Ashtanga Yoga

The system of Yoga called Ashtanga Yoga dates back to the 1900s. People say that the sage Vamana Rishi first recorded it in the Yoga Korunta text. Various gurus handled that text before Sri T. Krisnamacarya found it in Calcutta library. He took extensive notes and then passed those notes on to his student Sri Pattabhi Jois. Conversely, some people question the manuscript's existence. Currently, people practice Ashtanga Yoga throughout the world, and Sri Pattabhi Jois teaches Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore, India, at his Yoga Research Institute.

Ashtanga Yoga literally translates as "eight-limbed yoga," which the sage Patanjali explained in the Yoga Sutras. Patanjali says that one reveals the Universal Self by following the path of internal purification which consists of eight spiritual practices:

  • Moral codes (Yama)
  • Study and self-purification (Niyama)
  • Posture (Asana)
  • Breath control (Pranayama)
  • Sense control (Pratyahara)
  • Concentration (Dharana)
  • Meditation (Dhyana)
  • Contemplation (Samadhi)

Ashtanga Yoga includes the belief that one's body must be cleansed of impurities before one can control the mind. The first four practices accomplish that first goal, while the last four perform spiritual and mental cleansing. Ashtanga Yoga particularly groups asana into series. Firstly, the Primary Series purifies the body. Then the Intermediate Series cleanses the nervous system. The Advanced Series consists of perfecting the Yoga postures, with different levels which require increasing flexibility.

Beyond that, yogis also practice the eight principles through tristhana and vinyasa.

Tristhana refers to the 3 fields of focus Yoga practice: breathing system, posture and looking place. Those essential parts of Ashtanga Yoga help clear the mind and cleanse the body. Yogis can improve posture with asanas, while breathing with balanced exhales and inhales. Also, yogis look at nine places (called dristhis) while performing the postures: the nose, hands, feet, between the eyebrows, thumb, navel, up, right side, and left side. Yogis refine their minds by gazing at those places.

Vinyasa literally means "breath-synchronized movement." Yogis inhale (rechaka) or exhale (puraka) as they perform asanas. The combination of movement and breathing cause better blood circulation which helps detoxify the body. Then, the body releases the impurities with sweat.

Additionally, Ashtanga Yoga works to eliminate the six poisons which cover the light in the spiritual heart. Some people conceive this light as representing God. The six poisons are as follows: anger (kridha), desire (kama), greed (lobha), delusion (moha), sloth (mada) and envy (matsarya). Yogis can eventually vanquish those poisons through diligent practice of Ashtanga Yoga, which will uncover the light and reveal the Yogis' Universal Selves.

Many organizations and teachers refer to themselves as practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga if they utilize the 8-fold path explained by by Patanjali in Sutra 2.28. Beyond that, many other teachers of Yoga use the eight-fold path in their work.

We hope this article answered all of your questions about Ashtanga Yoga. If you have any remaining questions, or if you have any comments or suggestions, please email us at mail@onlineyogaclub.com or post them on our Yoga Forums.