Ashtanga vinyasa yoga
|Founder||K. Pattabhi Jois|
|Established||late 20th century|
|Derivative forms||Vinyasa yoga; Flow yoga - employs connecting asanas without use of specific series'|
|Employs Vinyasa, or connecting asanas.|
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, usually referred to simply as Ashtanga yoga, is a style of yoga codified and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois and is often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. Pattabhi Jois began his yoga studies in 1927 at the age of 12, and by 1948 had established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute for teaching the specific yoga practice known as Ashtanga (Sanskrit for "eight-limbed") Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is named after the eight limbs of yoga mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
- 1 Principles
- 2 History and legend
- 3 Eight Limbs of Ashtanga
- 4 Higher level practices within Ashtanga
- 5 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Aṣṭāṅga Yoga
- 6 Power Yoga
- 7 High risk of injuries
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Sources
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (May 2011)|
The term vinyāsa refers to the alignment of movement and breath, a method which turns static asanas into a dynamic flow. The length of one inhale or one exhale dictates the length of time spent transitioning between asanas. Asanas are then held for a predefined number of breaths. In effect, attention is placed on the breath and the journey between the asanas rather than solely on achieving perfect body alignment in an asana, as is emphasized in Hatha yoga.
The term vinyasa also refers to a specific series of movements that are frequently done between each asana (and sometimes also between each side - left and right - of each asana) in a series. This viṅyāsa 'flow' is a variant of Sūrya namaskāra, the Sun Salutations, and it is used in other styles of yoga other than Ashtanga Yoga. An example of a standard vinyāsa is from a seated position, a 'jump-back’, low plank, upward-facing dog, downward-facing dog, ending with a 'jump-through’, directly into the next asana.
The breathing style used in Ashtanga Yoga is referred to as "free breathing with sound" or "normal breath with free flow". This breathing is characterized by a relaxed diaphragmatic style, producing an ocean sound, which resonates in the practitioner's throat. Throughout a practice, this specific breathing style is maintained in alignment with movements. The steady cycle of inhales and exhales provides the practitioner with a calming, mental focal point. Additionally, viṅyāsa and this type of breathing together create internal heat, which leads to purification of the body through increased circulation and sweating.
NOTE: In the past, many practitioners have thought this breathing method was called Ujjayi Breath. However, in 2011, Sharath Jois, Director of the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, cleared up this confusion; stating that ujjayi is a breath that is meant to be a pranayama practice and, in our asana practice, we practice free breathing with sound.
Another major principle of Ashtanga Yoga is the bandha, or muscle locking/contraction, which focuses energy in the body and is closely tied to the breath. There are a variety of bandhas (see below).
Sequences & Series
Ashtanga Yoga is different from many yoga classes in the west in that the order of asanas is completely predefined.
A practice will comprise four main parts: an
- "opening sequence,"
- one of the six main "series",
- a back-bending sequence, and
- a set of inverted asanas, referred to as the "finishing sequence."
The opening sequence begins with 8 to 10 Sun Salutations and then several standing asanas. Next, the practitioner will do one of the six main series:
- The Primary series (Yoga Chikitsa: Yoga for Health or Yoga Therapy),
- Intermediate series (Nadi Shodhana: The Nerve Purifier) (also called second series),
- The Advanced Series (Sthira Bhaga: Centering of Strength):
- Advanced A (also called third series),
- Advanced B (also called fourth series),
- Advanced C (also called fifth series) and
- D (Sthira Bhagah) (also called sixth series).
The 6 series are designed to be practiced over 6 consecutive days, a different one each day. Newcomers to Ashtanga Yoga practice the primary series, after learning the standing sequence. The Primary Series is the most important series as it forms the basis of the entire system. Practitioners may advance to more difficult series over a period of years or decades, but the goal of this style is not to learn the more difficult asanas but rather to learn to maintain internal focus throughout the practice. A challenge to a simplified version of the practice being taught to public schoolchildren in the US as an unlawful promotion of religious beliefs failed.
