Ashtanga vinyasa yoga

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This article is about a style of yoga consisting of six series founded by K. Pattabhi Jois. For the eightfold yoga path, a system first described in Patañjali's Yoga Sūtras, see Rāja (Ashtanga) Yoga.
Ashtanga yoga
Founder K. Pattabhi Jois
Established late 20th century
Derivative forms Vinyasa yoga; Flow yoga - employs connecting asanas without use of specific series'
Practice emphases
Employs Vinyasa, or connecting asanas.
Related schools
K. Pattabhi Jois teaching Ashtanga yoga with Larry Schultz, mid 1980s.

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, usually referred to simply as Ashtanga yoga, is a style of yoga codified[1][2] and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois and is often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga.[3] 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.[4] Ashtanga Yoga is named after the eight limbs of yoga mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[5]

"Power yoga" and "vinyasa yoga" are generic terms that may refer to any type of vigorous yoga exercise derived from Ashtanga yoga.[6]



Viranchyasana by Caroline Klebl

The term vinyāsa refers to the alignment of movement and breath, a method which turns static asanas into a dynamic flow.[7] 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.

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.[8]


The breathing style used in Ashtanga Yoga is referred to as "free breathing with sound"[9] or "normal breath with free flow".[10] 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 inhalations and exhalations 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.[11]


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).


Dristhi is where you look while in the asana. In the ashtanga yoga method, there is a prescribed point of focus for every asana (see below).[12]

Sequences & Series[edit]

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

  1. "opening sequence,"
  2. one of the six main "series",
  3. a back-bending sequence, and
  4. a set of inverted asanas, referred to as the "finishing sequence."

Practice always ends with savasana.[13]

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:

  1. The Primary series (Yoga Chikitsa: Yoga for Health or Yoga Therapy),
  2. Intermediate series (Nadi Shodhana: The Nerve Purifier) (also called second series),
  3. The Advanced Series (Sthira Bhaga: Centering of Strength):
  1. Advanced A (also called third series),
  2. Advanced B (also called fourth series),
  3. Advanced C (also called fifth series) and
  4. D (Sthira Bhagah) (also called sixth series).[14]

The 6 series are designed to be practiced over 6 consecutive days, a different one each day.[15] 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.[14] 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.[16] 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.[17][18]

Daily Practice[edit]

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).[19]

Mysore Style[edit]

Ashtanga Yoga is traditionally taught in Mysore style (supervised self-practice, named after the city in India. 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.[20]

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.[13]

History and legend[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

The text is said to have described several lists of many different asana groupings, as well as highly original teachings on vinyasa, drishti, bandhas, mudras and general teachings.[21]

The name Yoga Korunta is the Tamilized pronunciation of the Sanskrit words Yoga grantha, meaning "book about yoga".[citation needed]

There is also evidence that the Ashtanga Yoga series incorporates exercises used by Indian wrestlers and British gymnasts.[22] 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.[23] In particular, the flowing surya namaskar, which later became the basis of Krishnamacharya's Mysore style, was not yet considered part of yogasana.[23]

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.[23] 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.[23] 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[edit]

The sage Patanjali outlined eight aspects—or "limbs"— of spiritual yogic practice in his Yoga Sutras:[24]

Sanskrit English
Yama moral codes
Niyama self-purification and study
Asana posture
Pranayama breath control
Pratyahara withdrawing of the mind from the senses
Dharana concentration
Dhyana deep meditation
Samadhi Union with the object of meditation[25]

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.[26]

It is to note that the Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali makes no mention of any specific Hatha Yoga asana.

Higher level practices within Ashtanga[edit]


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


The Ashtanga practice is traditionally started with the following Sanskrit mantra:

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.

Confusion with Power Yoga[edit]

Power Yoga sequences are a derivative of Ashtanga yoga created in the west. Many of its western founders have all learned from Pattabhi Jois. Jois focused on "the intense internal heat" from the body and not from outside sources.

