Ashtanga Basics: What it is and how it can help

Ashtanga is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘eight limbs’, and it refers to the eight components of yoga outlined in Patanjali’s yoga sutras: Yama, Nyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi.

Asthanga Yoga YS 2.29

Sri K. Patthabi Jois, who started practicing in the 1920s when he was a young boy, refined and popularized the Ashtanga method. Ashtanga is the root of all vinyasa, power and flow styles of yoga taught in the west.

Jois was careful to emphasize that the journey begins with asana practice:

‘Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.’

‘Practice and all is coming.’

However, his system explicitly addresses additional essential components of traditional Indian hatha yoga, many of which have been lost–or twisted beyond recognition–in the West. These include ethical living (in relation to ourselves and to others), a turning inwards (and away from the pleasures of the material world), sustained focus and a goal of higher spiritual awakening and connection.

While these elements may not interest–or suit–all of our BYCF students, Megan believes that it is critical to honor and study even the most challenging and abstract components of the yoga tradition. Even if they aren’t necessarily aligned with short-term commercial profit and success. She envisions BYCF as more than a business–as a school, a refuge and a community devoted to healing.

In other words, it’s fine with us if you practice to lose weight, get flat abs and relieve stress. But it’s our responsibility (and privilege) to keep searching for the more esoteric stuff.

Like Bikram, the Ashtanga lineage is made up of defined sequences of postures:

  1. the primary series (which is yoga therapy for overall health)
  2. the secondary series (for purification of the nervous system)
  3. the third, fourth, fifth and sixth series (for centering strength)

Ashtanga is typically practiced early in the morning (as early as 4am, but usually around 6am), six days a week. More than the Bikram style, Ashtanga develops upper body strength, full body integration and rhythm/dynamism. Ashtanga also emphasizes traditional Indian hatha yoga principles such as Drishti (gaze), Bandhas (internal locks) and Ujayi breathing. In Megan’s experience, there is more fear built into the Ashtanga practice, even though it remains very safe. The practice is typically done in a gently warmed room, without mirrors. Ashtangis usually wear more clothes than Bikram practitioners, as hands-on adjustments are the norm.

There are fewer than 50 certified Ashtanga teachers worldwide. Certification required roughly 10 years of regular visits to live and study in India with Shri K. Patthabi Jois, who passed away in 2009. Certification ceased upon his passing.

David Garrigues, at AYS

Megan is lucky to study under certified teacher David Garrigues, who owns the Ashtanga Yoga School in Philadelphia, as a well as an Ashtanga school in Kovalam (India).

Watch the primary series here.

This summer at BYCF, we are offering a glimpse into this world of study.

Join us on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:30am to learn more. We will start slowly.

‘No fearing, you come!’- Jois

david‘When these basic techniques are applied with discipline, subtlety and skill, they are excellent tools for becoming physically and mentally strong and perceptive.

When you’ve developed your practice, you learn to ‘inhabit’ your body like a animal moving freely in the wild and at the same time your mind becomes strong and fit for meditation.

Practicing to create this combination of physical grace and power and mental clarity and openness leads to spiritual awakening.

The method consists of learning a rigorous, well balanced sets of postures and the vinyasa positions that form the set sequences. The alternating, opposing movement and breathing patterns within the given sequences help you to internalize your mind and to gain depth and wisdom by observing the true nature of what is happening within you.’
-David Garrigues

Sources: David Garrigues, KJAYI, Yoganonymous

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