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Ashtanga Yoga Poses and Benefits

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There are different forms of yoga and Ashtanga Yoga is one among them. Ashtanga Yoga is one of the most ancient forms of yoga.

ashtanga yoga

The term “Ashtanga” means eight limbs. Hence “ashtanga yoga” focuses on purifying the individuals mind through eight (meaning asht) steps. This is the basis of almost all schools and branches of yoga. One cannot proceed to the next step without mastering the preceding the step. The eight steps of Ashtanga are listed below:

  • Control – yama
  • Rules of conduct – niyama
  • Poses – asanas
  • Breath control – pranayama
  • Withdrawal of sensory perceptions – pratyahara
  • Concentration – dharana
  • Uninterrupted meditation – dhyana
  • Complete equilibirium – Samadhi

From this we can conclude that Ashtanga yoga refers neither to the asanas nor the order of the asanas. The term also has nothing to do with any series as well. The purpose of this yoga is to embody the eight limbs of yoga, mentioned above into the yoga sutras of Patanjali’s. Ashtanga yoga has its influence in most of the forms of yoga being taught today.

History:

Ashtanga yoga is an ancient manuscript recorded in the Yoga Korunta by sage Vamana Rishi. It is believed that during the 1900s, this text was bestowed upon Sri T. Krishnamacharya by Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari. This text was later, handed down to Pattabhi Jois, while he was being tutored by Krishnamachraya, starting in 1927. The text is said to contain information on various asanas, and also the original teachings on Vinyasa, Bandhas, Drishti, Mudras and Philosophy. Since 1948, Pattabhi Jois has been teaching Ashtanga yoga at his Yoga Shala called “Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute”. His teachings are in accordance with the tradition of teacher-discipline succession.

Practice:

The yoga is very demanding physical practice. The aim of modern Ashtanga yoga is to channel the hyperactive minds of individuals to the restive bodies.  In order to perform the asanas of Ashatanga yoga perfectly, one must incorporate the use of Vinyasa and Tristhana.

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Vinyasa:

It refers to the system of breathing and movement. As per Vinyasa, for every movement, you take on breath. Let’s take the example of Surya Namaskar (sun salutation), there are 9 Vinyasas. So, this way each pose is assigned a certain number of Vinyasas. The purpose of Vinyasa is internal cleansing – when breath and movement us coordinated while performing the asanas, the blood is heated up, thereby thinning and cleaning it. This facilitates easy circulation of blood. This in turn results in easing joint pains and rids the diseases from the body. Vinyasa, results in sweating, which removes the impurities and toxins from the body. Hence Vinyasa makes the body healthy and strong.

Tristhana:

It refers to the union of three spots of attention or action, ie, posture, breathing system and the looking place. These three spots are very vital for Yoga practice. Tristhana focuses on purification of body at three levels, ie, the body, mind and nervous system.

See More: Hatha Yoga Poses

The next phase in the practice of Ashtanga yoga is alleviating the six venoms in a person, as the essential part of internal cleansing. Yoga scriptures state that God resides in the form of light in our spiritual hearts. However the spiritual heart is encircled by these six venoms:

a.desire (kama)
b.nager (krodha)
c.delusion (moha)
d.greed (lobha)
e.envy (matsarya)
f.sloth (madha)

On regular practice of yoga with complete dedication and meticulousness, one may begin to feel that the heat produced by Vinyasa, alleviates all these venoms from the body, thereby freeing the inner light, i.e., God.

The Six Series of Ashtanga Yogasanas:

In Ashtanga yoga, the technique of purifying one’s body and strengthening it is called an asana. The asanas in Ashtanga yoga are classified into six series.  But as mentioned earlier, it is necessary to perform each step to proceed to the next step. The sequence of the asanas must be completely adhered to, since every pose is a preparatory pose to develop strength and balance to perform the next.
Ashtanga yoga is divided into three major series, i.e., primary series, intermediate series and advanced series.

First Series – Surya Namaskar:

The Surya Namaskar in case of Ashtanga Yoga has two parts – Surya Namaskar A and Surya Namaskar B.
Surya Namaskar A comprises of 10 steps and is very easy to do. This is the first step in Ashtanga yoga. They are:

  • Tadasana
  • Urdhva Hastasana
  • Uttanasana
  • Flat Back
  • Chaturanga Dandasana
  • Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana
  • Uttanasana
  • Urdhva Hastasana
  • Tadasana

Surya Namaskar B comprises of 10 dynamic and challenging poses, as compared to the previous one.

  • Tadasana
  • Utkatasana
  • Uttanasana
  • Flat Back
  • Chaturanga Dandasana
  • Urdhav Mukha Svanasana
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana
  • Virabhdrasana – 1
  • Chaturanga Dandasana
  • Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Second Series – Fundamental Asanas (standing positions):

There are six fundamental poses that need to be followed up by Surya Namaskar. The asanas performed under this series are listed below:

  • Padangustha
  • Padahastasana
  • Utthita Trikonasana
  • Utthita Parsvakonasana
  • Prasarita Padottanasana
  • Parsvottanasana

Third Series – Primary (yoga chikitsa):

This is considered the most demanding part of the Ashtanga yoga. This is usually very challenging and tough. This is the first to learn as a beginner.

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Fourth Series –Intermediate (nadi shodana):

This series takes the person from the basic physical level to a far more energetic level.

Fifth Series – Advanced (sthira bhaga):

The advanced series is divided into two series, i.e., Sthira Bhaga A and Sthira Bhaga B. Sthira Bhaga A comprises of asanas that defies gravity, while Sthira Bhaga B takes you to a much more advanced level.

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Sixth Series – Finishing positions:

The finishing positions are mostly done to harmonise the energy of an individual.

The asanas are usually very easy to do. But the hard part comes in following the order of the sequence of the asanas. In Ashtanaga yoga, breath, dirshti and bandhas are highly essential. If you forget a particular part of the sequence, then you would have to stop, and begin right from the beginning. Hence it is best to perform it under a trainer.

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