The Ashtanga Yoga system is a living lineage that dates back thousands of years in an unbroken line of teachers, sages and gurus that culminates in the life of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, his grandson R.Sharath Jois and every Ashtanga practitioner that adheres to this legacy today. This direct transmission of knowledge from teacher to student is known as “parampara” and contains unparalleled wisdom.
Ashtanga literally means “eight-limbs” and by practicing each of the limbs all of the impurities in the body and mind are destroyed. The first four limbs are externally oriented and include the various ways we behave in the world (the yamas and niyamas), the control of the body through asana (poses) and the control of the breath through pranayama. The last four limbs follow on spontaneously after many years of practice: pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (single-pointed focus), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (liberation).
The asana technique is known for being rigorous and energetic. There are six series of asanas with each series comprising a set sequence of poses to be followed exactly. In the most important first or primary series (called “Yoga Chikitsa” or yoga therapy) there are 30 poses.
The foundation of Ashtanga yoga is breath (incorporating bandhas or locks), asana (poses) and drsti (gazing point). Moving with the breath, or vinyasa, is central to the practice. In each pose there is a specific gaze, which among other things helps to concentrate the focus within and cultivate a steady mind.
One traditionally learns Ashtanga yoga in ‘Mysore-style’ classes where students of all levels gather to practice simultaneously, each assisted individually by the teacher. Mysore is the city in India where the Ashtanga Yoga Institute is and where R.Sharath Jois teaches. ‘Mysore-style’ is self-practice where the poses are given one-by-one by the teacher until the student reaches a pose that is challenging for them, which is where they might stay for a while. The ordering of the sequence to systematically unlock the body and the personal relationship with the teacher keeps the practice safe. It is unique in that each student inhabits their own practice starting wherever they are, guided by the teacher and empowered to move with their own breath amidst a supportive collective silence. Students receive much individual attention and adjustment from the teacher, and this bond is a pillar of the practice. Led classes typically occur once a week where students all move together, guided by the teacher counting each vinyasa in Sanskrit.