What is Ashtanga Yoga?

ASHTANGA. Serious. Features linked poses that flow together, as in Sun Salutation. Ties breath to postural flow. Physically demanding.

– William J. Broad in his book The Science of Yoga

Ashtanga yoga is a meticulous practice popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois as a form of traditional Indian yoga. The quintessential power yoga, Ashtanga postures are meant to purify the body and mind by generating a detoxifying, internal heat through ujjayi breath. With synchronized breath and movement, not only does the mind find a deeper focus, but the muscles strengthen and tone with each posture. The countless vinyasas throughout the series also contribute to the overall fitness aspect of the practice.

The Sanskrit definition of Ashtanga is Eight Limbed Yoga. But before we go into the depths of yogi history and attempt to unwind the hundreds of years of culture and tradition, let’s get a basic understanding of what an Ashtanga Class may look like today.

An Ashtanga flow will be a structured class of repeated vinyasas and power poses including several inversions and seated positions. This set series practice forces focus and reveals distinct, measurable improvements with each class. Due to the consistent and exacting nature of the Ashtanga practice, students can anticipate visible improvements after each and every session on the mat. When the same postures are consistently practiced, we can more adequately compare the ‘last time’ in that pose with now. Relative to it’s highly traditional foundations, Ashtanga does not include music, but rather uses the ujjayi breath as a meditative medium.

Ashtanga is a form of power yoga that will require strength and cardio. For students who want a little intensity, and are okay with structure and routine, Ashtanga is a welcomed challenge.  But like any class on the mat, the challenge comes from within. You can just as easily cheat your body and mind out of an incredible, detoxifying and strengthening experience if your focus and dedication is not centered on your practice. Ashtanga IS for everyone, but is not for the quitters. K. Pattabhi Jois once said, “Lazy people can’t practice Ashtanga.” It is a challenge, it is powerful, strength building and will progressively change your life, one breath at a time.


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