Ashtanga yoga is the oldest dynamic form of Yoga (300 – 250 BC), and basis for the development of nowadays popular dynamic Yoga styles (Power yoga, Vinyasa etc.). It is based on the performance of the traditional sequence of postures (asanas) which are interconnected, while paying special attention to breathing (ujjayi breathing), focus of vision (drishti), and interior „energy valves” (bandhas). The roots of Ashtanga Yoga can be found in the traditional texts.
Patanjali in Yoga Sutras describes eight consisting parts of Ashtanga Yoga:
- YAMA – respect of moral values
- NIYAMA – physical and mental discipline
- ASANA – postures
- PRANAYAMA – breathing control
- PRATYAHARA – sensory control
- DHARANA – concentration
- DHYANA – meditation
- SAMADHI – state of absolute bliss
Ashtanga Yoga integrates the rhythm of movements and awareness of breathing, and the focus of vision while performing asanas. Te synchronisation of movements, breathing and vision during asanas performance is of the utmost importance. Movements in sync with breathing are called vinyasas. Ashtanga Yoga promotes conscious breathing as the core of the process, and connects asanas in a precise sequence. Every asana (or a group of asanas) has a specific impact on our body as a counterbalance to the previous asanas, and as a preparation for the following asanas. To accumulate positive effects, protect and balance the body, it is important to follow the sequence.
Ujjayi breathing – one of the manners of breathing used in Ashtanga Yoga. Practice Ujjayi breathing. Relax and open your throat while your glottis is slightly closed. The air coming in and going out will produce a sound like the murmur of the sea. Ujjayi breathing should be gentle but at the same time deep and strong. Breathing is complete when the lings are completely empty when exhaling and completely full when inhaling. Deep exhale ends below the navel. Deep inhale will widen the chest and back, and fills in the space around heart.
Drishti (focus of vision) – During exercising the direction of the view (focus of vision) is very important. Ashtanga Yoga points out the link between the rhythm of breathing and awareness with the focus of vision. Every asana, as well as the linking movements between each asana, has its particular filed of focus. There are nine focuses of vision: the top of the nose (nasagrai), between the eyebrows (broomadhya), navel (nabi chakra), palms (hastagrai), thumbs (angusta ma dyai), up (antara or urdhva), to the left or to the right (parsva), and toes (padhayoragrai). The focus enhances balance, helps to concentrate during asana performance and has a relaxing effect on mind and body. Respect the drishti of every asana for it will help you to perform the asana.
Bhandas („energetic lock”) – The Ashtanga Yoga asanas are performed with the activation of bhandas or „energetic lock” which helps us control and preserve the prana (vital energy) within the body. Mula bhanda and Udhyijana bhanda are the basic bhandas to be activated. Mula bhanda or „root lock” is activated by the contraction of muscles in the basis of spine, more precisely in the area of perineum and pelvis. Perineum consists of a group of muscles between anus and genitals. By slight contractions of the pubococcygeal muscle which stretches from the pubic bone to the coccyx we activate the “energetic lock” which stops the outflow of the prana from the body.
Ashtanga Yoga Mysore Style – This is the traditional teaching method of theAshtanga Yoga system. The oldest teacher Sri K. Pattabhi Jois teaches this method in his school in the Indian town of Mysore, hence the name “Mysore Style” used to describe this particular type of classes.
In Ashtanga Yoga Mysore Style class each student exercises independently the Ashtanga Yoga series in their own tempo, and the teacher assists and corrects if and when necessary, which is basically an individual class in group surrounding. Ashtanga Yoga series are taught posture after posture, and new postures are added when the student is ready, so most of the time the student practices without the teacher”s leading. The classes of independent exercising unite students with different abilities, from absolute beginners to experienced athletes.
Ashtanga Yoga Led Class – Unlike Mysore Style classes, Ashtanga Yoga Led Class is a led class. Teacher leads the group through Ashtanga Yoga cycle from posture to posture, sets the rhythm of practicing and assists the students if necessary.