As I’ve said before, I used to think that yoga was just yoga. But as I’ve read more about the subject and talked with more people who practice it, I’m realizing that there are many different forms. One such type of yoga is called Ashtanga. Depending on which website or article you are reading, you might also see it referred to as Ashtanga Vinyassa or Astanga. For the purposes of this article, we’ll go with Ashtanga.
This form of yoga was made popular by K. Pattabhi Jois, who began studying yoga back in 1927 at the age of 12. By 1948 Jois opened a school that taught Ashtanga yoga.
The word “Ashtanga” is Sanskrit for “eight-limbed”, which is a reference to the eight limbs of yoga. These eight aspects or terms are: moral codes, self-purification and study, posture, breath control, sense control, intention, meditation, and contemplation. The first four limbs are thought to be “external” cleansing practices while the last four are considered to be “internal” cleansing practices.
According to Jois, problems with the external issues are things that can be corrected, but things in the internal cleansing practices are more problematic. He felt that issues with the internal issues could even be dangerous to the mind unless the correct form of Ashtanga yoga was practiced.
Ashtanga yoga is a series of poses that are done in a Vinyasa style, which means that each of the exercises flows into the next one. All together there are six different Ashtanga series and students work through each series at a pace that is comfortable. Each series will usually start with 10 of what are called Sun Salutations and the standing poses. This is called the “opening sequence.” At the end of the series, students do a set of inverted postures called the “finishing sequence.”
The first series, which is a primary series called yoga Chikitsa, helps to realign the spine, detoxify the body, and build stamina and strength. The series of about 75 or so poses typically takes about 90 minutes to two hours to get through.
The second series is called Nadi Shodana, which refers to purifying the nervous system.