WHAT IS ASHTANGA VINYASA YOGA?


ASHTANGA VINYASA YOGA

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a traditional style of yoga derived from an ancient Indian text, the Yoga Korunta; a record of groupings of asanas/ postures which are practiced in synchronization with the breath. You will sweat. The practice produces an intense internal heat, the heat purifies the muscles and organs, expelling unwanted toxins as well as improving circulation and releasing beneficial hormones and minerals. It is a gradual process and with regular practice it revitalizes the body and mind, and awakens the soul. Ashtanga Yoga integrates the practices of postures, breathing techniques, lifestyle choices, and mental exercises to bring the mind under control and enable a life of peace and happiness.

 

Vinyasa; breathing and movement system. For each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namskar there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together; the second is exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas. The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing. Breathing and moving together while performing asanas makes the blood hot. Thick blood is dirty and causes disease in the body. The heat created from yoga cleans the blood and makes it thin, so that it may circulate freely. The combination of the asanas with movement and breath make the blood circulate freely around all the joints, taking away body pains. When there is a lack of circulation, pain occurs. The heated blood also moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and disease, sweat is an important by product of vinyasa, because it is only through sweat that disease leaves the body and purification occurs.

 

​Tristana: Breath, Bandhas and Drishti​

Throughtout the practice we use a breathing technique known as Ujjayi breathing (also known as oceans breath) Ujjayi breathing is breathing with sound, imagine you are closing the back of your throat flitering your breath. Both the inhale and exhale should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale. Breathing in this manner creates heat in the body and purifies the nervous system.

In Ashtanga yoga we make use of Bandhas (energy locks) mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. These are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy and give lightness, strength, balance and stablility in the postures. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct. The third bandha is Jalandhar Bandha, known as neck lock; lift the chest and sternum up while lengthening the back of the neck, by pulling the chin toward the back of the neck. The neck, throat and face muscles remain relaxed.

Drishti (focal point) is the place where you look while in the asana. There are nine drishtis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. Drishti stabilizes the functioning of the mind. It hinders distractions and helps you keep focused throughout your practice.

The Practice​

The Ashtanga vinyasa system of yoga is comprised of three powerful groups of asana sequences in ascending order of difficulty that effectively purify, strengthen and open the body in preparation for higher yoga and meditation. When preformed correctly, with correct alignment, and in the proper order, the body and the mind open. The sequences themselves should also be practiced in sequential order, ideally with the guidance of a teacher. The practitioner should fully integrate the physical and energetic lessons of each series, often requiring years of consistent practice, before proceeding to the next series.

Usually an Ashtanga yoga practice begins with five repetitions of Surya Namaskara A and five repetitions of Surya Namaskara B, followed by a standing sequence. Following this the pracitioner begins one of three series, followed by the finishing sequence.

 

​- The Primary Series -

 

The first series is known as Yoga Chikitsa (Yoga Therapy) the Primary Series functions to heal, detoxify and align the body, with focus particularly on the realignment of the spine. Through consistent practice of the first series, foundational strength, endurance and flexibility are built in preparation for fully accessing the benefits and effects of the subsequent series.

- The Intermediate Series -

The second series is known as Nadi Shodhana (The Nerve Purifier) With the appropriate preparation through practice of the first series, the second series purifies and balances the nervous system. By opening and clearing the subtle energy channels and the chakras, the second series purifies the complex nadi system and balances the duality of energies within us.

 

- The Advanced Series -

 

The third series is known as Sthira Bhaga (Centering of Strength) which is divided into four parts (A,B,C,D) to make it more approachable. The third series combines the lessons of the previous two series. It integrates the power and grace of the ashtanga practice into divine balance, which requires high levels of determination and humility.

 

Mysore Class

​Best described as a self practice in a group setting, Mysore style is the traditional way that the Ashtanga system of yoga is learned. Students come to class and practice the Ashtanga series at their own pace, level and capacity with the individual support from teachers and the energy of a group practice. This self practice method allows the student to work at their own pace while still receiving individual adjustments and personal attention from the teacher. The instructor teaches the postures to each student, making unique recommendations based on individual needs. Postures are given one by one, time is taken to master each posture before progressing to the next. Mysore classes help students to develop a consistent home practice. This class is open to everyone and is appropriate for both beginner and advanced students. It is recommended but not necessary that you participate in a led Ashtanga class before joining the Mysore style class in order to familiarise yourself with the sequence.​

Moon Days

Traditionally Ashtanga Yoga practitioners practice six days a week, Saturday being the day of rest. Practitioners also do not practice on Moon Days; the days of the new moon and the full moon.

