The powerful system of Ashtanga Yoga practice is designed to purify the body, nervous system and mind. One of the main distinguishing features of Ashtanga yoga is that it links a set series of postures together in a flowing sequence that is synchronised with the breath.
Ashtanga Yoga Chants
Ashtanga Yoga Opening Chant
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukhava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai
Sahasra Shirasam Svetam
I pray to the Lotus feet of the Supreme Guru who teaches the
Good Knowledge, showing the way to knowing the Self-awakening
Great Happiness; who is the doctor of the jungle,
Able to remove the poison of ignorance from conditioned existence.
To Patanjali, an incarnation of Adisesa, white in colour with 1000
Radiant heads (in his form as the divine serpent, Ananta),
Human in form below the shoulders holding a sword (for discrimination),
A wheel of Fire (discus of light, representing infinite time),
And a conch (for divine sound) –
To him, I prostrate.
Ashtanga Yoga Closing Chant
Swasthi – Praja Bhyah Pari Pala Yantam
Nya – Yena Margena Mahi – Mahishaha
Go – Brahmanebhyaha – Shubhamastu – Nityam
Lokaa – Samastha Sukhino – Bhavanthu
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi
Let Prosperity be Glorified –
Let Rulers (Administrators) lead the world with law and justice
Let divinity and erudition (spiritual education) be protected
Let all beings everywhere be happy and free
Om peace, peace and perfect peace
Key benefits of a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice
• Develops strength and flexibility
• Tones muscles
• Lubricates joints
• Massages internal organs
• Releases chronic tension
• Improves circulation
• Energizes and refreshes
• Helps with weight loss
• Calms restless thoughts
• Supports mental clarity
• Promotes self-awareness
About Ashtanga Yoga
The home of Ashtanga Yoga is Mysore, India, where it has been taught for many years by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his grandson Sharath Jois at the K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute.
Pattabhi Jois, or Guruji as his students call him, began practicing and refining the Ashtanga system in 1927 with his teacher, the great Sri T. Krishnamacharya. Sadly he departed this world in May 2009 and the lineage holder is now Sharath Jois.
Ashtanga yoga translates as “eight-limbed yoga” (ashta=eight, anga=limb) and refers to the eight limbs outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra, which include moral and ethical guidelines, postures, breath work, sense withdrawal, concentration, and meditation. These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.
Mysore self-practice is the traditional way of practising ashtanga yoga and offers a highly personalised approach. Here, you will be addressed by name, the teacher will know your practice inside out, and best of all this class is quiet – there’s very little talking and no new age music.
You start and finish your practice for the length that it takes – this may be anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Practising in this way gives you the space to focus.
The cue to move on to the next posture comes from your own breath, instead of a teacher’s instructions. Students can therefore spend a little longer working at their own pace on something they find challenging. In effect, you become your own teacher. If there is something you are unable to do, the teacher will give you an easier version.
Practicing Ashtanga Yoga
The purpose of vinyasa is to build heat in the body, to warm and thin the blood. This improves circulation and removes impurities from the internal organs. These impurities are then eliminated in a profuse, purifying sweat.
The resulting purification of the body and nervous system is aided by a special system of deep breathing called ujjayi pranayama, or ‘victorious breath’.
Internal muscular locks called bandhas are integral to this style of resonant breathing. The bandhas also help to stabilise the spine, bringing lightness and health to the body.
Ashtanga yoga is learnt slowly, step by step. This takes great patience and steadfastness of mind to accept where the body is in a posture and allow the body and posture to unfold over time. It is not uncommon for it to take months or years to understand and be able to safely do a posture (asana).
Finally, Ashtanga yoga steadies the mind by focusing the gaze on specific dristhis or ‘focus points’. The focus on posture, breath and gaze is called Tristhanam and is what purifies the body, nervous system and mind.
The focus points of Ashtanga:
• Asana – posture
• Breath – inner purifying
• Dristhi – internal focus
According to the late Pattabhi Jois our practice is 99% physical and 1% theory.
What this means is that Ashtanga places focus on our experience to gain knowledge of the body/mind, rather than study. One can know a lot about Ashtanga from reading texts, but it is the experience of practice that provides the greatest teaching.
Practicing Ashtanga yoga begins by attending a led class, where a teacher instructs the Primary Series of postures. It is almost certain you will not complete the entire series – and this is ok. The series is designed to be approached progressively.
The Primary series is intended to realign the spine, detoxify the body, and build strength, flexibility, and stamina.
The series of about 75 poses takes an hour and a half to two hours to complete, beginning with sun salutations (surya namaskara A and surya namaskara B) and moving on to standing poses, seated poses, inversions, and backbends before a closing sequence and relaxation.
The teacher will guide you to the level your body is at and then provide instructions on how to work on the next pose in the sequence.
Overall there are 4 published sequence in Ashtanga yoga, each one providing another level of deep inner cleansing for the body and mind.