Whether you’ve performed a few rounds of sun salutations or been twisted into Triangle pose, chances are you’ve done Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga is one of the oldest forms of yoga. Its series of postures has its origins in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient Indian manuscript. It is technically referred to as Ashtanga Vinyassa yoga, “vinyassa” referring to a dynamic system of breathing and movement.
The postures included in the six series of the Ashtanga yoga practice are presumed to be a few thousand years old. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that guru Sri Krishnamacharya and his student, Sri K. Patthabhi Jois took the postures outlined in the Yoga Korunta and devised a system of yoga that was initially taught to children and adolescents.
Today, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is the recognized guru of Ashtanga yoga. For the past thirty years, yoga practitioners from all over the world have traveled to his home in Mysore, India to learn the Ashtanga Mysore from him, his daughter and grandson. “Mysore” refers not just to the town where his Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute resides, but to the form of this practice which is a supervised self practice.
What to Expect in an Ashtanga Yoga class:
If you want the authentic form of Ashtanga yoga, you want to seek out a Mysore style class. You can find authorized teachers of this method in your area by looking at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute website. In a Mysore class, a teacher is there to support and guide each practitioner as he or she practices the Ashtanga yoga series at their own pace. Many yoga studios will offer a teacher-led Ashtanga class as well.
Ashtanga yoga is often referred to as power yoga because of its dynamic system that combines breathing and movement into a series of postures that is cardiovascular, meditative and that relies on the strength of your own body to perform the movements. Unlike many styles of yoga where the classes are choreographed differently, in Ashtanga Yoga classes, the postures performed are the same and they are done in a specific order.
The student starts by first going through a series of Sun Salutations A and B and then moves onto a standing sequence which is followed by a seated sequence and then finishing postures. Depending upon the student’s level of skill, back-bending will also be done. There are six series in the Ashtanga yoga system, but most practitioners practice the Primary Series. The following series, Intermediate, Advanced A, B, C, D are progressive in the difficulty of their movements.
Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga is meant to purify the body by cultivating an internal heat, or tapas, which allows toxins to burn off as the postures are practiced. In addition, it builds strength, flexibility and reduces stress.
Ashtanga yoga devotees like Madonna, Gwenyth Paltrow, Willem Dafoe, and Donna Karan have helped to popularize it. In fact, one of Madonna’s songs “Shanti/Ashtangi” from her Ray of Light album features the Ashtanga Yoga mantra that is traditionally chanted before class.
As a long-time practitioner of Ashtanga Mysore yoga, I can only attest to the amazing benefits of this powerful system of yoga. From transforming my body and my mind, Ashtanga yoga has been a life-changing journey for me. For those of you out there who think that yoga is too soft and doesn’t offer the physical burn of the gym, check out an Ashtanga yoga class. It will change your mind about yoga for good.