 

Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70% water), we are affected by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are determined by the moon’s relative position to the sun. Full moons occur when they are in opposition and new moons when they are in conjunction. Both sun and moon exert a gravitational pull on the earth. Their relative positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to the breath cycle. The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. This is an expansive, upward moving force that makes us feel energetic and emotional, but not well grounded. During the full moon we tend to be more headstrong. The new moon energy corresponds to the end of exhalation when the force of apana is greatest. Apana is a contracting, downward moving force that makes us feel calm and grounded, but dense and disinclined towards physical exertion.

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A note for the ladies; it is advised not to do Ashtanga on the heavy days of your menstrual cycle, you might take the first day of your practice off or do some gentle or restorative asanas instead. Menstruation is an apanic (downward moving) process. Everytime we engage the bandhas we are messing with the apanic (downward moving) energy which can easily disturb your cycle.

Parampara

The Ashtanga Vinyasa system is known for its power, attention to detail, and dedication to the tradition. The integrity of the lineage is maintained through parampara (the unbroken transmission of knowledge from teacher to student). Parampara is knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student. It is a Sanskrit word that denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most valuable form; knowledge based on direct and practical experience. In order for yoga instruction to be effective, true and complete, it should come from within parampara. The teacher’s dharma is to teach yoga exactly as he learned it from his teacher. The teaching should be presented with a good heart, with good purpose and with noble intentions. There should be an absence of harmful motivations. The teacher should not mislead the student in any way or veer from what he has been taught   - unknown source

Tradition is often dismissed as an old fashioned, out dated and narrow-minded approach. However, the strictness of this approach resonates with us because well, we all know that has human beings - despite coming from a well intended place - like to put our own 'spin on the thing' Our noble intentions may lead us astray and completely off the point entirely. Without a healthy ego to keep us in check we will not only lead ourselves astray but our students too. As a yoga teacher we believe that for as long as you are practicing and teaching yoga then you are not only considered a yoga teacher but also a yoga student. As students we never stop learning, this keeps us open minded and humble. It does not mean we disrespect the knowledge passed on to us before us, to us it just means putting the student first when we teach. Today we hear a lot about the 'Ashtanga police' or about how students feel disrepcted in the Mysore rooms, in the sense that their needs are not met; that they feel they are only practicing asana not yoga, and that sticking to a pace set out by a particular teacher has only done more harm than good, resulting in more injuries, health issues and moe unbalanced. Yoga is a personal journey, it goes hand in hand with Ayurveda, and this is sometimes forgotten. With that explained we would also like to offer another, more well rounded and for now let's say democratic way of understanding this topic of parampara and tradition. The following text is sourced from Seth Powell, PhD Candidate in South Asian Religions at Harvard University and Founder + Director, Yogic Studies: 

 

​What is tradition? How do the teachings survive? The Sanskrit terms sampradāya and paramparā are often thrown around to invoke authority and authenticity. What do they mean? According to our latest guest faculty, Dr. Daniela Bevilacqua: ⁣

sampradāya संप्रदाय (sam + pra+ dāya) refers to the act of transfer, the bestowing, of doctrines or teachings. The sampradāya forms a general infrastructure of rules and ideologies, created by a specific guru, that other gurus can impact through their own practices and achievements. ⁣

paramparā परंपरा (param + parā) means from “one to another”, an uninterrupted succession or sequence. This represents the succession of gurus and disciples, creating a spiritual chain through which a body of practices, views and attitudes are transmitted. So according to the number of disciples that a guru has, various paramparā can be formed. The various paramparās may form specific sub-groups inside a sampradāya or may be related to specific teachings connected to a specific guru inside a sub-group.⁣

This does NOT mean however that traditions continue to exist unchanged, or that they are static ahistorical institutions. In fact, the opposite is true. The concepts of sampradāya and paramparā allow for constant innovation, in negotiation with what has come before: teachings can be redefined and reviewed by each successive generation of followers—in response to the needs of that community. ⁣

The modern method of approaching Ashtanga Yoga is known as the Ashtanga Vinyasa system which was passed to Sri T. Krishnamacharya by his guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari and subsequently to his loyal disciple, Sri K. Patthabi Jois; whose daughter Saraswathi Jois and grandson R. Sharath Jois still teach at the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, where they continue to preserve this lineage and share this practice with yogis from all over the world.