Jois criticized Power Yoga for "degrading the depth, purpose and method of the yoga system", thereby turning the practice of asana into what Jois considered "ignorant bodybuilding".[33] Jois sought to distance himself from the new Power Yoga and said in a letter he wrote in 1995 to Yoga Journal Magazine: "Power is the property of God. It is not something to be collected for one's ego...The Ashtanga yoga system should never be confused with 'power yoga' or any whimsical creation which goes against the tradition of the many types of yoga shastras (scriptures). It would be a shame to lose the precious jewel of liberation in the mud of ignorant body building."[33]

High risk of injuries[edit]

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."[15] Tim Miller, one of Jois's students, indicates that "the adjustments were fairly ferocious."[34] Injuries related to Jois's Ashtanga Yoga have been the subject of discussion in a Huffington Post article [35] and a Vanity Fair article.[34] 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."[36]

In The Science of Yoga, 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."[37] 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.[38][39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Broad, William (2012). The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards. New York, USA: Simon & Schuster, Inc. p. 99. ISBN 9781451641424. 
  2. ^ "Practice and All Is Coming". Yoga Journal. Archived from the original on 3 January 2012. 
  3. ^ "Ashtanga Yoga Background". Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-20. 
  4. ^ Jois, Sri K. Pattabhi. Yoga Mala. New York: North Point Press, 2002.
  5. ^ Fromberg, Eden (12 January 2012). "Yogi Glenn Black Responds to New York Times Article on Yoga". The Huffington Post. 
  6. ^ Roberts, Sherry. "Yoga Styles". Yoga Movement. Retrieved 8 January 2012. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Ashtanga Yoga - Good Health Is Only A Few Breaths Away
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ a b "Pattabhi Jois", The Economist, 4 June 2009, archived from the original on 3 December 2011 
  16. ^ Ashtanga Yoga Background
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ Mysore Style
  21. ^ "Ashtanga Yoga Background". Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  22. ^ Cushman, Anne. "New Light on Yoga". Yoga Journal. 
  23. ^ a b c d Singleton, Mark. "Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice". Oxford University Press. 
  24. ^ Scott, John. Ashtanga Yoga: The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Dynamic Yoga. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000. Pp. 14-17.
  25. ^ Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 71. 
  26. ^ Stern, Eddie, and Deirdre Summerbell. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: A Tribute. New York: Eddie Stern and Gwyneth Paltrow, 2002. P. 35.
  27. ^ "Yoga body: the origins of modern posture practice" by Oleh Mark Singleton,Page 176
  28. ^ Birch, Beryl Bender (1995-01-17). "Power yoga: The total strength and flexibility workout". ISBN 978-0-02-058351-6. 
  29. ^ "Power Yoga: A Brief History". The Ultimate Yogi. Retrieved 13 October 2012. 
  30. ^ "AsanaTM," Yoga Journal, Dec 2003, page 156
  31. ^ "Power Yoga," Yoga Journal, Feb 1995, Page 64
  32. ^ "Yoga body: the origins of modern posture practice" by Oleh Mark Singleton, Page 176, ISBN 978-0-19-539534-1, Oxford University Press, USA (10 February 2010)
  33. ^ a b "A letter from Sri.K. Pattabhi Jois to Yoga Journal, Nov. 1995". Ashtanga Yoga Library. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  34. ^ a b McLean, Bethany (April 2012), "Yoga-for-Trophy-Wives Fitness Fad That’s Alienating Discipline Devotees", Vanity Fair, archived from the original on 12 January 2013 
  35. ^ Cahn, Lauren (3 August 2009), "Five Words That Do Not Belong In Yoga", Huffington Post, archived from the original on 28 August 2012 
  36. ^ Singleton, Mark; Byrne, Jean, eds. (2008). Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives (Kindle Edition ed.). New York, USA: Routledge. p. 154. ISBN 0415452589. 
  37. ^ Broad, William (2012). The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards. New York, USA: Simon & Schuster, Inc. p. 123. ISBN 9781451641424. 
  38. ^ Broad, William (2012). The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards. New York, USA: Simon & Schuster, Inc. pp. 133–134. ISBN 9781451641424. 
  39. ^ Mikkonen, Jani; Pederson, Palle; McCarthy, Peter William (2008). "A Survey of Musculoskeletal Injury among Ashtanga Yoga Practitioners". International Journal of Yoga Therapy (18): 59–64. 

Byrne, Jean 'Ashtanga and Getting Older'


  • Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois. "Ashtanga Yoga". Ashtanga Yoga Research Center. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2007-08-07. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]