Yoga is as old as mankind itself and Ashtanga Yoga is referred to in many ancient texts, including the Puranas (around 3000 BCE). Literally translated it means "eight limbs". These eight limbs work from a gross (body) to a more subtle level (mind) and are a roadmap to "samadhi" or realization - the yoga or union of human and divine.
The Ashtanga Yoga system has four key "ingredients":
1. Ujjayi Pranayama, a breathing technique with which prana (life-energy) is accessed through deep, yet subtle and continuous breathing. Each breath feeds each practiced posture and with time asanas become strong and steady (sthiram sukham asanam).
2. Bandhas, very subtle energetic "seals" are located in the pelvic floor (moola), slightly below the belly button (uddiyana) and the chin/neck (jalandhara) area. Over time, with practice and the correct breathing technique they are being cultivated.
3. Drishti, the place of looking. Every posture and every movement in the Ashtanga Yoga system has a prescribed place of looking. The Drishti enhances the focus of the practitioner, helps access bandhas and corrects alignment of the body.
4. Vinyasa, or synchronizing breath and movement. The Ashtanga Vinyasa System is a very dynamic practice where each breath has a prescribed movement. Correct inhalation and exhalation at the correct time enhances the practice altogether as well as the benefits of each asana.
The Ashtanga Yoga Series
The Ashtanga Vinyasa system consists of 6 series - one for each day of the week of physical asana practice. Yoga Chikitsa (Primary Series) translates into Yoga Therapy and is the gateway to the Ashtanga Yoga method. Its main focus lies in body and mind purification.
Nadi Shodana or Cleansing of the Nadis (Intermediate Series) mainly purifies the Nadis, small energy channels in and outside of our physical bodies. The Advanced sequences or Sthira Bhaga A, B, C, D integrate and combine strength and grace of the practitioner and require a high level of strength, flexibility and humility.
Mysore Style Practice
The Ashtanga Yoga system is traditionally taught by an authorized or certified teacher. Each posture is taught individually to the student and only when it is mastered and the teacher sees the student fit to continue, he/she will be granted the next one. The prescribed practice is repeated six days per week. Strength and stamina are built gradually and the body and mind become purified and clean. Both body and mind can slowly adjust to the rigorous and intense level of breathing and moving.
During guided classes, the Sanskrit names of the postures are called out and the inhalations and exhalations are counted in Sanskrit. Traditionally, guided classes are not suitable for beginners.