Ashtanga Yoga Part 1
Healing Body & Mind
In this blog I have given a brief description of the method behind Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I am by no means a Yogic scholar. This subject can be, and has been expanded on by other authors. My hope is that this will spark an interest in the subject that will require further exploration.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a style of Yoga popularised by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois during the 20th century. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois began his yoga studies in 1927 at the age of 12 with T Krishnamacharya. By 1948 he had established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. Ashtanga Yoga is named after the eight limbs of yoga mentioned in the Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is Hatha Yoga postures/asanas practiced in a continuous choreographed sequence.
Ashtanga is the 8 limbed system as outlined by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras.
Vinyasa is the counted transitional movements into and out of a posture ( asana ) and the linking of asana to asana.
Yoga is Samadhi. The pinnacle of concentration, the 8th limb of Ashtanga Yoga.
“Sutra 1:2 - yogas-chitta-vrtti-nirodhah” Patanjali
Yoga is stopping or quieting the fluctuations of consciousness.
By choice to hold in stillness, one thought or thing in your mind. From concentration to fixation to complete absorption. Where that which is being held and the holder are the same or one - this is Yoga - John Scott
“Yoga is your mind control capacity.” Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Hatha Yoga postures are a preparatory stage of physical and mental purification that help the student develop strength, flexibility and steadiness to sit comfortably for long periods of meditation.
In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga there is an exact sequence that is followed, starting with Primary Series. In this sequence there are a precise number of synchronised breathe/movement transitions into and out of each posture.
All postures are linked in a exact sequence.
The sequence is to be practiced everyday with an exception of Saturdays and moon days (new and full moon).
Traditionally this method was taught to student by the teacher. The teacher giving certain postures to the student to practice. When the teacher felt the student was ready more postures were taught. Each posture would be taught in sequence with the correct vinyasa. The correct Vinyasa must be learnt and practiced, otherwise we are skipping important movements and breaths. The practice then becomes purely physical.
“Yoga is an internal practice. the rest is just a circus.” Sri K Pattabhi Jois
Control of the body and mind is further increased with use of the Tristana method. Tristan is a tri-focus of the 3 key techniques of the Ashtanga Vinyasa methods.
Breath = Ujjayi Pranayama
Bandha = Posture
Drishti = Looking place
Bandha is a lock or seal. Bandhas are intersection points with our bodies that relay and regulate prana (energy). The development of bandha control cultivates and increases prana. Think of doing an exercise and engaging your core muscles to stabilise your spine as a very crude example. The use of Bandhas brings an internal focus to the physical body.
Ujjayi Pranayama means victorious breath. The inhalation and exhalation are equal, and there is a gentle closing of the back of the throat to create a ‘haaa’ sound, that can be likened to the sound of the ocean on a beach. The use of a free flowing Ujjayi breath fills our bodies with prana. Without this prana/energy our bodies will become sick! As we breath with sound we can feel the vibration of the energy entering our body and our ears are drawn to the sound.
Each posture in the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga method has a specific looking place or Drishti. By practicing Drishti, our eyes fixated on one spot, the mind becomes focused.
“The full ashtanga system practiced with devotion leads to freedom within one's heart.” Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
The Counted Method
The use of mantra has been used in Yoga to help clear the mind. In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga the Mantra is the sanskrit count. Every posture has a counted transitional movements into and out of it and each posture is linked to the next. The teacher simply counts the students through the correct Vinyasa sequence.
By practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga using the correct counted method and the use of Tristana we can bring focus to the mind, taking the practitioner inside. The inner focus leads to the development of Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) the 5th limb of Ashtanga Yoga as outlined by Patanjali.
“Yoga is for internal cleansing, not external exercising. Yoga means true self knowledge.” Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Do Your Practice
Practicing the correct sequence mindfully, consistently, with patience everyday will gradually open up and heal the physical body. It will make us deeply aware of the state of our body, how we are feeling that day, our emotional state. Some days our focus and concentration may be strong, others not so much. The important thing is to practice. Not with attachment to a goal. A goal to reach a particular posture!! This will almost certainly lead to injury. Practice with dedication, persistence, patience and devotion. Have faith in the method.
“Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory… Practice practice practice… Do your practice and all is coming.” Sri K. Pattabhi Jois