Ashtanga is a very old yoga system whose history dates back to when there was only one yoga - Maha Yoga. That's when our modern world came up with pleasing names and different styles that are more or less functional.
Ashtanga means "eight limbs" in Sanskrit, which refers to the eight limbs of yoga laid out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which describe the path of enlightenment as eight-branch yoga. The Yoga sutra defines yoga as ''The quieting of the mind'' YOGAS CHITTA-WRITTI- NIRODHA (only with calm mind can the true nature of existence be realised).
From this the name ashtanga is derived (ashtau = eight, anga = branch / part). These eight parts, which are the essence of ashtanga, are: yama and niyama (moral and ethical values), asana (physical part of yoga), pranayama (prolongation of the breath), pratyahara (breakdown of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (enlightenment).
The Ashtanga method stresses daily vinyasa flow practice using ujjayi breathing, mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, and drishti. There are six different Ashtanga series, through which a student progresses at his or her own pace.
(Note that asana is only one of the eight steps to enlightenment. Yet nowadays, it's mostly the main thing people imagine under the word yoga. Leaving aside the modern names of various yoga styles, the third part of Patanjali's yoga - asana, is hatha yoga (hatha is the physical aspect of yoga). Therefore, every yoga practiced in yoga studios is hatha yoga from this point of view).
The Ashtanga method of asana practice was interpreted by T. Krishnamacharya and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from an ancient text called the "Yoga Korunta," (means group) and it is said that its text contained the exact grouping of the asanas. Everything about vinyasa, bandha, dristhi, asana and all 6 series, as they should be taught to this day, are included in it, which they claimed described a unique system of hatha yoga developed by Vamana Rishi.
This great sage T. Krishnamacharya went to the Himalayas in 1916, where he studied yoga with his guru Sri Ramamohan Brahmachari for over 7 years. One of the most important texts during Krischnamacharya's studies with his guru was the ancient text of the Yoga Korunta, which contained a grouping of asanas into 6 series, vinyasas, and information on proper breathing, drishti, and bandhas. The practical teaching of ashtanga yoga is based on this text and is currently still represented by teachers who respect this traditional system of yoga. Yoga Korunta was probably written thousands of years ago by the holy man Vamana Rishi.
Founder Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) began his yoga studies with Krishnamacharya in Mysore, India at the age of 12. He became the leading practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga yoga, which is a set series of poses done in a flowing vinyasa style. In 1962, he published his treatise on Ashtanga yoga, "Yoga Mala."
The first Western student was the Belgian Andre van Lysbeth in 1964, who later published a book on the pranayami technique, in which he mentioned Patthabi Jois. Thus, information about Jois spread around the world, and in the early 1970s, the first students from Europe and America began to come to Guruji (as he was affectionately called).
The primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa, which means yoga therapy. It is intended to realign the spine, detoxify the body, and build strength, flexibility, and stamina. The series of about 75 poses takes 2 hours to complete, beginning with sun salutations (surya namaskara A and surya namaskara B) and moving on to standing poses, seated poses, inversions, and backbends before relaxation.
The intermediate or second series is called Nadi Shodana, meaning nervous system purification. It cleanses and strengthens the nervous system and the subtle energy channels throughout the body. This series is only introduced when the student has mastered the primary series.
The four advanced series are called Sthira Bhaga, which means divine stability. Pattabhi Jois originally outlined two intensive advanced series, but later subdivided them into four series to make them accessible to more people. These series emphasize difficult arm balances and are only appropriate for extremely advanced students. There are very few students practicing beyond the second series.
Is Ashtanga for You?
Ashtanga yoga is extremely popular and inspires fierce loyalty in its students. This vigorous, athletic style of practice appeals to those who like a sense of order and who like to do things independently.
What do ashtanga and vinyasa yoga have in common?
In the beginning, Patthabi Jois used the name Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga to emphasize the aspect of vinyasa in the ashtanga system. Gradually, the word vinyasa in the name ceased to be used and today it is simply called Ashtanga Yoga. The word ashtanga, as mentioned above, represents following Patanjali's yoga, ie, eight steps on the path to enlightenment. Vinyasa expresses the practical (physical) conception of this style, where movement is connected with the breath, and thus the asanas follow each other so as to form a complete series. Therefore ashtanga is a meditation in motion. If you ever come across a lesson called Vinyasa Yoga on a schedule, it is a simplified version of the ashtanga that uses breath and movement to maintain dynamism, and where the asanas do not have the exact order.
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