Ashtanga yoga is a vigorous form of yoga that utilises both the breath and a series of poses to improve the body and the mind. The aerobic workout removes impurities from the system and strengthens the circulatory system.
What Ashtanga Means
The word “Ashtanga” means eight limbs and refers to the eight limbs of classical yoga. The eight limbs are “Yama” (moral codes), “Niyama” (self-purification and study), “Asana” (posture), “Pranayama” (breath control), “Pratyahara” (sense control), “Dharana” (concentration), “Dhyana” (meditation), and “Samadhi” (contemplation). However, Ashtanga is primarily concerned with the third limb, “Asana”.
The Asanas are a set of poses that the student performs. Often, these are called Sun Salutations and the movements are well-defined. The series of movements is vigorous and as such, the yoga class is very aerobic. Asanas are designed to create heat within the body in order to create a purifying sweat. This sweat then removes impurities from muscles and organs, creating a healing atmosphere within the body.
As some Asanas can be very advanced, it is important that the student works their way up from a beginner level so as to avoid injury. The yoga teacher will always work within your abilities.
Vinyasa, Tristhana and Dristhi
“Vinyasa” is the breathing and movement system and for each movement there is one breath. Each Asana has a specific number of Vinyasa. For example, a posture or asana requiring nine movements would require nine breaths. The Vinyasa promotes internal cleansing.
Within Ashtanga, the length of the inhaling breath should be the same as the length of the exhaling breath. By synchronizing the breathing and movement in the poses, the blood is heated, thereby cleaning and thinning it, allowing it to flow better throughout the body. The improved circulation then removes toxins and disease and relieves pain in the joints. The sweat then carries the impurities from the body.
The “Tristhana” is the union of the posture, breathing system and looking place. These cover the body, nervous system and the mind and they are always performed together.
The “Dristhi” is the point that a person focuses on when practicing their Asanas. There are nine points – the nose, between the eyebrows, the navel, the thumbs, the hands, the feet, up (the direction) and the right and left sides of the body. The Dristhi or looking place helps to stabilize the mind.
The word “Bandha” means to lock or seal and is a vital part of the breathing technique. It unlocks the pranic energy and directs through the energy channels of the body. The “Mula Bandha” is the anal lock and the “Uddiyana Bandha” is the lower abdominal lock. These Bandhas seal in energy and strengthen the body. The “Jalandhara Bandha” is the throat lock and it stops energy from escaping the body via the head as well as preventing pressure build up in the head when the breath is held.
It is vital that the Bandhas are controlled fully otherwise breathing will be incorrect and there will be no benefit from the poses.