Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga
Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga commonly referred to as Ashtanga yoga is one of the most popular forms of yoga practiced in the western world today.
The main teacher of ashtanga yoga is the late Sri Pattabhi Jois (1915 – 2009) who passed away a few months ago.
His teacher was Krishnamacharya (1988 – 1989) who was a very formidable yoga teacher and yogi who practiced and taught yoga in southern India.
Krishnamacharya was very influential and also taught yoga to Iyengar and T.K.V. Desikachar who both went on to develop their own styles; Iyengar and Viniyoga.
Krishnamacharya was initially taught yoga by his father from the age of 6 and later studied with yogis in the Himalayas and in Tibet. He returned to India and the Maharaja of Mysore was so impressed with him that he asked him to help cure his many ailments through yoga and also to open a yoga school.
Developed a strong form of yoga
As many of Krishnamacharya’s students were young boys, he developed a strong form of yoga known as Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga which was very good for developing strength and building up the bodies and stamina of these young boys.
Both Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar were young boys (Pattabhi at age 12) when they began learning under Krishnamacharya in the 1930’s. He was known as a very strict and intimidating teacher, and was very strict and dedicated with his own yoga practice.
He was also very learned, speaking a number of languages and able to recite from heart many of the great yoga teachings, and was also a scholar of Ayurveda and an ability to cure many people with ailments through the practice of yoga. He had huge training in asana, pranayama and other aspects of yoga and was considered to be one of the most influential yogis of the last century.
From age of 12 Pattabhi Jois practiced yoga every day with Krishnamacharya for the next 2 years and finally ran away from home at age 14 to study Sanscrit. At 16 he again met up with Krishnamacharya and stayed studying with him in Mysore in southern India until 21 years of age.
27 years later in 1964 a westerner spent two months studying yoga with him and that began the steady trickle of westerners who went to study Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. Over the years this steady trickle has become a huge number of people, and in the past 15 years his yoga shala has been expanded to hold about 80 students most of whom are Westerners.
Flowing sequence of postures
Ashtanga Vinyasa consists of a flowing series of postures which are practiced synchronized with the breath. A particular type of breath know as Ujjai breath is used, which produces a sound from the back of the throat, and also produced heat within the body. This breath also lowers the blood pressure slightly, so that although one is practiced very strong vigorous dynamic yoga, one’s heart beat does not rise too high, and one’s breathing does not speed up too much (with practice).
Ashtanga is normally practiced in warm (but not hot like Bikram) surroundings, and the Ujjai breath further works to increase the heat within the body. This heat is said to burn impurities, and in general it is considered that the path of Ashtanga yoga is a strong form of yoga designed to burn and remove and impurities from within us.
Ashtanga primarily works on very strong physical level, but in order to practice and maintain this high level of physical effort, it also works to increase our will-power, resilience, stamina, steadfastness, determination and in time acceptance over many things in life.
The eyes are focused on particular points during each posture, and this eye focus is known as the drishties. This practice also helps to steady the mind, withdrawn our thoughts from external distractions, and brings us closer to a more meditative state during our practice.
Similarly to learning and practicing Ujjai breath, this takes time and one should allow at least a number of weeks or months or daily practice in order to get in touch with the inner benefits of these practices.
There are further internal practices know as uddiyana bandha and moolabandha, which work to retain energy within the body and also to increase the energy within the body…. namely within the sushumna channel. This also works to increase internal heat to burn impurities, and also works to lighten the body and help it ‘fly’ through the postures. Uddiyana bandha also helps protect the lower back and strengthen the internal core muscles of the body.
Photos of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga
Ashtanga Yoga is a strong dynamic form of Yoga and which is ideal for increasing flexibility, toning and making the body more supply, while strengthening the muscles and massaging the internal organs producing optimal healthy functioning of the body.
If you have never practiced yoga before, and wish to come on an ashtanga course it is advised that
- you are between 14 and 40 years of age (if not and you still want to come, phone Dave 091-637680)
- you have no injuries especially to your back, neck or knees
- you are prepared for a strong physical workout which will involve sweating due to strong exertion
- you look at the photos in the section near the end of this page
The primary teacher of Ashtanga Yoga is Pattabhi Jois who is based in Mysore, India. He in turn was taught this practice by Krishnamacharya who is widely accepted to be one of the advanced Yogis of the 20th century.
Ashtanga is a flowing sequence of dynamic postures
It is practiced as a series of flowing Yoga postures which begin with the Sun Salutations. These heat up the body and prepare the body for the stronger postures which one gradually introduces and builds into one’s own daily practice of the sequence. These stronger stretching and strengthening postures are also practiced within the flowing sequence which follows the Sun Salutations.
One’s breath is controlled and regulated by a practice known as Ujjay breathing. This produces a slight hissing sound in the throat and has an effect of lowering the blood pressure. Thus although one is physically working the body quite strenuously, one feels quite calm and centred which is quite unlike any other aerobic exercises. This allows one maintain an inward focus and a meditative awareness while practicing the sequence.
One’s eyes and attention are also directed towards drishtes (points on which to focus the eyes and attention).
There are also internal locks applied (uddiyana and moola bandha) and these regulate the flow of energy within the nadis (energy channels). They also increase the internal heat of the body.
The internal heat within the body allows one?s body to become more supple and to practice postures which one could not normally practice with a cold unprepared body.
How Ashtanga is taught
Ashtanga is introduced to beginners with the Sun Salutations first. One practices these sequences initially until one is familiar enough to complete these oneself.
If one has previous experience of other Yoga (either Satyananda or Iyengar or Hatha) then it can take between 30 minutes to 2 hours before one is comfortable enough to practice the sun salutation sequence by oneself.
Then the rest of the sequence is gradually introduced. Each posture is practiced to one’s own ability and the instructor gives posture corrections and verbal directions to help one learn each posture and also how to flow from one posture to the next.
The rest of the sequence consists of the usual clasical postures ranging from trikonasana or triangle pose, reverse trikonasana, intense side stretch or parsvakonasana, standing forward bends, twists, head stands, hand stands and other postures.
There is always a closing sequence which consists of a number of back bends and forward bends and a slowing down of the postures and a final relaxation period while one lies in Shavasana.
Ashtanga yoga for ordinary reasonably fit people
Just because the photos above are mainly people who are very fit, all our courses are for ordinary people.
There is no competition, and everyone does what ever postures they are able for.
If you are not able for any of the postures, the teacher will give you an easier variation.
These courses are great fun 😉
On some of the more advanced courses, the classes are given in the style of self practice. It is assumed that each participant knows the sequence and is able to practice by themselves. Usually the instructor goes from each participant to the next and makes appropriate adjustments to one?s postures and encourages one to improve one?s practice beyond what one has attained so far.
Photos of Ashtanga yoga
Photos from Ashtanga weekend with Ciara February 2006
Photos from Ashtanga week with Granville 2005
Photos of Surya Namaskara A Ashtanga
Photos of Surya Namaskara B Ashtanga
Other Ashtanga postures
Ashtanga yoga retreats and holidays
If you would like to try an ashtanga weekend ?