The name Ashtanga Yoga is based on the concept of eight limbs of yoga as mentioned in the famous Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali compiled this path into Philosophy (Darshan) in his text to formulate the eight fold path i.e. the eight limbs of yoga.
In Sanskrit, ‘Ashta’ plus ‘anga’ combine as ‘Ashtanga’ that logically means ‘Eight Limb’ path. Ashtanga Yoga is basically a gymnastic style of Yoga and hence names like ‘Power Yoga’ and ‘Vinyasa Yoga’ are also associated with this dynamic health practice.
Ashtanga Yoga is the modern day phenomenon of the ancient classical Yoga which originated in India around five thousand years ago based on Vedic Philosophy and Tantras. Ashtanga Yoga is actually Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
Later, this form of Yoga was codified and popularised by the Indian Yog guru K. Pattabhi Jois after he established Ashtanga Yoga Research institute in the year 1948. Also known as Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, it is located in Mysore, India. Mysore style of Ashtanga Yoga is a traditional style that allows the practitioner to move in his/her own pace; however centres teaching this traditional style are rare to find.
Ashtanga Yoga involves breath synchronization along with a progressive sequence of postures. The main motive behind practicing Ashtanga Yoga is detoxification of body.
In the process, severe heat is produced inside the body and intense cleansing takes place as the sweat thus produced detoxicates organs and muscles. This results in improved blood circulation; lighter, stronger and calmer mind and body.
Major features that collectively form the practice of Ashtanga Yoga are –
- Synchronized breathing movements or Vinyasa i.e. yogic movements between poses coordinated with methodical breathing.
- Free breathing accompanied with normal sound so as to resonate the throat of the practitioner.
- Muscle locking method as this contraction ties energy to the breath inside the body.
- Focus on prescribed point while breathing that defines drishti (observation).
- Sequential asanas (poses) comprising opening, back bending, and closing sequences.
- The opening sequence starts with 8 to 10 Sun Salutations and other standing asanas.
- The practice ends with Savasana
‘Eight’ ‘Limbs’ or ‘Ashta’ ‘Anga’
The Eight fold path or eight limbs of yoga are defined as follows –
- Yama (Restraint or Moral Code Principles)
The yamas helps one regain balance in life. They include –
- Ahimsa – Non-injury
- Satya – Truthfulness
- Asteya – Non-stealing
- Brahmacharya – Divine Conduct
- Kshama – Patience
- Dhriti – Steadfastness
- Daya – Compassion
- Arjava – Honesty
- Mitahara – Moderate Appetite
- Shaucha – Purity
- Niyama (Observances)
The niyamas are practices that lead to wisdom and knowledge of the ‘Self’. They include –
- Hri – Remorse
- Santosha – Contentment
- Dana – Giving
- Astikya – Faith
- Ishvara Pujana – Worship
- Siddhanta Shravana – Scriptural Listening
- Mati – Cognition
- Vrata – Sacred Vows
- Japa – Recitation
- Tapas – Austerity
- Asana (Posture)
Asana includes yogic and meditational postures, meant to strengthen health and self-awareness. Asanas are meant to gain mental equilibrium.
- Pranayama (Control and Expansion of Energy through various breath control techniques)
This control and extension of breath is used to expand energy; relax and stabilize nerves; and develop better concentration.
- Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal)
By withdrawing the mind from senses via systematic relaxation, mental poise and calmness is achieved. This posture prepares the mind to accumulate more and more power.
- Dharana (Concentration on a particular object)
When the mind rests and completely concentrates on its inner object and field, it becomes unwavering.
- Dhyana (Meditation)
When an effortless and unbroken flow of concentration is attained it is called meditation. The mind becomes steady, relaxed and withdrawn from all the external objects and distractions. The focused mind then meditates on one point.
- Samadhi (Self Realization)
When self-realization is attained, one’s eternal self alone radiates in the mind. The Samadhi point is achieved when individual consciousness merges with the universal consciousness; at this point a subliminal union takes place between Paramatman and Jivatman. The Sahasrar Chakra becomes active – the point of the union between Shiva and Shakti. The goal of life, i.e. salvation, is achieved and God is realised.
Ashtanga Yoga Mantra
The Mantra – I
Vande gurunam caranaravinde
Sandarsita svatma sukhavabodhe
Samsara halahala mohasantyai
Sahasra sirasam svetam
I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus,
The awakening happiness of one’s own self revealed,
Beyond better, acting like the jungle physician,
Pacifying delusion, the poison of samsara.
Taking the form of a man to the shoulders,
Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword,
One thousand heads white,
To Patanjali, I salute.
The Mantra – II
Swasthi prajabhyah paripalayantam
Nyayena margena mahi mahishaha
Gobrahmanebhyaha shubhamastu nityam
Lokaasamastha sukhino bhavanthu
May all be well with mankind,
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path
May there be goodness for those who know the earth to be sacred
May all the worlds be happy
© Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the USA, 2007