“We are spiritual beings born for human experience; we are not human beings born for spiritual experience.” - Yogi Bhajan
Yoga is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. It’s becoming popular because it helps you to let go, relax, master your breathing, as well as get into shape. Vinyasa yoga, Iyengar yoga, prenatal yoga, Ashtanga yoga, online yoga and even Bikram yoga are becoming more popular and yoga teachers are popping up in gyms, sports centres, and online as private yoga tutors.
In this article, we’re going to be looking at Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga is one of the most popular styles of yoga because it’s quite simple to do if you’re in decent shape. In the grand scheme of things, this type of yoga philosophy is quite accessible.
Let’s have a look at what makes it so special!
The Origins of Ashtanga Yoga
Firstly, we should ask ourselves where the name comes from.
What does Ashtanga mean?
The term, which is associated with breathing, serenity, and stretching, is from Sanskrit.
In Sanskrit, Ashtanga means “eight limbs”. Ashta means “eight” while Anga means “limbs”. Ashtanga yoga also has 8 main principles. These 8 principles are:
- moral codes
- self-purification and study
- breath control
- withdrawing of the mind from the senses
- deep meditation
- union with the object of meditation
All these principles come together in Ashtanga yoga to help us recentre our attention on ourselves. Between sophrology and physical exercise, this discipline shows us that yoga doesn’t just help bring us inner peace but it also helps us tone muscle and improves our fitness.
So who created Ashtanga yoga?
Like most other disciplines of yoga, it can be difficult to work out where Ashtanga yoga comes from. They often come from the interpretation of Sanskrit texts or oral tradition. This means it can be difficult to say exactly when Ashtanga yoga was created.
However, there are a few sources that can give us an idea of where it came from. We generally attribute the creation of modern yoga to Krishnamacharya, an Indian yoga teacher who died in 1989 at the age of 101. This teacher had three main students:
- B. K. S. Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar yoga.
- His son Desikachar, who founded Viniyoga.
- Pattabhi Jois, who we’ll be talking about today, as he created Ashtanga yoga.
Pattabhi Jois opened his own school in 1948 which attracted a lot of people from the West.
Why was it so successful?
It’s a physical, dynamic, demanding type of yoga which, through a sequence of challenging yoga poses (or asana), allows you to recentre while also breaking a sweat.
In the 1960s, Ashtanga yoga became very popular in the West. In the United States of America, it became known as Power Yoga, which is essentially the same type of yoga. Although Pattabhi Jois is now dead, Ashtanga yoga is everywhere, especially in the UK, where its benefits can be seen far and wide.
The Specificities of Ashtanga Yoga
While the origins are an important part of any yoga discipline, the techniques are also worth looking at. We can classify Ashtanga yoga as dynamic yoga as it can be physically demanding, stretch your limbs, and can help you tone muscle.
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With the 8 pillars we saw earlier, Ashtanga yoga is based on six postures or poses. These six postures are chained together in a logical and fluid method which everyone should enjoy whether it’s their first ever session or they’re an experienced yogi.
Of course, there are levels and you won’t have to do advanced classes or yoga workshops if you’re just starting out. However, the principles of chaining together postures, toning and strengthening, and channelling energy will be present regardless of the level.
While the postures are the same throughout the series, it’s important to know and understand what practising Ashtanga yoga entails. In fact, it’s about diversifying physical exercise as well as gaining mindfulness (like with mindfulness meditation) and improving your mood and physical fitness every day.
It’s more than a sporting activity, it’s a way of life that includes fluidity, reflection, self-awareness, and finally, being happy with your progress as you practise the discipline. Once you get into the swing of things and are practising daily, you’ll really start to make some significant progress.
In order to make progress in Ashtanga yoga, like any other style of yoga, you need to put the effort in! To improve your stress management, strengthen muscles, become more flexible, and harmonise with your body, there’s nothing better than doing yoga. Simple but effective!
The Effects of Ashtanga Yoga
Working on Your Body with Ashtanga Yoga
When we take up physical activities, we often want to see quick results. You mustn’t forget that the key to any transformation, be it physical, mental, or spiritual, is routine.
Ashtanga yoga is no different; with daily exercises, you’ll start achieving your objectives. The objective of Ashtanga yoga is to bring together your body and mind.
You’ll start toning up and building muscle after a few sessions. Ashtanga yoga, with its poses, sequences of movements, etc., is often what people think of when they think of yoga in general. Each student will progress at their own speed. However, they’ll all improve physically as well as spiritually.
Ashtanga Yoga: A Sport for the Mind
While there’s no doubt that your body plays an important role in any physical activity, your mind also plays a huge role in Ashtanga yoga. In fact, your mind constantly plays a part in Ashtanga yoga because you have to stimulate both your body and mind. Your body, mind, and spirit all harmonise in order to create your life energy which needs to be stimulated on a daily basis with Ashtanga yoga.
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Breathing (pranayama) is one of the main tools of Ashtanga yoga because it allows you to align the different part of your body. In fact, if you’re not breathing correctly, you’ll limit the effects of each yoga pose. This is why it’s important to practise your breathing exercises and adopt the right technique.
In Ashtanga yoga, this technique is often linked to focusing on a certain object so that you don’t lose your focus or forget what you’re trying to do. This is a lot of work for your mind which, with the right breathing, is an essential part of every one of your yoga sessions.
After all, what would a yogi be without mindfulness of what’s going on and a broad view of the physical, mental, and spiritual progress you’re making?
In Ashtanga yoga, just like yoga for children, you have to bring together the different parts of your being in order to make the most progress.
Whether you’re with a yoga tutor or not, Ashtanga yoga promotes pacificism and respect for others and yourself, all while working on your mind, body, and spirit.
Is it the perfect type of yoga?
If you're not sold on Ashtanga yoga, don't forget that there's also Bikram yoga, Hatha yoga (Traditional yoga), and Vinyasa flow yoga for you to check out, not to mention yoga classes for beginners, infants, pregnant women, and healing yoga therapy, every yoga class is different!
For those new to yoga, the best thing to do is have a look online for the different yogis who live in your area, see what he or she teaches, and get a deeper understanding of the yoga practice before you dive in.
If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or past injuries, make sure that you speak to your doctor about whether you're able to take up yoga. While yoga can seem like gentle exercise, it can put a lot of strain on certain parts of the body and it would be awful to take up a new hobby only to exacerbate an old injury or end up hurting yourself more than you heal yourself.
You can always tell your private yoga tutor or yoga teacher about your injuries or conditions in order to allow them to adapt their sessions to you. You might still be able to do yoga as long as you choose the right sequences and asanas.
Don't forget that yoga is for everyone. There are classes and sessions for all ages and levels and you're never too old nor too young to take up yoga. In fact, don't forget there are even pre-natal yoga classes for expectant mothers. Just make sure you show up to the right class as going to the wrong one could be embarrassing!
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