Ashtanga yoga is dynamic yoga, but above all a philosophical system that Krishnamacharya, Sage and Yogi developed after traveling to the Himalayas around 1916. For seven years he learned Ashtanga Yoga from Master Sri Ramamohan Brahmachari. In the 1930s he passed this knowledge on to many Indian and Western students. Among the best known are Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, BNS Iyengar, Indra Devi and his son TKV Desikachar. This practice was then popularized in the West 30 years later. But what is Ashtanga yoga, what are the basic principles, the benefits, the differences with traditional yoga, its history?
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
First fundamental point, Ashtanga yoga makes it possible to become aware of the breath . The work on breathing known as “ujjai” is essential. To move from one posture to another smoothly, we focus on a slow, deep inhale and exhale. And we completely oxygenate the body. The rib cage fills and empties, while the stomach remains flat, at the same time there is a small throat sound. An exercise that looks like nothing and yet requires a lot of concentration . Impossible to think of anything else during an Ashtanga class. Suddenly the mind calms down, we reconnect to our body, tensions are released, and stress with it. In the end, we gain positive energy and often serenity.
Definition of Ashtanga Yoga
The term Ashtanga comes from the Sanskrit words “ashtau” which means 8 and “anga” which means “members”. The 8 limbs refer to 8 essential practices in Ashtanga yoga that we will develop later: rules of behavior, self-discipline, body postures, the art of breathing, mastery of the senses, concentration, meditation and l ‘illumination.
The basic principles of Ashtanga Yoga
The principles of Ashtanga yoga are based on the eight limbs developed by Patanjali in his collection entitled “Yoga-sutra”, they constitute a kind of philosophy of life that involves:
Rules of behavior (yamas)
The yamas are about our relationships with others and external things. There are 5 yamas that the individual must respect: do no harm, be honest, do not steal, be faithful or abstinent (brahmacharya) and not be greedy. The first form of yama is ahimsa which means to cause no pain to any creature, do no harm, do not kill by any means and never. Which involves becoming a vegetarian, vegan or vegan.
The second member refers to the rules that the individual must apply to himself. The niyamas are: cleanliness inside, cleanliness outside, contentment, knowledge of the sacred texts. The latter can lead to surrender to God if the individual truly engages in a spirituality (sadhana) filled with benevolence, bliss and compassion.
Body postures (asanas)
The postures make it possible to energize the body, to make it more flexible and to bring stability and self-confidence. The aim is to nourish the body with the vital breath (prana) in each posture, in order to lead to a meditative state of letting go. The postures are essential in Ashtanga yoga since they allow to correct imbalances and to stabilize in order to unite the body and the mind, as in all other yoga practices.
This includes the vital breath, the length of time in a breath cycle, the restriction of the breath, and the expansion or stretching of the breath. Practicing pranayama helps to purify the channels essential to life on earth and to eliminate stress and physical and mental toxins, In physical practice breathing helps raise the body temperature, which promotes the elimination of toxins. The inspiration and the expiration must be of the same duration and be done through the nose by a breath called ujjayi. In Ashtanga yoga and in all postural practices, breathing is very important since it is linked to emotions.
Mastery of the senses (pratyahara)
It is the control of the senses that can lead to inner stability, this is possible by directing one’s concentration on the respiratory rhythm. Seeking to calm and control his mind without being affected by one or more of our five senses helps the individual to progress towards concentration until they are blocked. The individual no longer pays attention to external things in order to concentrate on himself and his internal sensations.
The individual’s attention must be focused on an external object, a vibration or a rhythm within oneself.
The work on concentration allows the practice of meditation, which consists in ceasing all mental activities, where no thought exists.
This last stage constitutes the alliance between the self (atman) and the absolute (brahman), in Buddhist philosophy it is called nirvana, it is the state of full consciousness.
The benefits of Ashtanga Yoga
It is also a source of energy. Ashtanga yoga promotes better circulation of internal energy, which with us most of the time is blocked. ” Life is the movement “, explains Caroline Boulinguez, teacher of ashtanga. It is therefore the excess of a sedentary lifestyle that exhausts the body. Put it back in a continuous movement, it revitalizes itself. A session is an hour and a half of sequences and the practice is sometimes challenging. Ashtanga yoga requires skill, endurance and training. Seen from the outside, a class seems extremely physical, almost acrobatic. The benefits are quite immediate and regular practice reshapes the silhouette and refines it. You will also gain flexibility and shape.
If your back teases you, this yoga has therapeutic effects as well. It allows you to work the deep back muscles that are neglected most of the time. On the other hand, these positions promote a correct attitude of the vertical axis in all positions including, in the standing position. Result: the back is strengthened and the pain is gone. If you feel flogged at the end of the day, don’t give up on your session, it will drive away fatigue more surely than any vitamin cocktail!
Summary Ashtanga yoga allows you to:
- Reduce toxins: The practice of Ashtanga yoga causes an increase in internal temperature causing an increase in sweating. This allows the elimination of toxins from the body.
- Strengthen the joints of the body: the use of varied and dynamic postures promotes proper functioning of the joints.
- Increase endurance and flexibility
- Lose weight: a study of 14 children aged 8 to 15 at risk of developing type 2 diabetes showed that Ashtanga yoga was an effective ally for weight loss.
- Reduce stress and anxiety: Meditation and breathing exercises are good for better stress management as well as reducing anxiety.
- It balances the Doshas in Ayurveda.
What are the differences between traditional yoga and Ashtanga Yoga ?
In Ashtanga yoga, individuals stay in a posture for a shorter time because each posture is linked to a defined number of breaths (5 or 8), which allows a rapid sequence of several postures. It, therefore, requires more physical investment and makes yoga more dynamic than traditional yoga. In addition, the breathing technique is special and the duration of inspiration and expiration are decisive in the transition of postures.