Daily or regular practice is highly emphasized in Ashtanga Yoga. Students are encouraged to practice 6 days a week, preferably in the morning, and to take rest on Saturdays as well as the days of the full and new moon (commonly referred to as moon days by ashtanga practitioners). Women are also encouraged to take rest on the first one to three days of menstruation so as not to disturb their cycles.
Ashtanga Yoga is traditionally taught in Mysore Style (supervised self-practice, named after the city in India from which Ashtanga originates). In this self-led style of practice, each student moves through the practice at his or her own pace and level, as directed by the instructor.
An individual with an established Ashtanga practice might take between an hour and two hours, depending on his or her own personal speed; whereas a beginner will likely have a shorter practice. Yoga studios that teach Mysore-style practice are sometimes difficult to find.
It is more common to find classes devoted to a specific series, often at a standardized pace, guided by an instructor. However, even traditional Mysore-style teachers offer "led" classes either weekly or monthly.
History and legend
The Yoga Korunta is a purported ancient text on yoga, transmitted by oral tradition to Tirumalai Krishnamacharya by his teacher Ramamohana Brahmachari in the early 20th century, and further to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois beginning in 1927, who then used it as the basis of his system of Ashtanga Yoga introduced in 1948.
The existence or historicity of this oral transmission cannot be verified, and the text itself has not been preserved. It is said to have been made up of stanzas using rhymed, metered sutras, in the manner common to texts transmitted orally in the guru-shishya tradition.
The name Yoga Korunta is the Tamilized pronunciation of the Sanskrit words Yoga grantha, meaning "book about yoga".
Ashtanga series is said to have its origin in an ancient text called the Yoga Korunta, compiled by Vamana Rishi, which Krishnamacharya received from his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari at Mount Kailash in the early 20th century. The story of the Yoga Korunta though finds no evidence in any historical research on the subject. It seems that no text with this name has ever been written. In addition, there is evidence that the Ashtanga Yoga series incorporates exercises used by Indian wrestlers and British gymnastics. Recent academic research details documentary evidence that physical journals in the early 20th century were full of the postural shapes that were very similar to Krishnamacharya's asana system. In particular, the flowing surya namaskar which later became the basis of Krishnamacharya's Mysore style, was not yet considered part of yogasana.
Krishnamacharya has had considerable influence on many of the modern forms of yoga taught today. Among his students were many notable teachers of the later 20th century, such as K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, Indra Devi, and Krishnamacharya's son T.K.V. Desikachar. Krishnamacharya was well known for tailoring his teachings to address specific concerns of the person or group he was teaching, and a vinyasa series for adolescents is a result of this. When working under the convalescing Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnamacharya set up a shala, or yoga school in the palace grounds and adapted the practice outlined in the Yoga Korunta for the young boys who lived there. Ashtanga Yoga has since been thought of as a physically demanding practice, which can be successful at channeling the hyperactivity of young minds. This system can also be used as a vessel for helping calm ongoing chatter of the mind, reducing stress and teaching extroverted personalities to redirect their attention to their internal experience.
Eight Limbs of Ashtanga
|Niyama||self-purification and study|
|Pratyahara||withdrawing of the mind from the senses|
|Samadhi||Union with the object of meditation|
The first four limbs—yama, niyama, asana and pranayama—are considered external cleansing practices. According to Pattabhi Jois, defects in these external practices are correctable while defects in the internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi—are not. Pattabhi Jois thought these internal defects to be potentially dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga Yoga method was followed.
Higher level practices within Ashtanga
There are three bandhas which are considered our internal body locks, prescribed in the different asanas. The bandha is a sustained contraction of a group of muscles that assists the practitioner not only in retaining an asana but also in moving in and out of it. The Mūla Bandha, or root lock, is performed by tightening the muscles around the pelvic and perineum area. The Uḍḍīyāna Bandha, often described as bringing the navel to the base of the spine, is a contraction of the muscles of the lower abdominal area – this bandha is considered the most important bandha as it supports our breathing and encourages the development of strong core muscles. Jālaṅdhara Bandha, throat lock, is achieved by lowering the chin slightly while raising the sternum and the palate bringing the gaze to the tip of the nose.
