What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Exploring the Eight-Limbed Path to Physical and Mental Wellness

In the bustling world of yoga, Ashtanga yoga1 stands as a venerable and deeply transformative practice. Rooted in ancient traditions, Ashtanga yoga offers a structured and disciplined approach to physical and mental well-being. But what makes Ashtanga yoga a sought-after path to holistic health? Let us explore and uncover its history, principles, and practice.

A Glimpse into Ashtanga’s History

The history of Ashtanga yoga can be traced back to the sage Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras,” a foundational text that outlines the philosophy and practice of yoga. However, it was Sri K. Pattabhi Jois who brought Ashtanga yoga to the modern world in the 20th century. He authored multiple books including Yoga Mala, and his teachings emphasized a rigorous and systematic approach to yoga that gained popularity worldwide.

Ashtanga Yoga Poses Illustration
Yoga vector set. Figures yoga poses. Ashtanga Yoga

The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga

At the heart of Ashtanga yoga are the eight limbs, which serve as a comprehensive guide to leading a life of balance, purpose, and self-realization:

  1. Yama (Moral Restraints): The first limb focuses on ethical principles, including non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), and non-greed (aparigraha).
  2. Niyama (Observances): This limb emphasizes personal observances, such as cleanliness (saucha), contentment (santosha), and self-discipline (tapas).
  3. Asana (Physical Postures): Ashtanga yoga is renowned for its physically demanding postures that enhance strength, flexibility, and balance. The practice of asanas helps prepare the body for meditation and self-realization.
  4. Pranayama (Breath Control): Pranayama involves conscious breath control to enhance vitality and mental clarity. It serves as a bridge between the physical and mental aspects of yoga.
  5. Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal): This limb focuses on turning the senses inward, away from external distractions, and cultivating greater self-awareness.
  6. Dharana (Concentration): Concentration techniques help to develop a focused mind, which is essential for meditation and inner exploration.
  7. Dhyana (Meditation): Dhyana is the practice of sustained, deep meditation, leading to a heightened state of awareness and connection with one’s inner self.
  8. Samadhi (Union): The final limb, Samadhi, represents the ultimate state of enlightenment and oneness with the universe, where the individual self merges with the universal consciousness.

The Ashtanga Yoga Practice

Ashtanga yoga places a significant emphasis on asana practice, specifically the Primary Series, which is a set sequence of postures that students progress through at their own pace. The practice is characterized by its dynamic and flowing nature, with each movement synchronized with the breath. This flowing sequence is known as “vinyasa2.”

A typical Ashtanga class begins with reciting a mantra and a series of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) 3to warm up the body. The practitioner then moves through a set sequence of standing, seated, and closing postures, with a strong focus on alignment and breath.

Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga offers a wide range of physical and mental benefits:

  • Physical Strength and Flexibility: Regular practice enhances muscle strength, flexibility, and overall physical endurance.
  • Stress Reduction: The disciplined practice of Ashtanga yoga calms the mind, reduces stress, and promotes mental clarity.
  • Improved Focus: The concentration required during asana practice and breath control sharpens mental focus.
  • Enhanced Self-awareness: The practice encourages introspection, helping individuals develop a deeper understanding of themselves.
  • Balanced Energy: Ashtanga yoga balances the flow of energy in the body, promoting overall well-being.

Is Ashtanga Yoga for Everyone?

While Ashtanga yoga can be physically demanding, it is accessible to practitioners of all levels. Beginners may start with the Primary Series and gradually progress as they build strength and flexibility. It is essential to listen to your body, practice with patience, and seek guidance from experienced teachers when needed. 

If you believe that your practice is strong and you would like to teach others, then you may consider undertaking an Ashtanga yoga teaching course. Ashtanga yoga teacher training Bali courses provide prospective instructors with the tools needed to learn, grow, and excel. 

Ashtanga yoga is a profound path that offers a structured approach to physical and mental well-being. Rooted in ancient wisdom, it guides practitioners through the eight limbs of yoga, leading to a harmonious and balanced life. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced yogi4, Ashtanga yoga offers a transformative journey of self-discovery and holistic health, inviting you to explore the depths of your own being and reach a state of union with the universe.

  1. Maehle, Gregor. Ashtanga yoga: Practice and Philosophy: A comprehensive description of the primary series of ashtanga yoga, following the traditional vinyasa count, and an authentic explanation of the yoga sutra of Patanjali. New World Library, 2007. ↩︎
  2. Uebelacker, Lisa A., et al. “Open trial of Vinyasa yoga for persistently depressed individuals: evidence of feasibility and acceptability.” Behavior Modification 34.3 (2010): 247-264. ↩︎
  3. Stec, Krzysztof. dynamic Suryanamaskar: Sun Salutations. Litent, 2014. ↩︎
  4. Yogananda, Paramhansa. Autobiography of a Yogi: The Original 1946 Edition plus Bonus Material. Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2005. ↩︎

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Icy Health Editorial Team
  1. Insightful! I thought to start learning some yogic postures to follow everyday and in this process I’ve heard alot about Ashtanga Yoga and was serching to get a proper information about it and I think this article covered almost everything, definitely found that not an easy thing to do but yeah definitely gonna try doing the beginner series, so thank you icy health for this information!

  2. I read about Ashtanga Yoga, and it’s like a full-body and mind workout. They talk about eight parts to it, covering things like how to be good and do calming exercises. Breathing with movement is a big deal, helping you find balance and get to know yourself better. The article really explains well how Ashtanga Yoga can change how you think and feel.

  3. As a yoga enthusiast, I am delighted to see another article that delves deeply into yogic poses that are both uncommon and current in an online search. I feel like I am well-informed and eager to get started in practicing Ashtanga yoga system as soon as possible.

  4. The article about Ashtanga Yoga was really good. It explained what Ashtanga Yoga is and talked about its important parts, like breathing and the order of exercises. It also said that paying attention and connecting breathing with movement is important. I liked learning about how Ashtanga Yoga can change things. The article made it easy to understand this strong yoga style.

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