest day. Moreover, practitioners typically observe rest on “moon days,” coinciding with the new and full moons. Additionally, women commonly abstain from practice during menstruation. As for the Ashtanga postures, they encompass a series of standing poses followed by seated ones.

What are the Ashtanga Postures?

Typically, beginners in Ashtanga Yoga start their practice with five rounds of Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B. Afterward, they proceed to a series of standing poses, followed by seated poses. After mastering these sequences, the practitioner can progress to the advanced series: Advanced A, Advanced B, Advanced C, and Advanced D.

What is the difference Between Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga?

While Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga both incorporate vinyasa (breath-synchronized movement), there are key differences between the two. Ashtanga follows a set sequence of asanas and begins and ends with the chanting of Sanskrit mantras. Vinyasa classes, on the other hand, are more free-style and improvised, often incorporating music and varying sequences, making them popular in gyms and yoga studios.

Purpose and Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga’s tough exercises help clear your mind and emotions, making you think more clearly. They can also help you breathe better, become stronger, and more flexible and overall physical wellbeing. The structured practice helps practitioners improve their bodies and overall wellness quickly. The specific order of poses gives a clear path for focusing on the deeper parts of yoga teachings.

What are the Physical Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga?

Strength and Flexibility: Ashtanga’s rigorous sequences build muscle strength and improve flexibility.

Stamina and Endurance: Regular practice enhances cardiovascular health and increases overall stamina.

Muscle Strength and Bone Density: Certain poses, where you hold up your body weight may help make your muscles stronger and bones denser.

Improved Breathing and Balance: Focus on breath control enhances respiratory function and balance.

Weight Loss: The physical challenges of Ashtanga Yoga may help in managing body weight and enhance metabolism.

Mental and Spiritual Benefits

Mental Clarity and Focus: Integrating breath with movement promotes mental clarity and concentration.

Stress Relief: The meditative side of Ashtanga Yoga has been known to reduce stress and bring about a peaceful feeling.

Emotional Resilience: Facing and overcoming physical challenges during practice builds emotional strength and resilience.

Spiritual Growth: The philosophical underpinnings of Ashtanga support spiritual growth and inner peace.

How to use Ashtanga Yoga in Daily Life?

You can easily add Ashtanga Yoga to your daily routine, bringing both physical and mental perks.

Morning Practice: Beginning your day with Ashtanga Yoga can energize your body and mind, giving you a positive start for the day ahead.

Consistency: Practicing Ashtanga regularly, ideally six days a week, fosters discipline and promotes continuous improvement.

Mindful Living: Applying the principles of Ashtanga off the mat, such as ethical living (Yama) and self-discipline (Niyama), enhances overall well-being.

Home Practice: On days when attending a class isn’t feasible, a short home practice of sun salutations and a few standing poses can be highly beneficial.

Mindfulness and Breath Control: Incorporating pranayama and mindfulness techniques throughout the day helps manage stress and maintain focus.

5 Helpful Tips for Beginners

Starting Ashtanga Yoga can be challenging, but these tips can help ease the journey:

Start Slow: Begin with the primary series, which includes foundational poses. Focus on mastering these before progressing to more advanced sequences.

Consistency is crucial: Practicing regularly, even if it’s just for a short time, is better than occasional long sessions.

Listen to Your Body: Ashtanga can be intense. Listen to your body and adjust poses as necessary to avoid getting hurt.

Seek Guidance: Joining a class or practicing under the supervision of an experienced instructor ensures correct alignment and can provide valuable feedback.

Embrace the Philosophy: Understanding the philosophical underpinnings of Ashtanga enhances the physical practice. Read the Yoga Sutras and explore the eight limbs to deepen your practice.

Recommended Podcast: Express Yourself with Monica from Omstars

For a deeper dive into the world of Ashtanga Yoga, I highly recommend listening to the “Express Yourself” podcast featuring Monica from Omstars. Monica is an experienced Ashtanga practitioner and teacher who shares her journey and insights into the practice.

In this episode, Monica discusses her transition from Bikram Yoga to Ashtanga Yoga, her appreciation for the structure and consistency of Ashtanga, and how it helped her reconnect with her body and mind. She emphasizes the importance of understanding the philosophical underpinnings of the practice and how they support personal growth and transformation.

Monica also talks about the somatic experience of the body and how it facilitates healing on different levels, deconstructs unhealthy patterns, and promotes self-awareness. She shares her daily practice routine, highlighting the significance of meditation and pranayama alongside asana practice.

The podcast episode is an inspiring and informative resource for both beginners and experienced practitioners looking to deepen their understanding of Ashtanga Yoga. Listen to the Full Podcast here.

Why should I start Practicing Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga Yoga is your all-in-one guide to health, nurturing your body, mind, and spirit. By embracing its rigorous sequences and philosophical principles, practitioners can achieve remarkable transformations in their health and overall quality of life. Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a beginner, Ashtanga Yoga is known to provide a structured, challenging, and deeply rewarding path to personal growth and inner peace. Get set to unroll your mat, take a big breath, and dive into this amazing journey of transformation!