Drishti (dṛṣṭi), or focused gaze, is a means for developing concentrated intention. The most common is Ūrdhva, or upward gazing, where the eyes are lifted, with the spine aligned from crown to tailbone. This technique is employed in a variety of asanas.
There are, in total, nine drishtis that instruct the yoga student in directing his or her gaze. Each asana is associated with a particular drishti. They include:
- Aṅguṣṭha madhyai: to the thumb
- Bhrūmadhya: to the third eye, or between the eyebrows
- Nāsāgrai: at the tip of the nose (or a point six inches from the tip)
- Hastagrai: to the palm, usually the extended hand
- Pārśva: to the left/right side
- Ūrdhva: to the sky, or upwards
- Nābhicakra: to the navel
- Pādayoragrai: to the toes
vande gurūṇāṁ caraṇāravinde saṁdarśitasvātmasukhāvabodhe
niḥ śreyase jāṅ̇galikāyamāne saṁsāra hālāhala mohaśāntyai
ābāhu puruṣākāraṁ śaṅ̇khacakrāsi dhāriṇam
sahasra śirasaṁ śvetam praṇamāmi patañjalim
which is roughly translated into English as:
I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus,
The awakening happiness of one's own self revealed,
Beyond better, acting like the jungle physician,
Pacifying delusion, the poison of samsara.
Taking the form of a man to the shoulders,
Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword,
One thousand heads white,
To Patanjali, I salute.
and closes with the mangala mantra:
svasti prajābhyaḥ paripālayantāṁ nyāyena mārgeṇa mahīṁ mahīśāḥ
gobrāhmaṇebhyaḥ śubhamastu nityaṁ lokāḥ samastāḥ sukhino bhavantu
which is roughly translated into English as:
May prosperity be glorified,
may rulers (administrators) rule the world with law and justice,
may divinity and erudition be protected.
May all beings be happy and prosperous.
A more literal translation:
May it be well with the people.
Let Earth's rulers protect the Earth with the path of law and justice.
May good fortune always befall cows and Brahmins.
May all the worlds be happy and comfortable.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Aṣṭāṅga Yoga
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation program, held a different view of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga. According to Maharishi, Yoga in this context is the union of individual awareness with the infinite, unbounded inner self (Ātmā), and not a collection of postures and practices. In his view, Aṣṭāṅga Yoga describes the state of Yoga and not the path of Yoga — it is a philosophical description, not a “how-to manual.”
Maharishi points out that Aṣṭāṅga literally means eight limbs, not eight steps as often represented. Each limb is a quality, or characteristic, of the experience of the state Yoga. (Even though several limbs have names often associated with Yoga practices — such as āsana and prānayāma — according to Maharishi these terms on their most fundamental level describe qualities of consciousness, qualities of the state of Yoga.)
For example, satya — one of the five yamas — means truth. Truth, in Maharishi’s definition, is that which does not change. In the context of the description of Yoga, it is the non-changing, stable, infinite, and immortal characteristic of the state of Yoga. It defines Yoga as a state of life that knows no change. Similarly, ahiṃsā refers to the non-violent, non-harmful quality of the inner state of Yoga, and not in this context to the practice of non-violence.
In Maharishi’s view, practicing truth, or practicing non-violence, does not bring one to Yoga. Just the opposite: he taught that experiencing the state of Yoga directly allows these qualities to spontaneously grow. In this way, the eight limbs grow spontaneously as the state of Yoga (the body) grows in one’s life — as the infinite, unbounded, eternal self becomes increasingly experienced as the result of experiencing Yoga during meditation.
