Ashtanga Yoga in India
Might sound difficult for young Indians, Ashtanga Yoga is one of the most systematic approaches towards learning and mastering yoga. Many of us as beginners aren’t aware of the fact that yoga is for all.
Ashtanga Yoga is derived from Patanjali Yogasutra (Yoga journal written by sage Patanjali). Ashtanga, literally means, one with eight parts or eight limbs. So, Ashtanga Yoga is based on the practice of these eight limbs of Yoga.
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
Ashtanga yoga or eight limbs of yoga are basically methods of personal discipline that one should follow for purity in mind, body, and soul. Practicing these disciplines would lead to a healthier you.
The Ashtanga Yoga or Eight limbs of Yoga:
Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga
This limb of Ashtanga Yoga comprises principles or code of conduct on should follow to be a human being. The codes are:
- Ahimsa – One should not be violent in thoughts, words or deeds. Ahimsa stands for non-violence.
- Satya – One should always be truthful to himself and to others. Satya stands for truthfulness.
- Asteya – One should not lay eyes on a property that belongs to someone else and should be content with what he has. Asteya stands for non-stealing.
- Brahmacharya – This limb of Ashtanga Yoga is practicing abstinence from sexual activities till you achieve a goal of your life. Brahmacharya stands for patience and continence.
- Aparigraha – One should not be over-reactive towards the good or bad happening around him. He should not feel possessive towards the material belongings. Aparigraha stands for non-possessiveness and sacrifice.
The second limb of Ashtanga Yoga is about personal disciplines one should follow to keep his mind, body and soul free of impurities and infections:
- Shouch – Shouch stands for purity. One should keep his body clean and ideally bathe daily. Washing hands before and after having food, going to the toilet and keeping your surroundings clean is a part of Shouch.
- Santosh – Santosh stands for contentment. It brings inner peace of mind, even if you are striving towards a goal, being content with your progress will save you from excessive greed and stress. Be content.
- Tapa–Tapa stands for tolerance or precisely endurance. It is the practice of self-control and learning to differentiate between right or wrong.
- Swadhyaya – Swadhyaya stands for self-improvement or self-study. A necessity of a teacher can never be denied but self-study and self-improvement is indeed an important aspect of human growth.
- Ishwar Pranidhan – This sub-limb stands for dedicating your efforts to God or the Supreme energy that you surrender to.
This limb of Ashtanga Yoga is the most popular limb and this the one basically taught and preached all over the world as Yoga.
Asana literally means posture. So various physical exercises and body postures that increase flexibility and help you become stronger and healthier as asanas.
So, the physical yoga that we all learn as beginner yogis, is just a part of a vast subject Ashtanga Yoga.
Breathing is the fundamental necessity of every living being to stay alive. Breathing properly can cure most of the diseases and irregularities in any living entity.
This limb of Ashtanga Yoga, is all about breathing techniques and controlling your breath for a better blood circulation in the body.
Pranayama is a must to do for all as it helps to a larger extent in treating depression, heart disorders, liver disorders and skin problems.
Pratyahara, in the literal sense, means avoiding intake of any kind. Pratyahara is the fifth limb of Ashtanga Yoga and marks the transition of focus of the yogi from physical to subtle body.
Pratyahara is about being selective in taking in any kind of negative or dark element in the form of food, thoughts or words. Pratyahara generally begins with observing fast and eating only organic or natural food. Then, it graduates to purifying your mind and soul.
This limb of Ashtanga Yoga is the first stage of beginning with meditation. Once the yogi learns to select what to avoid and what to devour, he can develop his focus and concentration, much needed for intense meditation.
Dharana is focusing your concentration on a particular focus point. This limb of Ashtanga Yoga is the step prior to meditation. Dharana is the practice to withdraw your senses from the surroundings and focus on a particular object or a thought.
If a Yogi practices Dharana, his body becomes aligned with his mind and soul and all the subtle bodies fall into place. Dharana leads to meditation. For beginners, Dharana helps you concentrate on your day-to-day life in a proper manner so that you become more managed and organized.
Dhyana is meditation. The seventh limb of Ashtanga Yoga is the advancement of concentrative powers of a yogi. Dhyana is gaining complete control over your mind, thoughts, and emotions. This control subsequently will lead to a balanced mind free of stress and anxiety.
This limb of Ashtanga Yoga is the ultimate form of detachment where the yogi is the epitome of indifference and thoughtlessness.
Samadhi refers to the state of the yogi when he has attained absolute transcendence and detachment. The realization of absolute consciousness and attainment of Brahman is the state of being in Samadhi.
Ashtanga Yoga is the classical form of yoga. It requires discipline from the student as well as the teacher and also follows a particular set of rules for learning.
