What is Ashtanga yoga?

Ashtanga means eight-limbed yoga, and the eight limbs are outlined in the sacred yogic text by Patanjali, the Yoga Sutras. This yogic system is by far the most influential and co-mingled throughout most other traditions. The foundation of this practice is based on the following eight limbs and each limb is said to be equally as important as the others:
  1. Yamas (moral codes)
  2. Niyamas (self-observances)
  3. Asana (postures)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
  6. Dharana (concentration and focus)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (oneness)
Often in the western hemisphere the focus begins on the postures, which is the third limb of Ashtanga, and then as one practices they begin to learn and experiment with the other limbs as well. In the yoga community these are viewed as similar to the Ten Commandments of Judeo-Christian religion. The purpose of following this system of yoga is to move toward balance and steadiness in the body, clarity in the mind, purification of the internal organs, and ultimately find what and who you really are in full liberation. Ashtanga yoga is inclusive of several different series or set sequences of postures and most true Ashtanga classes will follow one of these set series. However, it is also taught in a non-series "Ashtanga mix" in many instances. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois has been the main influence and teacher of Ashtanga since the early 1900s and just recently passed away in May 2009, but his teachings continue on at his Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. This system's teachings were passed along to Jois by Sri T. Krishnamacharya and originally recorded in the text of Yoga Korunta by Vamana Rishi.

Ashtanga, or eight limbed yoga, comes from the ancient Yoga Sutras and is thought to be one of the first forms of yoga. Ashtanga yoga is a more structured form of yoga than Kundalini or flow yoga, but has all of the wonderful benefits of any yoga practice. There are several limbs to an Ashtanga yoga practice and one can expect many Sun Salutations. There is a playfulness to this practice that keeps it fresh and alive. Ashtanga yoga if very appealing to athletes as it offers a wonderful full body workout while focusing on proper alignment.

Most Ashtanga-focused yoga studios offer classes from beginners to advanced yogis and are always helpful in offering modifications for any fitness level. Many other forms of yoga pull bits and pieces from the Ashtanga tradition, which focuses on aligning the physical body in such a way as to make meditation more powerful.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.