Ashtanga yoga is rigorous and transformative. It uses a specific series of asanas to awaken and strengthen the yogi from the inside out. In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into Ashtanga yoga poses, the basics of this series and some of its many benefits.
Ashtanga yoga poses combine vigorous breath work with vinyasa flows, cleansing twists, focus-building balance and a profoundly restorative closing series. It produces a penetrating inner heat that purifies the yogi from within. Along with its physical benefits, many dedicated Ashtanga yogis adopt an ayurvedic diet and lifestyle. This fortifying regimen is optimal for body and brain health, setting the perfect foundation for focus and meditation.
Benefits of the Ashtanga yoga practice include strength building, increased flexibility, stress alleviation, and an anchor that grounds yogis to themselves and their fellow yogis through continued practice. Ashtanga teaches the mastery of patience and perseverance, the practice of self-acceptance (as the journey can often be humbling!) and the importance of devotion to universal wellbeing.
Above all else, Ashtanga yoga is a journey to be embraced and enjoyed!
Ashtanga yoga began in the Tibetan caves of the early 1900’s, when Guru Rama Mohan Bramanchari taught more than 700 poses from the ancient texts of the Yoga Korunta. From there, his most prized student, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, brought his teachings to Mysore, India, where he shared them with his own students. These students included the well-known B.K.S. Iyengar and Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois. Jois is largely responsible for bringing Ashtanga Yoga to the western world, where we can all enjoy it today!
Here is some insight into Ashtanga yoga basics. Let’s take a look at the main series:
One of the defining features of Ashtanga yoga is its precise structure. It begins with the Primary Series, known as “Yoga Chikitsa” or Yoga Therapy, said to eliminate disease from the body. Yoga Chikitsa is the gateway to hundreds of subsequent yoga postures. It starts with a symbolic opening mantra and moves into sun salutations, seated postures, forward bends, twists, hip openers, and a specific finishing sequence that involves inversions, heart openers, breathwork and final rest.
The Intermediate Series is called “Nadi Shodhana.” “Nadis” are energy channels that run through the entire body. “Shodhana” means to purify or cleanse. Thus, this series is known to clear out stuck energy in the body, invigorating the yogi and uplifting them to new spiritual heights. Nadi Shodhana begins after the completion of the Primary Series, then focuses on back bends, arm balances, inversions, and the same finishing sequence. It’s the perfect way to release negativity and remove obstacles!
The Advanced Series is called “Sthira Bhaga.” “Sthira” means “to stabilize” and “bhaga” means radiance. Thus, the advanced series empowers the yogi, cultivating a deep inner and outer strength that exudes compassion and determination! This series is composed of over 100 postures, some of which include intense hip openers, advanced arm balances, energetic back bends, twists and binds.
Throughout the Ashtanga practice, one vital component must be practiced: Ujjayi breath. Adherence to this closed-mouth, evenly-paced breath cultivates a meditative state, allowing the body to soften as it strengthens. Emphasis is placed on matching the length of the inhales to the length of the exhales, which brings about a strong, rhythmic focus.
Here are some of the most popular Ashtanga yoga poses:
This pose allows for a deep release in the pelvis and low back. To practice it, sit up straight, bringing the heels together to touch and letting the knees splay out wide. Clasp the hands around the feet, bend forward and breathe deeply.
A true awakener and strengthener, this pose builds fire in the core, glutes and legs. From a standing posture, sit the hips low and lift the heart high, bringing the biceps by the ears with the arms straight overhead. Reach the heart higher with each inhale and sink the hips lower on the exhales.
Triangle pose is all about length. From Warrior 2, straighten the front leg, pitch the hips back and begin to reach as far forward as possible while maintaining spinal integrity. Place the front hand on the shin or a block just outside and reach the other arm straight up toward the ceiling.
This standing pose is a lesson in balance and self-acceptance. It can be completed in many stages based on practice level. In its fullest expression, the yogi bends one knee, reaches for the big toe with the peace fingers, and works to straighten that leg out in front of them—eventually hinging it outward in the direction of the lifted leg. It requires deep focus and dedication, which is why practicing it is so rewarding!
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