Ashtanga Yoga in India
Many yogis mastered this art of Ashtanga Yoga and have passed on the legacy to their students. So, taking this legacy forward, K. Pattabhi Jois, a yogi, designed a module for practicing Ashtanga Yoga following all the above said rules. His style is known as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa refers to breathing techniques, accompanied by the Ashtanga Yoga poses that are carried out to master the art. The Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga begins with Surya Namaskar. The synchronization of breathing and movement is known as Vinyasa.
In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, more focus is given on sequentially performing the asanas. Discipline is more important than performing the asanas.
Ashtanga Yoga Sequence
The Ashtanga Yoga follows a sequence of six series of yoga asanas to master all the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. A yogi begins to practice the primary series and then advances to intermediate and then to advanced level.
The prime focus of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is to control and train the mind in order to indulge the yogi into the practice of all the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga in sequential order.
The primary series is the sets of exercises to tone the body of the practitioner so that he maintains a healthy lifestyle. In a healthy body lives a healthy mind they say.
The Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is all following the sequence in proper order, every sequence should be mastered perfectly before graduating to the next sequence.
Ashtanga Yoga Series
The three sets of yoga asanas designed in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is called the Ashtanga Yoga Series. The three series are:
- Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa)
- Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhan)
- Advanced Series (Sthira Bhaag)
These series are accompanied by Vinyasa, Bandha and Tristhana. Vinyasa is the regulation of breath, Bandha is the control and holding of breath and Tristhana refers to focusing the vision on a particular direction.
In Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga it is believed that the first four limbs, Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama are for external cleaning of the yogi. Practising each limb purifies the yogi in an indulging manner.
Mastering Ashtanga Yoga poses daily over a period of time, makes one’s body healthy and strong. The Vinyasa is the first stage of Ashtanga Yoga where a yogi learns to control his breathing.
A living body gains strength through the amount of breath he inhales and the way in which he exhales, the exercises in the primary series are more focused on proper breathing style so as to cleanse the internal organs of a yogi.
This purification and detoxification lead to a stronger body and healthier mind. The asanas performed are simple asanas to increase the flexibility of the body and breath control.
The primary series, Yoga Chikitsa, as it is called, is said to benefit the mind and the soul of the yogi. It detoxifies and aligns the system so the practitioner is well prepared for the next level of Ashtanga Yoga.
After developing the Vinyasa, next, comes the practice of Bandha, the primary series include the practice of easier bandhas so that the beginners are not disappointed at the initial level itself.
Advancing the stages, the yogi automatically develops the method of holding the breath while practicing the asanas and then can easily perform more intense bandhas.
Ashtanga Vinyasa is based more on the power of belief than the physical exercise, thus practicing of wholesome breathing, Vinyasa and Bandha are very important when learning Ashtanga Yoga.
The bandhas that are practiced are Mula Bandha, Jalandhar Bandha and Kumbhak. These are practiced along with the asanas for the overall impact of the asana.
Tristhana, or the focus of the vision, the practice teaches you to focus on a particular point, in between the eyebrows, or at the various energy centers of the body.
This helps in developing concentration and prepares the yogi for the advanced practice of yoga and meditation.
The intermediate series, called the Nadi Shodhan, focuses on the cleansing of the nervous system and helps to heal the emotional imbalances of the practitioner. The intermediate series is the set of asanas designed to especially strengthen the nervous system of the yogi.
This helps the practitioner to transcend from physical level to the subtle level of the human body.
The yogi is prepared for the further intense level of meditation and focus. He promotes to the fifth and sixth limb of Ashtanga Yoga.
The third and the advanced level of series, the Sthira Bhaag, is an amalgamation of the asanas performed in the earlier series of AShtanga Vinyasa Yoga but with a greater approach towards perfection and flexibility.
This series is divided into parts named A, B, C and D due to the ease of development from one to another. Mastering this level promotes a yogi to be the master of his body and senses. He attains the eighth limb of Ashtanga Yoga that is Samadhi.
Ashtanga Yoga Books
There are many books available in India for the best information and inspiration for practicing Ashtanga Yoga. The best of them are listed below, you may take a look:
Undoubtedly the best book to refer for the list, this book is the gift to all yogis from the ultimate master himself. You should begin with this book when opting for Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
Maehle is a celebrated yogi and yoga guru, this is his most popular book amongst Ashtanga Yoga lovers and beginners.
- Ashtanga Yoga Series, Books (1 – 4) by Lino Miele
This book is also known for its proper approach towards the principles of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and has the complete compilation of exercises in a sequential order.
Ashtanga Yoga is the most classical and profound approach towards learning yoga and meditation. All the modern branches of Yoga are derived from Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and it is the most beneficial of all the other forms of yoga.
Being the classical and most authentic form of yoga, Ashtanga Yoga may look difficult at the first instance, but regular practitioners have found it to be amazing.
Try Ashtanga Yoga and share your wonderful experiences with us.