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What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Hatha Yoga, Yin Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Laughing Yoga, Acro-Yoga, Hip-Hop Yoga, BROga – it seems every day a new type of yoga is popping up. Even one of the oldest traditions of yoga, Ashtanga, has branched out into a number of different methods, as new teachers adapt ancient styles to modern lives.

If you’ve been tempted to drop into an Ashtanga Yoga class, here’s our breakdown of what to expect.

Ashtanga Yoga
The Ashtanga Yoga tradition can be traced back to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (200 AD) as well as the ancient Hindu text of the Bhagavad Gita. Ashtanga Yoga translated means ‘ashta’ – eight, ‘tanga’ – limbs and ‘yoga’ – union. Meaning, Ashtanga Yoga is an 8-limb path towards union with the divine.

There is no particular preference to one of the eight limbs, instead the path is holistic and if practiced can bring one into connection with the divine.

The eight steps of Ashtanga yoga begins with ethical social conduct (Yamas), self-discipline (Niyamas), body postures (Asanas), breath control/extension (Pranayama), sense control (Pratyahara), concentration of mind (Dharana), devotion (Dhyana), and finishes with union with the divine (Samadhi).

To practice Ashtanga Yoga, one needs to start with the Yamas, which itself requires a lot of changes to our modern minds. The best place to start is by picking up a copy of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and sitting with it for a few months allowing the philosophy to open up to you and integrate into your life.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Adapted and popularised by Guruji Sri K Pattabhi Jois, The Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga method is a style of asanas developed to regulate the movement of body and stillness of mind. Although often associated as a ‘power yoga’ due to the vigorous nature of the vinyasa practice, Pattabhi Jois did his best to distance his tradition from what he labelled ‘ignorant body building’.

GURUJI - Sri K Pattabhi Jois

GURUJI – Sri K Pattabhi Jois

This asana and pranayama focussed yoga consists of six series, beginning with Primary Series.  Most students take years, if not their entire lifetime of practice to complete this first series. Only a handful of students advance past series 3.

When you walk into an Ashtanga Vinyasa Led class, you can expect a teacher to guide you through either the Primary Series or most likely a modified version of the primary series given its difficulty. However, this is not the traditional practice, and is slightly frowned upon by the gurus of the Mysore method.

Mysore Style
Now this is where students sometimes get confused. Mysore style refers to the method taught in the K Pattabhi Jois Yoga Institute in Mysore, India.

Mysore Style class at KPJAYI

Mysore Style class at KPJAYI

If you see on a class timetable ‘Mysore Style’ it means the class will not be led by a teacher. Instead you simply practice on your own, in a room of other yogis. The teacher may lead some counts, pranayama or chanting, but their main role is to help with hands on adjustments. If you are a beginner, you will only practice up until the pose you know, so you may only stay for the sun salutations. Other practitioners stay in the room for 3+ hours! As the Mysore practice demands a 6-day per week commitment to self-practice, many yogis enjoy attending the classes just to soak in the energy of other students, rather than the usual isolation of a home practice.

The Mysore method also still holds onto the teacher/student relationship, so many students will seek out a teacher who has been authorised by the official institute in Mysore and only practice under their guidance. To become and remain authorised as an Ashtanga Teacher you must travel to India to practice in the Mysore shala approximately every 18-months. These teachers will always honour Saturday’s and Moon Days as rest days.

Pattabhi Jois’s grandson Sharath and daughter Saraswati now pass on the tradition at KPJAYI Mysore. If you want a peek at intensity hinted at, you can view a class here:

Omology will be in Mysore in March to practice at KPJAYI. If any other yogis are going to be in town, get in touch!

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