Ashtanga Yoga in the tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Mysore, South India
Yoga is a philosophy of life, which also has the potential to create a vibrantly healthy body and mind. Ashtanga Yoga, practiced in its correct sequential order, gradually leads the practitioner to rediscover his or her fullest potential on all levels of human consciousness - physical, psychological, and spiritual. Through this practice of correct breathing (Ujjayi), postures (asana), and gazing point (dristi), we gain control of the senses and a deep awareness of ourselves. By maintaining this discipline with regularity and devotion, one acquires steadiness of body and mind. Ashtanga literally means eight limbs. They are described by Patanjali as: Yama (abstinence), Niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (contemplation). These branches support each other. Asana practice must be established for proper practice of pranayama, and is a key to the development of the yamas and niyamas. Once these four externally oriented limbs are firmly rooted, the last four internally oriented limbs will spontaneously evolve over time.
Vinyasa in the Ashtanga tradition means breath synchronized movment. The breath is the heart of this discipline, and links asana to asana in a precise order. By synchronizing movement with breathing and practicing mula and uddiyana bandhas (locks), an intense internal heat is produced. This heat purifies muscles and organs, expelling unwanted toxins as well as releasing beneficial hormones and minerals, which can nourish the body when the sweat is massaged back into the skin. The breath regulates the vinyasa and ensures efficient circulation of blood. The result is a light, strong body.
There are three groups of sequences in the Ashtanga system. The primary series referred to as Yoga Chikitsa meaning yoga therapy, detoxifies and aligns the body. The intermediate series named Nadi Shodhana meaning nerve purification) purifies the nervous system by opening and clearing energy channels or nadis. The advanced series is composed of 4 parts now referred to as A or 3rd series, B or 4th series, C or 5th series, and D or 6th series. The Advanced grouping is named Sthira Bhaga meaning divine grace. Each series integrates 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.
The continuity of deep, even breathing cannot be overemphasized in the Ashtanga yoga system. When breath feeds action, and action feeds posture, each movement becomes gentle, precise, and perfectly steady. According to the teachings of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, "breath is life." Breathing is our most fundamental and vital act and holds a divine essence; exhalation is a movement towards god, and inhalation an inspiration from god. Our last action in life is to exhale, which, in essence, is the final and total surrender to God.
It is said where there is no effort there is no benefit. Strength, stamina, and sweat are unique aspects of this traditional yoga, seemingly contrary to Western perceptions of yoga. This demanding practice requires considerable effort and taps into and circulates a vital energy throughout the body, strengthening and purifying the nervous system. The mind then becomes lucid, clear, and precise; and according to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois "wherever you look you will see God." Only through the practice will we realize the truth of what our guru often says - "everything is God."
Please note the importance of learning the Ashtanga method only from a traditionally trained teacher. Only a qualified teacher can provide the necessary guidance to assure safe, steady progress without injury to body or mind.
History of Ashtanga
Both a style of yoga and the eight limbed path of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Ashtanga has become known to Americans as the tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, South India. Browsing ancient manuscripts in a Calcutta library with his teacher, T. Krishnamacharya (whose students include BKS Iyengar, Desikachar, and Indra Devi), Jois discovered the vinyasa, or breath movement system, written on grape leaves, perhaps hundreds of years old, considering the nature of the Sanskrit in which it was written. This text was known as the yoga korunta.
Characteristics & Tools of the Practice
The elements of the Ashtanga system have brought incredible techniques to the forefront of yoga around the world. One of the most powerful aspects of the practice is vinyasa meaning breath synchronized movement. The breath is the heart of this discipline and links asana in a precise order, according to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Like most Sanskrit words, vinyasa has a variety of meanings depending on context: 1) movement or position of limbs, 2) arrangement or order, 3) putting together and connecting (vinya means to put down in different places or spread out). In this system, vinyasa means the synchronization of movement with breath linking asanas in a precise sequence. In addition to vinyasa, the practice is also characterized by 3 foundation principles or tristhana.
Bandhas: Mula Bandha (root lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (upward belly lock) create an internal heat which purifies muscles and organs, expelling unwanted toxins as well as releasing beneficial hormones and minerals. Static contraction of the quadriceps also contributes the creation of heat.
Dristi: gazing point used to stimulate an energetic and nervous system response.
Ujjayi: victory breath, Ujjayi is the whispering ahh sound over the throat designed to increase the quality of the breath and concentration.
Methods of Learning
Mysore: When the series is taught and paced by a teacher, it is called a led class. When the series is practiced by the student at his/her own pace, it is called Mysore style.
Moon Days: Tradition dictates that one takes rest on Full and New Moon days. This teaches us to be non-attached to the practice and to respect the rest and recovery process required for balance and energy. This also synchronizes one's energy with the natural cycles of the earth, moon, and sun. Full Moon Dates
Founder, Proponent, and Guru
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois was born in 1915 in Mysore, south India. He studied yoga under Acharya Sr T. Krishnamacharya from 1927 to 1945. He attended the Sanskrit College of Msyore and eventually served as a professor of Sanskrit and Advaita Vedanta. The Maharaj of Mysore appointed him head of the Yoga department. At the Sanskrit College in 1937, and he retained that post until his retirement in 1973. In 1945 he was honored with the title "Yogasana Visharada" (one who is distinguished in Yoga Asana) by Sri Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Puri. In 1948, he founded the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute with a view to teaching yoga according to traditional methods prescribed by the ancient maharishi's of India and to explore the curative value of yoga as described by the ancient texts.
Yoga Mala, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, 1956
Ashtanga Yoga, Lino Miele, 1994
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute
Yogasana Visharada Vedanta Vidwan
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Director
R. Sharat, Assitant Director
876/1 First Cross, Lakshmipuram
Mysore 570 004 South India
ASHTANGA YOGA MANTRAM
Vande Gurunam Caranaravinde
Sandarsita Svatma Sukhava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohasantyai
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
I bow to the lotus feet of the supreme guru
who awakens insight into the happiness of pure Being,
who is the final refuge, the jungle physician,
who eliminates the delusion/ignorance
caused by the poisonous herb of samsara or conditioned existence.
To the sage Patanjali, an incarnation of Adisesa,
who has thousands of radiant white heads
in his form as the divine serpent Ananta,
and who has, as far as his arms,
assumed the form of a man holding a conch shell representing divine sound,
a wheel of fire representing a discus of light representing infinite time,
and a sword representing discrimination,
to him, I prostrate.
Swasthi Praja Bhyah Pari Pala Yantam
Nya Yena Margena Mahi Mahishaha
Lokaa Samastaha Sukhino Bhavanthu
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
Let prosperity be glorified,
let rulers rule the world
with law and justice,
let the eternal truths and enlightenment
let people of the whole world
be happy and prosperous.
Om Peace Peace Peace
Do your practice and all is coming.
~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois