Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a powerful practice of self-transformation which makes the body limber, strong, healthy and brings about mental clarity.
Because it is the oldest described form of Yoga, it is also known as Classical Yoga, also Patanjala Yoga (after Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras) or Raja Yoga (Royal Yoga).
The Ashtanga Yoga asana sequences (sequences of postures) are set out to detoxify the body, align the muscular-skeletal system, purify the nervous system and principally bring favorable health and vigor to the practitioner. There are six series of asanas in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga uses an arrangement of co-ordinating movement and breath known as vinyasa. Combined with energetic muscular “locks” called bandhas, the resulting practice is very powerful. To deepen the practice further and to bring the mind under control, the eyes focus on specific points, dristi, depending on the asana.
The process of learning the asanas challenges one mentally and therefore the practicioner begins to release old patterns of behavior and attachments. As the physical transformation takes place through asana practice, a psychological process is occuring as well.
Traditionally Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is practiced 5-6 times a week at sunrise; in this frequency it unfolds its full effect. Practice at least 3 times per week if you would like to see and feel the benefits of yoga. (More is better).
The eight limbs
Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as described by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification meant for unfolding the unlimited Self consists of eight spiritual practices:
- Yama : Universal morality
- Niyama : Personal observances
- Asanas : Body postures
- Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
- Pratyahara : Control of the senses
- Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
- Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
- Samadhi : Union with the Divine
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is one of the eight practices, the Asana practice.
Ashtanga Yoga method is universal, it is not mine or yours. That method is perfect, it is complete. Ashtanga Yoga is yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi – these are the eight steps which make up Ashtanga Yoga method. But first you take asana: “āsanaṃ prāṇasaṃrodhaś pratyāhāraś ca dhāraṇām, dhyānaṃ samādhir etāni ṣaḍaṅgāni prakirtita” (śandilya) upanisads are telling: first you start asana, asanas are your foundation.
This yoga is not for exercise. Yoga is showing where to look for the soul.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), Talk given at Puck Building, NYC 2001.
India’s teaching of Raja Yoga [Ashtanga Yoga], the “royal” science of the soul, supersedes the orthodoxy of religion by setting forth systematically the practice of those methods that are universally necessary for the perfection of every individual, regardless of race or creed.
Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), The Yoga of Jesus. Understanding the hidden Teachings of the Gospels. Self-Realization Fellowship, 2007. Page 17 .
If creation is the expansion of the life principle out from the source, constantly evolving into new forms, then yoga (union) is the involution of consciousness back to its source. In this sense, the principles of yoga are found in all religions, while yoga itself is a spiritual discipline and not a religion. Yoga can be practiced both within and without the context of various religion beliefs, as it is an expression of the universal truth.
Baba Hari Dass (*1923), Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. A Study Guide for Book I. Samadhi Pada. Page XIX.