Ashtanga Yoga : All about this traditional yoga
You have most likely already heard of Ashtanga Yoga, this dynamic, but mostly traditional type of yoga. Discover all there is to know about this yoga, often confused with Vinyasa Yoga, its origin, its history, its benefits but especially its principles! Enjoy your reading!
- Ashtanga is an energetic form of yoga, often associated with fitness and wellness.
- This type of discipline is very close to Vinyasa Yoga, but some points separate it, you will understand what they are below.
- It is composed of 6 series of postures, they are classified by level, one passes to the following one as soon as one has succeeded the previous one.
- Ashtanga comes from the Sanskrit “ashtau” and “anga”, the first meaning 8, and the other, limb. The 8 members refer to the 8 essential practices in this discipline.
- Origins and History of Ashtanga Yoga
- The 8 essential practices in Ashtanga Yoga
- Principles of Ashtanga Yoga
- The benefits of Ashtanga Yoga
- Who is Asthanga Yoga for?
- Ashtanga or Vinyasa
- With what material should I practice Ashtanga Yoga?
- Where can I find an Ashtanga Yoga class?
- Which Ashtanga Yoga teachers should I follow?
- To go further
Origins and history of Ashtanga Yoga
If you are interested in the history of different types of yoga, you may have noticed that the foundation of Ashtanga is attributed to Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois. It is the case, but he was first trained by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989) to whom we owe the paternity of modern yoga. He had 3 students who greatly contributed to the world of yoga as we know it today:
- Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois, the founder of this discipline
- Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar, the founder of the yoga that bears his name
- his son Desikachar, who developed viniyoga for therapeutic purposes.
Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois opened his school in 1948 in Mysore, India. The latter has welcomed many Westerners, which explains its popularity today in Europe and North America. Pattabhi Joi is now deceased, but the school is still going strong thanks to his grandson and the teachers he trained. So it is always possible to go and train in Ashtanga there.
The 8 essential practices in Ashtanga Yoga
As said before, Ashtanga means 8 limbs in Sanskrit. These members refer to those developed by Patanjali in Yoga-Sutra and constitute a spiritual and life philosophy.
- Yama (self-restraint): concerns our relationships with others, with Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (not stealing), Brahmacarya (faithfulness or abstinence), Aparigraha (frugality, not being greedy)
- Niyama: focused on self-observation, and our inner behaviors with Sauca (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Isvara Pranidhana (devotion).
- Asana (posture): the postures as we know them.
- Pranayama (breathing): through breath control exercises
- Pratyahara (mastery of the senses): mastering one’s consciousness so as not to be disturbed by our senses and to lose focus.
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (self-realization): to go towards nirvana.
Principles of Ashtanga
As briefly stated above, Ashtanga is composed of different concepts that characterize it.
- Operation by series: composed of 6 methodically organized series. Regardless of your level or physical condition, you start with the first set as soon as you arrive in an Ashtanga class. The difficulty will increase as you progress through the series, and between each of them. Progressing from one series to the next can sometimes take several months. Thus, the session will automatically be shorter for beginners who will have less training to do.
- Composition of the series: each series begins with sun salutations (A and B), then standing postures, followed by sitting postures and headstand postures. All series end with a return to calm and relaxation.
- A daily and morning practice: It is recommended to practice Ashtanga early in the morning, when the mind is not yet loaded with all the worries of the day. The fact that it is practiced almost daily (6 days a week) is a excellent way to observe his body. Practicing the same exercise, every day at the same time, no matter what your energy level or fatigue is, allows you to see a real evolution on your body but especially your consciousness.
Of course, there’s no need to feel guilty if you can’t or don’t want to practice every day. Everyone has their own pace and desires!
- The importance of breathing: In the realization of the postures, we keep the pose during a defined number of breaths (5 or 8). It is the one that will give rhythm to the movement. It is always the inspiration that leads to the beginning of a movement.
What are the benefits of Ashtanga Yoga?
If Ashtanga is very often associated with fitness and fitness, it is not for nothing. We therefore find all the benefits of physical activity and sports, but also those of yoga and anchoring .
- Tones and muscles the body: the session is sporty! Practicing it regularly will allow you to build muscle and energize your body! Moreover, it is a very complete sport activity because it solicits all the muscles of your body.
- Strengthen the joints: the variety of exercises allows to strengthen the different joints of the body which are sometimes abused in everyday life.
- Improves endurance: it is an energetic and long effort (about 1 hour) which will make you gain cardio over your sessions.
- Flexibility gain: as you evolve, you will achieve postures that will require more and more flexibility and progress in this way!
- Reduce toxins: By sweating, you eliminate toxins from your body.
- Reduction of stress and improvement of concentration: like any sport activity, the session will cause a secretion of endorphins (hormones of pleasure and happiness).
- Balances the Doshas in Ayurveda
- Learning patience and humility: it can be particularly frustrating to get stuck in a series without being able to move on to the next one. Especially if it lasts several months or weeks. But it is a great lesson in patience and humility!