 

Professor T. Krishnamacharya is considered to be the father of modern day Yoga. He devoted his life to the practice and study of Yoga. It is through his teachings that the systems of Ashtanga Yoga (K.P. Jois), Iyengar Yoga (B.K.S. Iyengar), Vini Yoga (T.K.V. Desikachar), Yoga Therapy (A.G. Mohan) and traditional Hatha Yoga (Indra Devi) were developed. 

 

The basis of Krishnamacharya's teaching was ''to teach what is appropriate for the individual.'' Krishnamacharya taught the Vinyasa Krama method; the linking of postures together in sequence by numbers, thus bringing about certain innovations to the evolution of the classical Yoga. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika the concept of Vinyasa is not mentioned. It has been said that Krishnamacharya's understanding of the vinyasa method was confirmed through his discovery of a copy of Rsi Vamana's Yoga Korunta at Calcutta University.

 

Vinyasa Krama was a phrase (not a style of yoga) used by Professor T. Krishnamacharya. 'Vinyasa Krama' otherwise known as 'moving by numbers' is the tradition of practicing asana in a flowing sequence connected by the breath. Vinyasa meaning 'to place' and Krama meaning 'in stages'. You can see the practice as learning the postures one by one observing the correct order. Rising from the appeal of the Ashtanga Yoga style, modern Vinyasa Yoga was brought to the West by various students of Pattabhi Jois.  Unlike Ashtanga, however, a Vinyasa Yoga class does not stick to the same sequence of poses. Instead teachers have the freedom to craft their own flow for each class.  In addition a Vinyasa class may include music in the background, which you won’t find in an Ashtanga class

The following are aspects that Pattabhi Jois emphasizes as the main components of Ashtanga Yoga  - sourced from omkaralife

Vinyasa

Vinyasa means breathing and movement system. For each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namskar there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together; the second is exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas.

The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing. Breathing and moving together while performing asanas makes the blood hot, or as Pattabhi Jois says, boils the blood. Thick blood is dirty and causes disease in the body. The heat created from yoga cleans the blood and makes it thin, so that it may circulate freely. The combination of the asanas with movement and breath make the blood circulate freely around all the joints, taking away body pains. When there is a lack of circulation, pain occurs. The heated blood also moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and disease, which are brought out of the body by the sweat that occurs during practice.

Sweat is an important by product of vinyasa, because it is only through sweat that disease leaves the body and purification occurs. In the same way that gold is melted in a pot to remove its impurities, by the virtue of the dirt rising to the surface as the gold boils, and the dirt then being removed, yoga boils the blood and brings all our toxins to the surface, which are removed through sweat. If the method of vinyasa is followed, the body becomes healthy and strong, and pure like gold.

After the body is purified, it is possible to purify the nervous system, and then the sense organs. These first steps are very difficult and require many years of practice. The sense organs are always looking outside, and the body is always giving into laziness. However, through determination and diligent practice, these can be controlled. After this is accomplished, mind control comes automatically. Vinyasa creates the foundation for this to occur.

Tristana

This means the three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place. These three are very important for yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind. They are always performed in conjunction with each other.

Asanas purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body. Breathing is rechaka and puraka, that means inhale and exhale. Both the inhale and exhale should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale. Breathing in this manner purifies the nervous system. Dristhi is the place where you look while in the asana. There are nine dristhis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. Dristhi purifies and stabilizes the functioning of the mind.

For cleaning the body internally two factors are necessary, air and fire. The place of fire in our bodies is four inches below the navel. This is the standing place of our life force. In order for fire to burn, air is necessary, hence the necessity of the breath. If you stoke a fire with a blower, evenness is required so that the flame is not smothered out, or blown out of control.

The same method stands for the breath. Long even breaths will strengthen our internal fire, increasing heat in the body which in turn heats the blood for physical purification, and burns away impurities in the nervous system as well. Long even breathing increases the internal fire and strengthens the nervous system in a controlled manner and at an even pace. When this fire is strengthened, our digestion, health and life span all increase. Uneven inhalation and exhalation, or breathing too rapidly, will imbalance the beating of the heart, throwing off both the physical body and autonomic nervous system.

An important component of the breathing system is mula and uddiyana bandha. These are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal fire. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit. When mula bandha is perfect, mind control is automatic.

The Six Poisons

A vital aspect of internal purification that Pattabhi Jois teaches relates to the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart. In the yoga shastra it is said that God dwells in our heart in the form of light, but this light is covered by six poisons: kama, krodha, moha, lobha, matsarya, and mada. These are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth. When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the heat generated from it burns away these poisons, and the light of our inner nature shines forth.

This forms the practical and philosophic basis of Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

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