Yoga is a philosophy of life, which has the potential to create a vibrantly healthy body and mind.
“Ashtanga” literally means eight limbs. These limbs (aspects) are described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras as: Yama (moral, ethical and social conduct), Niyama (personal behaviour ), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (contemplation). All of these branches support each other. Asana is a key to the development of the yamas and niyamas and must be established for the proper practice of Pranayama. Once these four externally oriented limbs are firmly rooted, the last four internally oriented limbs will spontaneously evolve over time.
Ashtanga yoga is traditionally practised in a strict sequential order. Each posture is a preparation for the next, developing the strength and balance required to move further. Through the practice of correct breathing, asana (posture) and dristi (gaze point) we start to gain control of the senses and a deep awareness of ourselves.
Deep, even slow breathing through the nose is at the heart of this discipline, creating focus and a quiet mind. By synchronising the movement with the breath and practising mula (root) and uddiyana (upward lifting) bandhas (internal locks that serve to direct the flow of energy in the body) the practice becomes a moving meditation. A deep internal heat is produced, which can help to purify the muscles and organs, expelling unwanted toxins. This allows prana (energy) to move freely around the body.
Strength, stamina and sweat are unique aspects of Ashtanga Yoga, seemingly contrary to Western perceptions of Yoga. This demanding practise requires considerable effort and taps into and circulates a vital energy throughout the body, strengthening and purifying the nervous system.
There are three groups of sequences in the Ashtanga system.
The Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa) detoxifies and aligns the body.
The Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhana) purifies the nervous system by opening and clearing the energy channels.
The Advanced Series A, B, C and D (Sthira Bhaga) integrate the strength and grace of the practice, requiring higher levels of flexibility and humility.
Each level is to be fully developed before proceeding to the next, and the sequential order of asanas is to be meticulously followed.