Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic yoga, but above all it is a philosophical system that Krishnamacharya, Sage and Yogi developed after traveling in the Himalayas around 1916. For seven years he learned Ashtanga Yoga from Master Sri Ramamohan Brahmachari. In the 1930's he transmitted this knowledge to many Indian and Western students. Among the best known were Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, BNS Iyengar, Indra Devi and his son TKV Desikachar. This practice was then popularized in the West 30 years later. But what is Ashtanga Yoga, what are the basic principles, the benefits, the differences with traditional yoga, its history?
Definition of Ashtanga Yoga
The term Ashtanga comes from the Sanskrit words "ashtau" which means 8 and "anga" which means "members". The 8 limbs refer to 8 essential practices in Ashtanga Yoga that we will develop later: rules of behavior, self-discipline, body postures, the art of breathing, mastery of the senses, concentration, meditation and enlightenment.
Ashtanga yoga is a form of Hatha yoga in which the postures are accompanied by stretches to give energy and strength to the body; and contractions (Bandas) to accumulate the vital breath (prana) in the deep parts of the body tissues through synchronization of movement with the breath (vinyasa). The peculiarity of Ashtanga lies in the fact that the postures follow one another in predetermined series, and that they are increasingly difficult to achieve. As long as a posture is not acquired, the individual does not realize the one that follows. This allows him to acquire patience.
The body is energized by the breath, which increases the body temperature and detoxifies the organism. The practice brings tonicity, energy and strength to find comfort without pain, provided that it is done with patience, humility and compassion to find the path of Wisdom. The practice of yoga aims to open the mind to meditation in order to promote a calming of the psychic state, but also to make the individual aware of his or her spiritual potential.
The Basic Principles of Ashtanga Yoga
The principles of Ashtanga Yoga are based on the eight limbs developed by Patanjali in his collection entitled " Yoga-sûtra ", they constitute a kind of philosophy of life which implies :
Rules of behaviour (yamas)
Yamas are about our relationships with others and external things. There are 5 yamas that the individual must respect: do no harm, be honest, do not steal, be faithful or abstinent (brahmacharya) and not be greedy. The first form of yama is ahimsa which means not to cause any pain to any creature, not to hurt, not to kill by any means and never. This implies becoming vegetarian, vegan or vegan.
The second member refers to the rules that the individual must apply to himself. The niyamas are: cleanliness inside, cleanliness outside, contentment, knowledge of the sacred texts. The latter can lead to surrender to God if the individual is truly involved in a spirituality (sadhana) filled with benevolence, bliss and compassion.
Body postures (asanas)
The postures energize the body, make it more flexible and bring stability and self-confidence. The goal is to nourish the body with the vital breath (prana) in each posture, in order to lead to a meditative state of letting go. The postures are essential in Ashtanga Yoga as they help to correct imbalances and stabilize to unite body and mind, as in all other yoga practices.
This includes the vital breath, the length of time in a breathing cycle, the restriction of breath and the expansion or stretching of the breath. Practicing pranayama helps to purify the channels essential to life on earth and to eliminate stress and physical and mental toxins. In physical practice, breathing helps to raise body temperature, which promotes the elimination of toxins. Inhalation and exhalation should be of equal duration and be done through the nose by a breath called ujjayi. In Ashtanga Yoga and in all postural practices, breathing is very important because it is linked to the emotions.
Mastery of the senses (pratyahara)
It is the control of the senses that can lead to inner stability, this is possible by directing one's concentration on the breathing rhythm. Seeking to calm and control one's mind without being affected by one or more of our five senses helps the individual progress towards concentration until they are blocked. The individual no longer pays attention to external things in order to concentrate on himself and his internal sensations.
The individual's attention must be focused on an external object, vibration or rhythm within the self.
The work on concentration allows the practice of meditation, which consists of stopping all mental activities where no thought exists.
This last stage constitutes the alliance between the self (atman) and the absolute (brahman), in Buddhist philosophy it is called nirvana, it is the state of full consciousness.
The benefits of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga allows you to :
- Reduce toxins: the practice of Ashtanga yoga causes an increase in internal temperature which leads to increased sweating. This allows an elimination of toxins from the body.
- Strengthen the body's joints: the use of varied and dynamic postures promotes the proper functioning of the joints.
- Increase endurance and flexibility.
- Losing weight: A study of 14 children aged 8 to 15 years at risk of developing type 2 diabetes showed that Ashtanga Yoga was an effective ally in weight loss.
- Reduce stress and anxiety: Meditation and breathing exercises are beneficial for better stress management and reduced anxiety.
- It balances the Doshas in Ayurveda.
What are the differences with traditional yoga?
In Ashtanga Yoga, individuals stay in a posture for a shorter time because each posture is linked to a defined number of breaths (5 or 8), which allows for a rapid sequence of several postures. This requires more physical investment and makes it a more dynamic yoga than traditional yoga. In addition, the breathing technique is particular and the duration of inhalation and exhalation are determining factors in the transition of the postures.
The history of Ashtanga
The origins of Ashtanga Yoga are said to come from an ancient text entitled "Yoga Korunta". This text was written by Vamana Rish between 500 and 1500 BC and rediscovered by Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya in a university library in Calcutta. A specialist in ancient Sanskrit, he understood that this text was part of a much older oral tradition (between 3000 & 4000 B.C.) and began teaching it to Pattabhi Jois in 1927 when he was 12 years old. Patanjali conceptualized Ashtanga Yoga in the Yoga Sutra with no less than 195 Aphorisms dating from the 2nd century BC or 400 years later.
In books II and III of the Yogas Sutras, the techniques of Ashtanga are set out, these are linked to purely yogic activities and aim to provoke asceticism: purifications, body attitudes, breathing techniques. Patanjali puts a slight emphasis on the postural practice, indeed, these must be transmitted by Masters or Guru and not by voices of description. They must also provide stability and reduce physical effort to avoid fatigue and nervousness in certain parts of the body. They stabilize the physiological processes in order to allow the attention to focus on the fluid part of consciousness. At first, the postures may seem uncomfortable or even unbearable. But with courage, regularity and patience the effort becomes minimal until it disappears: this is of paramount importance because the meditation posture must become natural in order to facilitate concentration.
Ashtanga Yoga, a Derivative of Hatha Yoga
There are no real derivatives of Ashtanga since Ashtanga, today known in its physical and postural form, is itself derived from Hatha yoga, just like Vinyasa yoga or Iyengar yoga. Today, there are different schools designating yoga but we must never forget that yoga is first and foremost a philosophy, and that the body is an instrument allowing us to better act on us and around us.
Who is Ashtanga Yoga for?
This form of yoga is mainly intended for individuals who wish to maintain their physical condition and discharge their negative energies, in order to acquire more positive ones. Furthermore, it is preferable for the individual to be motivated, since Ashtanga Yoga is most effective when practiced over the long term.