As our unhealthy eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, irregular sleeping cycles continue to take a toll on our physical and mental health, practicing yoga is an effective way to discipline our body and soul. From simple yoga poses for beginners to challenging asanas for experts, yoga can easily accommodate your every requirement. If you are ready to challenge your physical and mental strength, Ashtanga Yoga is the perfect way to explore yoga to an extreme.
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
Ashtanga means eight limbs in Sanskrit. This traditional and vigorous yoga style is a collection of eight practices outlined in the ancient Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali to purify your body. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe yoga as attaining complete stillness of mind to live in the present. Developed by the late Shri Tirunaku Krishnamacharya and Shri Pattabhi Jois in the 1920s, Ashtanga Yoga, in its present form, incorporates postures that link breathing with the movement for cleansing of your body through heat.
Ashtanga Yoga incorporates vinyasa and tristhana in its asanas. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga synchronizes breathing and movement for internal cleansing. Ashtanga Tristhana Yoga refers to the union of posture, looking place, and the body for the purification of the nervous system, mind, and body. The spiritual practices that form Ashtanga or “Eight-limbed” Yoga include:
- Yama [moral codes and behavioral observances]
- Niyama [self-purification by behavioral restraints]
- Asana [posture control through physical practices]
- Pranayama [Mastering breathing techniques to control energy]
- Pratyahara [sense control or withdrawal of senses]
- Dharana [concentration]
- Dhyana [meditation]
- Samadhi [Transendence by absorbing into the Universe]
As you practice Ashtanga Yoga, you work on relaxing your back, making your muscles flexible, and listening to your senses. The first four practices – Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama, are for external purification while the remaining four are for internal cleansing. According to Pattabhi Jois, it is possible to correct any deviation or defect in external cleansing practices. However, any anomaly during the purification of the mind can be un-correctable.
Depending on the difficulty levels, Ashtanga Yoga consists of six series – Primary Series, Secondary Series, followed by four sets of Advanced Series. The Primary Series aligns and detoxifies your body while the Secondary or Intermediate Series purifies your nervous system by optimizing the energy channels. The Advanced Series requires higher levels of mental and physical strength to integrate flexibility with grace.
Ashtanga Yoga for Beginners
If you are new to Ashtanga Yoga, Primary Series is the perfect starting point. Also known as Yoga Chikitsa, this therapy aims to remove physical obstacles and issues that may harm your body. This energetic yoga exercise stretches your hamstrings and opens up your core muscles. The Primary Series comprises of four parts:
- Sun Salutations
- Standing Postures that include twists, folds, and balances
- Seating Postures involving twisting, forward folding, hip opening, and many more
- Back-handing, shoulder-stands, head-stand, etc.
Typically, one session of Primary Series lasts for about 90-minutes, and you practice each pose by holding five full breaths. Combining breathing exercises with movements and daily repeating builds endurance. As a beginner, you start under the guidance of your yoga instructor. He will assist you in aligning your body and maintaining proper posture. After memorizing the sequence and gaining confidence, you can join a group activity to practice Ashtanga Yoga with other students without any instructor.
Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga
There are so many benefits to do Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. below are some primary benefits to do ashtanga yoga in daily life.
Just like any other yoga asana, Ashtanga Yoga gradually builds flexibility in your muscles. However, being a physically demanding yoga regime, you put your body into strenuous postures and push it to stretch. As a result, your flexibility improves efficiently and quickly.
Considered to be one of the most challenging forms of yoga, when you practice Ashtanga Yoga, you hold the weight of your body on your leg or hands. As a result, it builds endurance and strengthens your core. Additionally, an increase in strength and flexibility makes you less prone to injuries.
Reduces Body Fat
The energetic Asthanga Yoga practice session usually lasts for about 90 minutes, during which you sweat a lot. Daily practicing it helps in burning fat, and you get leaner. Increasing physical strength while practicing Ashtanga Yoga builds muscles and makes your body toned.
Relieves from Stress and Anxiety
Once you have memorized the sequence in the Primary Series, you don’t have to focus on maintaining the pose as it comes naturally. As a result, you can relax and achieve a meditative state that relieves you from the stress and anxiety.
Lowers Blood Pressure
By controlling your breathing and developing a breathing technique, you train your heart to pump blood effectively to all extremities. Extending your exhalations and inhalations strengthens the blood vessels, improves the heart’s function, and reduces blood pressure.
Increases Mental Focus
As you attain a meditative state, you stop dwelling in the past and begin to live and enjoy the present. By taking time off from the rush of your mundane life and overthinking, you get more focussed and creative. By instilling a better sense of rhythm, Ashtanga Yoga improves balance, coordination, and focus.
Improves Cardiovascular Fitness
Since breathing control is the centerpiece of Ashtanga Yoga, it is an excellent cardio workout exercise. As you practice and shift postures swiftly and continuously, it increases your heart rate and helps you to stay fit and get in shape.
Accentuates Mental Healing
Ashtanga Yoga makes you aware of your breathing as you move your body and coordinate it with your breath. During this course, by isolating your mind from external factors, you remove any negative influence. By attaining inner union and self-realization, you feel calm, liberated, and stable.
Tips for Beginners
Being physically challenging, Ashtanga Yoga can be intimidating in the beginning. It is natural for beginners to get disheartened or demotivated and even quit halfway. Here is some advice for the budding yoga practitioners:
- Start small and gradually build-up.
- It is okay to fail in the beginning.
- Surrender yourself to the process
- Watch tutorials
- Focus on controlling the breathing
- Do not compare with others.
Summing it Up
From regulating your endocrine glands to connecting with your inner-self, from stabilizing your nervous system to increasing focus, from spiritual well-being to mental healing, Ashtanga Yoga has a wholesome contribution in improving your life. The age-old Ashtanga Yoga is the perfect healing and cleaning practice to learn and control your body and connect it with the Universe. This article introduces you to Ashtanga Yoga and highlights its benefits on different aspects of your life. Hopefully, by daily practicing this power-packed yoga regime, you will be able to unify your physical, mental, and spiritual selves.