is a system of Yoga recorded by the sage Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta
, an ancient manuscript "said to contain lists of many different groupings of asanas
, as well as highly original teachings on vinyasa
, and philosophy" (Jois 2002 xv). The text of the Yoga Korunta
"was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900's by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927" ("Ashtanga Yoga"). Since 1948, Pattabhi Jois has been teaching Ashtanga Yoga
from his yoga shala
, the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (Jois 2002 xvi), according to the sacred tradition of Guru Parampara
[disciplic succession] (Jois 2003 12).
Ashtanga Yoga literally means "eight-limbed yoga," as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:
Yama [moral codes]
Niyama [self-purification and study]
Pranayama [breath control]
Pratyahara [sense control]
Samadhi [contemplation] (Scott 14-17)
Pattabhi Jois teaching a class
The first four limbs - yama
- are considered external cleansing practices. According to Pattabhi Jois, defects in the external practices are correctable. However, defects in the internal cleansing practices - pratyahara
- are not correctable and can be dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga Yoga
method is followed (Stern and Summerbell 35). For this reason, Pattabhi Jois emphasizes that the "Ashtanga Yoga method is Patanjali Yoga" (Flynn).
The definition of Yoga is "the controlling of the mind" [citta vrtti nirodhah] (Jois 2003 10). The first two steps toward controlling the mind are the perfection of yama and niyama (Jois 2003 10). However, it is "not possible to practice the limbs and sub-limbs of yama and niyama when the body and sense organs are weak and haunted by obstacles" (Jois 2002 17). A person must first take up daily asana practice to make the body strong and healthy (Jois 2003 10). With the body and sense organs thus stabilized, the mind can be steady and controlled (Jois 2002 16). With mind control, one is able to pursue and grasp these first two limbs (Flynn).
To perform asana correctly in Ashtanga Yoga, one must incorporate the use of vinyasa and tristhana. "Vinyasa means breathing and movement system. For each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namskar there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together; the second is exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas" ("Ashtanga Yoga").
"The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing" ("Ashtanga Yoga"). Synchronizing breathing and movement in the asanas heats the blood, cleaning and thinning it so that it may circulate more freely. Improved blood circulation relieves joint pain and removes toxins and disease from the internal organs. The sweat generated from the heat of vinyasa then carries the impurities out of the body. Through the use of vinyasa, the body becomes healthy, light and strong ("Ashtanga Yoga").
Tristhana refers to the union of "three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place. These three are very important for yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind. They are always performed in conjunction with each other" ("Ashtanga Yoga").
Posture: "The method for purifying and strengthening the body is called asana" (Jois 2002 22). In Ashtanga Yoga, asana is grouped into six series. "The Primary Series [Yoga Chikitsa] detoxifies and aligns the body. The Intermediate Series [Nadi Shodhana] purifies the nervous system by opening and clearing the energy channels. The Advanced Series A, B, C, and D [Sthira Bhaga] integrate the strength and grace of the practice, requiring higher levels of flexibility and humility. Each level is to be fully developed before proceeding to the next, and the sequential order of asanas is to be meticulously followed. Each posture is a preparation for the next, developing the strength and balance required to move further" (Pace). Without an earnest effort and reverence towards the practice of yama and niyama, however, the practice of asana is of little benefit (Flynn).
Breathing: The breathing technique performed with vinyasa is called ujjayi [victorious breath] (Scott 20), which consists of puraka [inhalation] and rechaka [exhalation] ("Ashtanga Yoga"). "Both the inhale and exhale should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale" ("Ashtanga Yoga"). Over time, the length and intensity of the inhalation and exhalation should increase, such that the increased stretching of the breath initiates the increased stretching of the body (Scott 21). Long, even breathing also increases the internal fire and strengthens and purifies the nervous system ("Ashtanga Yoga").
To read the entire article, visit:
"Ashtanga Yoga." Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute: Method. 2001. 11 June 2003 .
Flynn, Kimberly. "FAQ." Ashtanga Yoga Shala: Articles. 2001. 11 June 2003.
Jois, Sri K. Pattabhi. "An Informal Public Talk on Traditional Yoga." NAMARUPA Spring 2003: 9-12.
Jois, Sri K. Pattabhi. Yoga Mala. New York: North Point Press, 2002.
Pace, Annie. "Ashtanga Yoga in the Tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois." Ashtanga.com: Articles. 1998. 11 June 2003.
Scott, John. Ashtanga Yoga: The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Dynamic Yoga. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000.
Stern, Eddie, and Deirdre Summerbell. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: A Tribute. New York: Eddie Stern and Gwyneth Paltrow, 2002.