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What is Ashtanga Yoga? Everything You Need to Know Before You Flow

What is Ashtanga Yoga? Everything You Need to Know Before You Flow

smiling woman doing ashtanga yoga pose

Yoga is known for creating a harmonious union between the mind, body and spirit.

However, a con is that in our modern-day society, yoga has gotten a reputation for being a practice that focuses on external rewards more than intrinsic value.

When it boils down to it, the purpose of traditional yoga practices was to offer enlightenment and a reprieve from daily struggles and expectations.

There are different yoga styles to choose from, but if you’re looking for a more rigorous, athletic practice that will still bring harmony between your body, mind, and spirit, Ashtanga yoga might be the practice for you.

This practice will bring you on a mental journey that focuses on grace and living by moral codes inside and outside of yoga studios. 

Ashtanga Yoga Overview

Ashtanga yoga classes are very different from traditional yoga classes like Hatha yoga. This practice is an athletic flow that combines strength, flexibility, and stamina to purify both the body and the mind. 

History of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga, also known as Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, was developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and T. Krishnamacharya. This type of yoga is a flowing style that connects both body movement and the breath (pranayama).

There are six series of Ashtanga yoga sequences that a student gradually progresses through. Daily practice of the series of movements is encouraged.

Several principles underlie Ashtanga yoga. These principles are breath, Drishti, Vinyasa, Bandhas, and daily practice. 

When students go through the postures (asana), a posture is typically held for five to eight breaths or more.

Drishtis are gaze points, and for every posture in a series, there are a set of gaze points. The nine Drishtis are the tip of the nose, the toes, the fingertips, the thumb, the navel, between the eyebrows (third eye), up to the sky, to the right, and to the left. Vinyasa is the breathing system that connects the movements in the series to the breath and Bandhas are body locks. 

Although Ashtanga focuses most on the breath, Bandhas are an essential part of a dynamic breathing technique. Having a dynamic breathing technique aids inhalation and exhalation.

Incorporating Bandhas are super important for students to master because it helps prana (life force energy) from leaving the body. Learning these body locks can also stabilize your core during asana and help prevent injury.

The three types of Bandhas are Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, and Jalandhara Bandha. 

Mula Bandha is the root lock, which helps prevent the downward escape of energy through the base of the torso.

Uddiyana Bandha is the upward-flying lock, and this creates an internal upwards flow of energy.

Jalandhara Bandha is the throat lock that is used in pranayama and meditation. This lock prevents increased pressure in the head during breath retentions. 

If you’re interested in the practice of Ashtanga yoga, practicing six days a week is encouraged. Saturdays, full, and new moons are considered rest days. When women are menstruating, they don’t have to practice.

Purpose Of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga aims to streamline energy channels in the body. You do this by concentrating on a fixed point and through the body locks. This style of yoga achieves cleansing and is a great moving meditation practice. 

Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga

Although Ashtanga yoga is a physically demanding practice, it takes a lot of listening to your body and creating inner harmony.

Yes, the poses require you to increase your strength and flexibility, but it’s a yoga practice that can genuinely bring balance and focus into your everyday life. It’s not just a physical practice. It’s an emotional practice too. 

Is Ashtanga Yoga Dangerous?

Ashtanga yoga gets a bad rap because it’s a super intense practice, and if you’re not practicing it correctly, it can be dangerous. Injury is avoidable if you’re approaching the practice with great attention and learning from practitioners that can guide you correctly through the poses. 

Can You Lose Weight Doing Ashtanga Yoga?

There isn’t enough research to prove that Ashtanga yoga practice leads to weight loss, but many yoga teachers state that it can help you lose weight since it’s an intense physical workout.

Studies do show that Ashtanga yoga is a great practice at stabilizing the nervous system’s response due to stress, which can also aid in weight loss. 

Does Ashtanga Yoga Tone Your Body?

There are many strength training and muscle-building exercises in Ashtanga yoga that can help tone your body and change your overall physique

How to Practice Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga starts with five repetitions of Surya Namaskar A and B, which are sun salutations.

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Then you follow up with six standing poses and one of the six series. The six series are the First series (Primary series), Second series (Intermediate series), Third series (Advanced A), Fourth series (Advanced B), Fifth series (Advanced C), and Sixth series (Advanced D).

What’s the Difference Between Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga?

Typically Ashtanga and Vinyasa are used interchangeably, but they do differ.

Although they both focus on postures, Ashtanga yoga follows the same sequence and series of poses in a specific order. Also, Ashtanga yoga is more physically demanding. 

Vinyasa or Power yoga does incorporate similar postures as Ashtanga, but the order and variation of the poses change. Power yoga is also more quickly paced and has a flowing rhythm compared to Ashtanga yoga.

Vinyasa yoga can be challenging but not as tough as Ashtanga yoga. 

Can You Do Ashtanga Yoga at Home?

Ashtanga yoga can be both a physically and mentally demanding practice, so it’s encouraged that you learn the sequence of asanas and transitions in the Primary series from a professional Ashtanga teacher.

Although you can learn the pace, style of flow, and sequence of yoga poses at home using a beginner’s Ashtanga yoga video, you want to make sure that you master the poses with the guidance of a teacher. They will help you learn the sequence and transitions by heart and guide you to practice on your own eventually. 

Rushing the learning process can not only set you back, but you want to make sure that you reduce the chances of injury. A reputable teacher will guide you in becoming stronger in your breath and body. 

Tips for Beginners

Two key things that beginners will find helpful is that when you’re practicing, make sure to focus on your breath and gradually build your practice’s length.

Breath is the guide that helps you move through the series of movements. You want to make sure that you’re just as aware of your breath as your movements. Also, make sure that you’re not rushing your moves. 

There are six series in Ashtanga, but the Primary series can take years to learn because it’s so physically and mentally challenging.

Don’t feel like you need to rush learning the series, and don’t become overwhelmed if it takes longer than usual for you to pick up the practice. Always learn at your own pace. 

The Bottom Line: Is Ashtanga Yoga For Me?

If you’re looking for a more vigorous, orderly practice, then Ashtanga yoga might be for you. 

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