Ashtanga Yoga - The supreme discipline in yoga

Ashtanga Yoga - The supreme discipline in yoga

Entering a meditative state through the effort of a physical practice: This is the goal of Ashtanga Yoga. A style of yoga that promotes flexibility, strength and stability. Ashtanga Yoga is often referred to as the hardest yoga style or the supreme discipline of yoga.

Ashtanga Yoga consists of six series. However, many yogis only practice the first series, even after months and years of practice. Only when you have completely mastered one of the demanding series of exercises do you move on to the next one. There are few people who make it past the second series.

The History of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga was developed by Patthabi Jois. The yoga teacher lived and practiced in Mysore/South India. Around 1960 he published his book “Yoga Mala”, in which he explains and describes the individual series of exercises he developed as well as his yoga style. In 1975, Jois finally began giving yoga seminars in Europe and the USA. He himself was a long-time student of the Indian yoga and Ayurveda teacher Krishnamacharya. He is known, among other things, as the “father of modern yoga”.

In Germany, Dr. Ronald Steiner (here in an interview with OGNX: Ronald Steiner ) as one of the best-known representatives of the Ashtanga Yoga tradition. As a direct student of Patthabi Jois, he provides extensive information about the yoga style on his Ashtanga website (including downloadable PDF cheat sheets for the first three series).

Ashtangas – the eight limbs

Ashtanga means “eight-limbed”. The word is composed of “ashta” (“eight” in Sanskrit) and “anga” (“limbs” in Sanskrit).

The eight limbs have their origins in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. This is one of the basic works of yoga philosophy. The goal of the eightfold path is enlightenment, which can be achieved by living according to these rules.

  1. Yama = behavior towards others
  2. Niyama = behavior towards oneself
  3. Asana = physical exercises
  4. Pranayama = breathing exercises
  5. Pratyahara = withdrawal of the senses
  6. Dharana = concentration
  7. Dhyana = meditation
  8. Samadhi = enlightenment

Ashtanga Yoga: exercises

Each of the six series in Ashtanga Yoga consists of a fixed number of positions (= asanas ). These are each held for five breaths and combined with each other through a flowing transition (= Vinyasa). During the exercise sequence, students breathe using the Ujjayi breathing technique. Yoga studios usually only teach the first two series in publicly accessible classes - each of which consists of many individual exercises that the practitioners are supposed to internalize exactly. From series to series the postures become more complex and demanding.

As a rule, the respective series begin with sun salutations, followed by standing postures, several sitting postures and a final sequence including Savasana (= final relaxation). The first series, called Yoga Chikitsa (in German: Yoga Therapy), for example, consists of a total of 41 asanas - including the chair position, warrior I and II or the boat.

Warriors 1 & 2

Boat & Chair

The sun salutations at the beginning of the series lay the foundation for the Ashtanga yoga practice. With the help of the Ujjayi breathing technique, a regular breathing rhythm is established. The Bandha technique (= contracting certain muscles) helps Ashtanga yogis to consciously direct their energy in the body. A focused look (= Drishti) ensures the necessary concentration during the practice.

The subsequent exercise sequence of standing and sitting asanas after the sun salutations is intended to bring the energetic and physical body into balance. The practice reaches its climax in the final sequence, in which mental calm sets in and the energy (= prana) is completely in flow.

The complexity of Ashtanga Yoga lies, on the one hand, in the exercises that make up the individual series and which become more demanding with each series. But above all in learning the three yoga techniques Ujjayi, Bandha and Drishti and at the same time applying them when practicing the asanas, which become more difficult from series to series.

The special features of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is an extremely physical Vinyasa style of yoga. In order to switch back and forth between the individual exercises in the spirit of Vinyasa, Ashtanga yogis often perform powerful jumps - for example from a push-up forward into a floating position. They keep their breathing under control with the help of Ujjayi.

Especially at the beginning of an Asthanga yoga “career”, the teacher plays a big role as he or she helps to carry out the sequences in a way that is good for the body and not harmful.

Traditionally, Ashtangi practice yoga six days a week (Sunday to Friday). There is a break on lunar days (full and new moon). The goal is an independent, regular yoga practice.

Ashtanga yoga for beginners? This is what you need to pay attention to

Yoga newbies should not be put off by the term “supreme discipline”: Ashtanga yoga is a good introduction to Indian body theory. It is designed to develop an independent yoga practice.

As a beginner, you start by learning a series of basic positions that you may already know from Hatha yoga. You then build on this skill for the first series. If you are new to Ashtanga, it is advisable to take a beginner's course. In the beginner lessons you will learn the exercise sequence from scratch. Many studios also offer special offers called Mysore classes.

During an Asthanga Mysore yoga class, all yoga students have the same exercise plan. However, the teacher looks after each individual and ensures that the positions are carried out neatly during the lesson. Learning the exercises the right way is important, otherwise the risk of injury with dynamic Vinyasa flows is very high. For starters, there are so-called cheat sheets with the exercise sequence as a cheat sheet. However, these are usually no longer necessary after a short time.

Mysore Class

In comparison to other yoga styles, many Ashtanga yoga studios do not offer trial lessons, but instead offer trial months. It usually takes more than 60 or 90 minutes to learn and understand the basics of the exercise sequences.

For body and mind – Ashtanga yoga and its effects

Ashtanga practice can have a positive effect on both your body and your mind. On a physical level, regular practice has the effect that your muscles and body parts become more defined, more flexible and stronger.

On a spiritual level, the practice developed by Patthabi Jois has a cleansing and clarifying effect: through full concentration and attention to the practice, Ashtanga Yoga shows you a way to get out of the carousel of thoughts and get a clear head. The Ashtanga practice allows you to take a break from everyday life and connect with yourself.

Ashtanga Yoga is a calm, physically demanding style of yoga that focuses on the precise execution of the asanas. If you have a lot of discipline and dedication or want to integrate these skills more into your life, you will like this type of yoga. The six series of Ashtanga Yoga invite you to develop further and take on new challenges step by step.