Ashtanga Yoga: Information for beginners and those interested

Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / jeviniya

Ashtanga yoga is one of the most popular yoga styles in the west. Here is the most important information about the challenging type of yoga and what is hidden behind the eight-part yoga path.

Ashtanga Yoga: More than just physical exercises

When we talk about yoga in the West, we immediately think of physical exercises like the headstand or the looking down dog. These so-called asanas are only part of yoga, which in its original form sees itself as a practical philosophy that includes all aspects of life. This becomes particularly clear in the so-called Ashtanga Yoga, “Ashtanga” means “the eightfold path”.

These eight parts of the yoga path were described in one of the oldest yoga scriptures, the “Yoga Sutras”, probably for the first time in the 3rd century:

  • Yama – moral code towards the world around you (e.g. not stealing and non-violence)
  • Niyama – Self-discipline (e.g. physical cleanliness and self-study)
  • Asana – the physical exercises known to us
  • Pranayama– Control of the breath (to control the flow of energy)
  • Pratyahara – Withdrawal and mastery of the senses
  • Dharana – Concentration (for example on breathing or a mantra)
  • Dhyana – Meditation and associated higher states of consciousness
  • Samadhi – Deep meditation (total immersion in the all-unity)

As you can see, the asanas we know are only one of eight parts of traditional yoga teaching. You should not understand the eightfold path of Ashtanga Yoga as eight successive steps or stages, but as parts that should all be practiced equally.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga: Information on Yoga Style

The asanas of the advanced Ashtanga series require a high level of physical fitness.
The asanas of the advanced Ashtanga series require a high level of physical fitness.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / StockSnap)

When we talk about Ashtanga Yoga, we mostly mean Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. This yoga style – like most of the yoga styles known to us – mainly focuses on physical exercises, but also on breathing and meditation exercises. Nevertheless, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga builds heavily on the eightfold path of traditional Ashtanga yoga explained above, even if the asana practice is often the focus in the western world.

Vinyasa describes the connection between two different asanas, i.e. the transition from one body figure to the next. This connecting movement is carried out with one breath and is one of the characteristic features of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. In contrast to static yoga styles like traditional hatha yoga or yin yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga has a very dynamic asana practice. Individual figures flow together to form a coherent movement. Nevertheless, the individual asanas are usually held for five breaths. Numerous modern yoga styles such as vinyasa yoga or power yoga are derived from this style.

Another specialty of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is the division into fixed series. While in most yoga styles the lessons are individually varied and adapted, in Ashtanga yoga they are always the same Asana sequences practiced. There are three, four or six series, depending on the counting method, of which mostly only the first sequence is practiced. This is called as Yoga chikitsa (“Disease treatment”), also known as a healing series and is already so challenging that many students practice on this throughout their lives. The advanced sequences (4 to 6) are rarely taught.

The main advantage is that you are “forced” to face the asana types that are particularly difficult for you (for example back bends or inverse poses). Often we tend to only repeat the exercises that we are already good at. Since yoga is about a healthy balance, you should above all work on your weaknesses and so yours Leave your comfort zone.

Other special features of Ashtanga yoga: Ujjayi and Drishti

In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, control of the breath plays an important role. This is done with the so-called Ujjayi breathing achieved: The glottis is slightly closed, which creates an audible noise when inhaling and exhaling. In this way you can slow down your breathing considerably, and at the same time use the conscious control of the breath as a focus point.

On the visual level, the so-called Drishti as a focus point: In Ashtanga Yoga there is a certain point of view for every physical exercise, which is constantly focused with the eyes. This also helps focus and sharpen the senses.

With these two aspects of Ashtanga Yoga, with sufficient practice, asana practice becomes a truly meditative experience, in which you focus your attention on yourself and your inner being instead of external influences.

This can peak meditative yoga practice In the so-called Mysore style: This is a specific type of Ashtanga Yoga teaching in which the students follow their own (breathing) rhythm. So instead of practicing synchronously, you practice the asana sequence at your own personal speed. There are no instructions – instead the teachers walk around the room and assist the students with the exercises.

Is Ashtanga Yoga Right For You?

Ashtanga yoga or a different style?
Ashtanga yoga or a different style?
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / janeb13)

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is one of the most demanding styles of yoga for several reasons: On a physical level, the dynamic asana sequences require an advanced level of physical fitness. Mainly because there is practically no time to breathe due to the constant vinyasa transitions. On the mental level, Ashtanga practice requires a well-trained mind, as the focus on breathing, the point of view and the asana sequence itself require a high degree of concentration.

Therefore, this yoga style is most suitable for you if you have already established a regular yoga and meditation practice – or at least get fit and in through other sporting activities Mindfulness trained are.

Of course, you shouldn’t be put off by the challenge: In the end, with a strong will and regular exercises, you can achieve a lot more than you might suspect. Therefore, you can simply try Ashtanga yoga first. Well-trained Ashtanga teachers are now also available in Germany.

However, if yoga and meditation are completely new phases in life for you, then you should choose a gentler start to the practice. That’s why we have you the best tips for yoga beginners: inside compiled. So: on the mat, get set, go!


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