Ashtanga Yoga is the most fundamental and ancient form of yoga which is the basis to make union with the supreme consciousness. The word ‘Ashtanga’ has its genesis from the Ancient Indian language, Sanskrit. The literal meaning of this word is ‘Eight Limbs’. The word Ashtanga was first seen in the writings of Patanjali, writer of the most famous and ancient Indian Yoga manual, Yoga Sutras.
Father of Ashtanga Yoga
The name Ashtanga Yoga was first seen in the writings of Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, the father of eight-limb Yoga. In modern times there are several great contributors to the journey of this ancient yoga. Pattabhi Jois and his teacher Krishnamacharya are great contributors, both belonged to Mysore, Southern India, Karnataka.
Jois learned the basics of eight-limb Yoga from his teacher, Krishnamacharya who is known as the grandfather of modern-day yoga. Krishnamacharya’s teaching style was different because he used to assign different asana for practice to each student. When the student mastered that pose, only then he would allow him to practice another.
In the similar way, Pattabhi Jois started teaching other students and divided the Asanas in to different series: Primary Series, Intermediate Series, Advanced A, Advanced B, and so on. The pattern of these series went on to become what we know as the Ashtanga Yoga today.
Purpose and Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga
The benefits of yoga are not only limited to spiritual wellbeing, but it also helps in the physical toning and maintenance of the human body. eight-limb Yoga has profound effects on the human body strength, flexibility, and control.
Ashtanga Yoga serves the purpose of extracting the lost energy from the internal self and then uses it to produce a more focused, stronger, and more flexible version of oneself. The practice of this Yoga poses a strong sense of purpose upon a person’s personality which forces his/hers resting energy to come out.
Other plentiful purposes that eight-limb Yoga serve are related to:
- Physical transformation and control of human body
- Healthy cardiovascular condition of the body
- Improved coordination and focus of the human mind
- Increased mental strength and litheness
- Better breathing patterns that allow the human mind to stay stress-free and healthy
- Cleansing of the external, as well as, the internal self of the one’s body resulting in spiritual welfare
Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga
Patanjali’s eight-limb Yoga has more focus on spiritual transformation as compared to modern-day Yoga’s physical transformation. Patanjali recommended the eight-limbs of Ashtanga to be more of a spiritual journey. The eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga reflect his idea of self-exploration and self-development as yoga. The eight limbs that he prescribed were:
- Yamas – Observance of personal behavior about deeds that a person should do
- Niyamas – Observance of deeds that one should restrain himself from doing personally
- Asana – Practicing physical positions of Yoga
- Pranayama – Breathing meditation to regulate the mental and physical health
- Pratyahara – Extraction of the sanities
- Dharana – Practicing the highest level of concentration and focus
- Dhyana – Contemplation
- Samadhi – Wholeness
Ashtanga Yoga Poses
The eight-limb Yoga has three main series; Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced. The advanced series is further divided into 4 series; Advanced A, Advanced B, Advanced C, and Advanced D. With the progression in the series, yoga postures become difficult and need a master to conquer all of them.
The yoga poses are named after different health benefits, energies, or natural phenomenon that describe them. Some of the very important and challenging poses of eight-limb Yoga are given below that help to understand the importance of these Asanas in the wellbeing of the human mind and body:
- Surya Namaskar (A and B)
- Pada hatasana
- Utthita Trikonasana
- Janu Shirshasana (A, B, and C)
- Salamba Sarvangasana
- Urdhva Pardmasana
Steps of Ashtanga Yoga
Modern-day yoga has become more of a physical exercise rather than a combination of physical exercise with spiritual meditation. However, the increase of modern-day techniques does not diminish the value of ancient yoga styles that went under rejuvenation in the 20th and 21st century. This eight-limb Yoga is one of the many yoga forms that are still practiced with their traditional integrity kept intact.
These steps were created and taught by the great late Sri. S.K. Pattabhi Jois. Every person who performs this oldest yoga in a traditional manner follows these steps:
A traditional Yoga session starts and ends with the chanting of mantras.
2. Sun Salutations (A and B)
Sun Salutations, known as Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit are the foundation and starting point of every yoga session. This helps the yogi to warm his/her body through the practice of rhythmic breathing (Ujjayi), focused energy (Bandha), and concentration (Drsti).
3. Fundamental Positions
Fundamental positions of this yoga helps to direct the physical and spiritual energy of the human mind and body towards focus, balance, and control.
4. Finishing Sequence
The finishing sequence of this yoga is responsible for the energetic and dynamic climax of a powerful session. It helps to calm down the breathing, relaxes the physical and spiritual energy, and collects the positive energy inside.