Who is Ashtanga Yoga for?
Ashtanga Yoga is completely suitable for beginners and advanced students alike because of its series format. Everyone starts at the same level and evolves according to their abilities.
The contraindications to Ashtanga are the same as for any other intense sport discipline:
- Not being able to do intense sports
- Being pregnant
- Have joint problems (which cannot be resolved by sports activity)
- Having a fever
- Have fragile tendons (the repetition of movements can lead to tendonitis if the installation is not done correctly).
Ashtanga or Vinyasa, how to choose?
- Vinyasa: based on breathing, the basic principle is to move the body with each breath. In Vinyasa the transition is as important, if not more important than the posture itself. Another major difference with Ashtanga Yoga is the freedom in performing postures. In Vinyasa, the teacher or yogi is free toadapt his or her session to his or her desires and/or mood. He may decide to focus on a specific type of installation, or work on a specific energy lock for example.
- Ashtanga: On the other hand, Ashtanga is appreciated by those who like rigor and regularity in their physical and spiritual training . Moreover, we are more often immobile because we change pose less quickly than in Vinyasa. (every 5 to 8 breaths)
If you’re still unsure which type of yoga is right for you and you’re not sure if Ashtanga is for you. Go to the article “The different styles of yoga where Yogom presents the different types of yoga as well as their characteristics and benefits.
With which material to practice Ashtanga Yoga?
To practice Ashtanga, some equipment may be necessary, especially to access certain postures. Indeed, it is likely that at the beginning you lack strength or flexibility to perform certain asanas. From yoga accessories such as stretching bricks and straps can be of great help. But the most important thing is to have a good carpet from which you will not slip.
- Which mat to choose for Ashtanga Yoga?
To practice this discipline, you need a non-slip mat. The natural rubber mats of the Star range range are particularly suitable because they are among the most non-slip mats on the market. So you can practice in complete safety.
- The cork yoga brick: an aid to access the postures
Ideal for accessing difficult postures in your series at the beginning (such as Chaturanga, the crow pose)
- The EVA yoga brick: the brick for small budgets
It is the low cost version of the cork brick, it is also lighter. This can be useful if you need to move them regularly or take them on a trip/course.
- Stretch strap: To improve your flexibility
The stretching strap is used to improve flexibility, to stretch but also to access certain postures. It is an accessory that allows you to develop your flexibility gently and progressively (as an extension of the arm for the dancer’s pose, for example)
- The XL Stretch Strap: Hip openings are yours
You think the standard straps are too short? Consider the XL strap from Yogom, with its 260 cm length.
Still not sure how to choose your equipment? No worries, Yogom has written a special article on How to choose your yoga equipment according to your practice and your needs. Let us guide you!
Where can I find an Ashtanga Yoga class?
- This discipline is practiced in many studios, so you can try to find out more at your usual studio. (This is a yoga extremely practiced in the West along with Vinyasa).
- You may also consider taking online classes if you don’t feel like leaving your home to practice or prefer to be alone. In the post-covid era, doing yoga at home has never been easier!
- If the weather is good, it is possible to find outdoor yoga classes in parks or other places, so don’t hesitate to explore this avenue if it’s something that interests you. 😉
Discover a free online ashtanga class available in replay on Yogom’s youtube channel:
Which Ashtanga Yoga teachers to follow?
How can we talk about Ashtanga Yoga without telling you about the largest Ashtanga center in France and its founders? Gérald Disse and Linda Munro started yoga in 1989 and 1995 respectively. They were both trained in person by Sri K Pattabhi Jois in Mysore. Indeed, Gerald was the first French student to be personally authorized by the latter to teach Ashtanga. Since then he has been teaching yoga all over the world, but especially in France in Auroville. Linda quickly joined him in his practice by becoming an Ashtanga teacher in 2002. Together they founded “Ashtanga Yoga Paris” one of the most well known and respected schools in France.
At Yogom, we have also had the chance to collaborate with several teachers of this discipline. We highly recommend them and you can find them on Instagram:
- The studio Cam’s Yoga Marie, one of the studio’s teachers, teaches Ashtanga. Discover the “ Ashtanga kit “on the Cam’s Yoga website.
- Lola, from the Instagram account @Paikeayoga : Yoga and dance teacher, let yourself be guided all in poetry. You can discover it in the video course presented above.
- Carine, from the Instagram account @happy_and_yoga : Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher, discover this clever mix of yoga styles. Maybe a solution if you don’t know which one to choose yet?
To go further
You liked this article but you are still hungry? Yogom proposes you some tracks to go further. Reading, but also training to become an Ashtanga Yoga teacher!
- Read about Ashtanga Yoga: Ashtanga by Linda Munro and Gerald Disse from laplage editions, this book will quickly become your bible!
- Learning to teach Ashtanga Yoga: we have already mentioned them above, who better to teach Ashtanga Yoga than those who have been trained by its founder? Discover Gerald and Linda’s trainings on their website Ashtanga Yoga Paris