Ashtanga Yoga is a style that was developed in the 20th century by a guru named Tirumali Krishnamacharya. When he first developed the style, most of his students were young boys. His intention was to train them intensely to develop their strength and stamina. His hard work paid off when one his students further developed the style and popularized it.
Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya’s student, is considered the modern guru of Ashtanga. He popularized the style mainly through a discourse that he published called Yoga Mala. Most people currently practicing Ashtanga yoga use his book as the main course book.
Ashtanga Yoga is taught by going through six levels arranged under three classes. The classes are the Primary Series, the Secondary Series, and the Advanced Series. Although the classes are open to all, most people only go through the Primary and Secondary series. Only dedicated and advanced students are able to take the advanced series.
The Primary Series
This series has a total of 75 poses. One can go through the 75 poses in about 2 hours. The poses go through most of the traditional yoga poses, including warm-up poses, sun salutations, standing, sitting, inverted and back-bending poses. The primary series ends with the Savasana pose.
The Secondary Series
Practitioners take this class with the aim of strengthening and clearing the prana channels. These are the channels that carry the life force in the body. This is in line with the name given to this series – Nadi Shodhana, meaning ‘channel cleaning.’ Most of the poses in this series are similar to those in the primary series. However, there are also additional poses.
The Advanced Series
As mentioned earlier, this is a class taken only by the most dedicated students. It is called Sthira Bhaga, meaning ‘divine stability.’ Here, students learn how to do backbends and arm balances.
The Three Components of Ashtanga Yoga: Vinyasa, Bandha, and Drishti
The three components are so named in reference to the ‘three places of attention’ they stand for. These are the mind, body, and spirit.
Vinyasa – Although this is a yoga discipline on its own, it also features as a component of Ashtanga yoga. It is key because it teaches the basics of yoga, especially the breathing technique. That is why inhalation and exhalation are a very large component of Ashtanga.
Bandha – These are internal muscular locks that one is expected to use in intensifying the energy of Prana. When this happens, one can eliminate impurities in the body.
Drishti – This component essentially teaches practitioners how to concentrate. This may be concentrating on either a toe or a thumb. It also teaches students how to balance inward and outward consciousness.
Ashtanga– The term Ashtanga means eight-limbed yoga in literal terms. However, in yoga it refers to internal self-purification, and in order to achieve this one has to go through the ‘eight spiritual practices’. They are:
Yama – These are the moral codes.
Niyama – Meaning self-purification and study.
Asana – which means posture.
Pranayama – This means breath control.
Pratyahara – This stands for sense control.
Dharana – This is concentration.
Dhyana – This stand for meditation.
Samadhi – This means absorption into the Universe.