Ashtanga yoga, what is it?
Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic yoga, but above all a philosophical system that Krishnamacharya, Sage and Yogi developed after traveling in the Himalayas around 1916.
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n the 1930s he passed on this knowledge to many Indian and Western students. Among the best known are Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, BNS Iyengar, Indra Devi and his son TKV Desikachar. This practice was later popularized in the West 30 years later. But what is Ashtanga yoga, what are the basic principles, the benefits, the differences with traditional yoga, its history?
Definition of Ashtanga Yoga
The term Ashtanga comes from the Sanskrit words “ashtau” which means 8 and “anga” which means “members”. The 8 members refer to 8 essential practices in Ashtanga yoga that we will develop later: rules of behavior, self-discipline, body postures, the art of breathing, mastery of the senses, concentration, meditation and ‘illumination.
Ashtanga yoga is a form of Hatha yoga in which the postures are accompanied by stretching to give energy, strength to the body; and contractions (Bandas) aiming to accumulate the vital breath (prana) in the deep parts of the body tissues via a synchronization of movement with respiration (vinyasa). The peculiarity of Ashtanga lies in the fact that the postures are linked together according to predetermined series, and that they are more and more difficult to realize. As long as a posture is not acquired, the individual does not realize the one that follows. This allows him to gain patience.
The body is energized by the breath, which increases the body temperature and helps to detoxify the body. Practice brings tonicity, energy, and the strength to find comfort without pain, provided it is performed with patience, humility, and compassion to find the path of wisdom. The purpose of yoga is to open the mind to meditation so as to help calm the psychic state, but also to make the individual aware of his spiritual potential.
The basic principles of Ashtanga Yoga
The principles of Ashtanga yoga are based on the eight members developed by Patanjali in his collection entitled “Yoga-Sutra”, they constitute a kind of philosophy of life that involves:
Rules of behavior (yamas)
Yamas relate to our relationships with others and things outside. There are 5 yamas that the individual must respect: do no harm, be honest, do not steal, be faithful or abstinent (brahmacharya) and not be greedy. The first form of yama is ahimsa which means to cause no pain to any creature, to do no harm, not to kill by any means and never. Which involves becoming vegetarian, vegan or vegan.
The second member refers to the rules that the individual must apply to himself. The niyamas are: the cleanliness inside, the cleanliness outside, the contentment, the knowledge of the sacred texts. The latter can lead to abandonment to God if the individual is truly involved in a spirituality (sadhana) filled with benevolence, happiness and compassion.
Body postures (asanas)
The postures can energize the body, make it more flexible and bring stability and self-confidence. The goal is to nourish the body of the vital breath (prana) in each posture, in order to lead to a meditative state of letting go. Postures are essential in Ashtanga yoga as they help correct imbalances and stabilize to unite body and mind, as in all other yoga practices.
This includes the vital breath, the length of time in a breathing cycle, the restriction of breath and the expansion or stretching of breathing. Practicing pranayama helps purify the channels essential to life on earth and eliminate stress and physical and mental toxins. In physical practice, breathing can raise body temperature, which helps eliminate toxins. The inspiration and the expiration must be of the same duration and be made by the nose by a breath called ujjayi. In Ashtanga yoga and in all postural practices, breathing is very important because it is related to emotions.
The mastery of the senses (pratyahara)
It is the control of the senses that can lead to inner stability, this is possible by directing its concentration on the respiratory rhythm. Seeking to soothe and control his mind without being affected by one or more of our five senses helps the individual to progress towards concentration until they are blocked. The individual no longer pays attention to external things in order to focus on himself and his inner feelings.
The attention of the individual must be focused on an external object, a vibration or a rhythm within oneself.
The work on concentration allows the practice of meditation, which consists of ceasing all mental activities, where no thought exists.
This last stage constitutes the alliance between the self (atman) and the absolute (brahman), in the Buddhist philosophy it is called nirvana, it is the state of mindfulness.
The benefits of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga allows you to:
- Reduce toxins: The practice of Ashtanga yoga causes an increase in the internal temperature causing an increase in perspiration. This allows the elimination of toxins from the body.
- Strengthen the joints of the body: the use of varied and dynamic postures promotes a good functioning of the joints.
- Increase endurance and flexibility
- Losing weight: A study of 14 children aged 8 to 15 years and at risk of developing type 2 diabetes showed that Ashtanga yoga was an effective ally for losing weight.
- Reduce stress and anxiety: meditation and breathing exercises help improve stress management and reduce anxiety.
- He balances Doshas in Ayurveda.
What are the differences with traditional yoga?
In Ashtanga yoga, individuals stay in posture for a shorter time because each posture is linked to a defined number of breaths (5 or 8), which allows for a rapid sequence of several postures. This requires more physical investment and makes yoga more dynamic than traditional yoga. In addition, the breathing technique is special and the duration of inspiration and expiration are crucial in the transition of postures.
The history of Ashtanga
The origins of Ashtanga yoga come from an ancient text called “Yoga Korunta”. This text was written by Vamana Rish between 500 and 1500 BC and rediscovered by Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya in a university library in Calcutta. A specialist in ancient Sanskrit, he understood that this text was part of a much older oral tradition (between 3000 BC and 4000 BC), he began teaching it at Pattabhi Jois in 1927 when he was 12 years old. Patanjali conceptualizes Ashtanga Yoga in Yoga Sutra with no less than 195 Aphorisms dating from the 2nd century BC or 400 years after.
In books II and III of the Yogas Sutras, the techniques of Ashtanga are stated, these are related to purely yogic activities and aim at provoking asceticism: purifications, attitudes of the body, respiratory techniques. Patanjali puts a slight emphasis on the postural practice, in fact, these must be transmitted by Masters or Guru and not by voices of description. They must also provide stability and reduce physical effort to prevent fatigue and nervousness in certain parts of the body. They stabilize physiological processes to allow attention to focus on the fluid part of consciousness. At first, postures can seem uncomfortable, even unbearable. But with courage, regularity and patience the effort becomes minimal until disappearing:
Ashtanga Yoga, a derivative of Hatha Yoga
There are not really Ashtanga derivatives since Ashtanga, now known in its physical and postural form, is itself derived from Hatha yoga, just like Vinyasa yoga or Iyengar yoga. Today, there are different schools for yoga but we must never forget that yoga is above all a philosophy, and that the body is an instrument that allows us to better act on ourselves and around us.
Who is Ashtanga Yoga for?
This form of yoga is primarily intended for individuals who wish to maintain their physical condition and discharge their negative energies, to acquire more positive. Moreover, it is preferable that the individual is motivated since Ashtanga yoga takes all its interest when it is practiced in the long term.