Power Yoga, taking from its Hatha Yoga roots, consists of both a standing and sitting sequences of movements linking the usage of physical movement, breath-work or pranayama (Sanskrit: प्राणायाम) and meditation. Power Yoga strikes a balance between the originating values of yoga (Sanskrit: योग) found in India and the North American societally driven demands for physical exercise.
Power Yoga is often practiced in a hot room held at a temperature approximate to 105°F or 40.6°C (László & Smith, 2009).
Power Yoga has been argued to be the fundamental style of Hatha yoga that allowed for cultural acceptance of yoga in North America. According to the North American Studio Alliance, 30 million people are practicing yoga in the United States of America. This includes practitioners not just of Power Yoga, but the entire practice of Hatha Yoga. Its popularity has led the sharing of sequences and movement across all of the following forms of Hatha Yoga.
Power yoga aligns with the Hindu Philosophy of Asana (Sanskrit: आसन). Asana is one of the eight limbs of Aṣṭānga Yoga (a system similar to but distinct from the Eightfold Path developed by the Pathanjali).
Power Yoga sequences can vary dependent on the other Hatha Yoga knowledge held by the teacher, sometimes adhering to the Ashtanga Primary Series or working into variations thereof. Popular schools of Power Yoga were founded by the following people:
- Brothers Doug and David Swenson based in the USA are early Ashtanga Yoga practitioners. They each teach extensively around the world. Doug is the author of several books on yoga and holds popular Yoga Teacher Training Programs in Lake Tahoe. David Swenson is recognized today as one of the worlds foremost practitioners and instructors of Ashtanga Yoga.
- Baron Baptiste, founder of Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga
- Beryl Bender Birch, author of the books Power Yoga, Beyond Power Yoga and Boomer Yoga, based in New York.
- Bryan Kest, based in Los Angeles.
- Larry Schultz, creator of Rocket Yoga.
Birch, Kest, the Swenson brothers and Schultz were all once students of K. Pattabhi Jois.
High risk of injuries
In an article published by The Economist, it was reported that "a good number of Mr Jois's students seemed constantly to be limping around with injured knees or backs because they had received his “adjustments”, yanking them into Lotus, the splits or a backbend." Tim Miller, one of Jois's students, indicates that "the adjustments were fairly ferocious." Injuries related to Jois's Ashtanga Yoga have been the subject of discussion in a Huffington Post article  and a Vanity Fair article. In Ashtanga Yoga, pain and injury during the practice is often referred to as "opening." The high risk of injury from teachers can possibly be attributed to an over-zealous and under-experienced approach. "The more accomplished teachers—whose knowledge and personalities allow them to approach their students’ bodies with a degree of insight and sensitivity—often successfully embody the challenging but often eventually nurturing atmosphere at AYRI. Others, often seemingly intent on succeeding in getting students into poses, leaving a trail of injured bodies in their wake."
In The Science of bagha, William Broad's findings on yoga injuries include a case where a patient was diagnosed with a bulge in one of the vertebral discs causing numbness and pain as a result of "her competitive edge" while practising Ashtanga Yoga. The patient said "I am a super-athlete, and thought I could do anything... But I took it too quickly. I still needed to take baby steps." In 2008, yoga researchers in Europe published a survey, that lacked a control group therefore limiting internal validity, of practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga indicating that 62 percent of the respondents had suffered at least one injury that lasted longer than one month.
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- Ashtanga Yoga Background
- Mysore Style
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- Stern, Eddie, and Deirdre Summerbell. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: A Tribute. New York: Eddie Stern and Gwyneth Paltrow, 2002. P. 35.
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- Sands,pp. 151-152.
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- International Infopage for Ashtanga Yoga: practice series, teachers directory, source texts and more
- Ashtanga Yoga - Understanding the Method, Interview with Manju Pattabhi Jois, in English and German (2009)
- Official website of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois's Ashtanga Yoga Institute