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Advanced Concepts

What is Ashtanga yoga: Definition, benefits, and how to practice it according to your level

Are you on a quest to find a yoga practice that not only stretches and strengthens your body but also calms and sharpens your mind? Ashtanga Yoga emerges as a compelling choice.

Renowned for its structured approach and emphasis on synchronized breathing, Ashtanga Yoga masterfully combines physical challenge with mental discipline.

Find out more about this form of yoga in this article.

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic and structured form of yoga that challenges and nurtures practitioners in equal measure.

It’s a practice steeped in tradition, yet adaptable to the needs of modern yogis seeking both physical and spiritual development.

✳️ Ashtanga Yoga definition

At its core, Ashtanga Yoga is a vinyasa-style practice, well-known for its precise sequence of poses and the synchronization of breath with movement.

The methodology divides the practice into six series, each with its own focus and increasing level of difficulty.

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Beginners embark on their Ashtanga journey with the Primary Series, dedicating themselves to mastering each posture before moving on to subsequent series.

This disciplined approach does more than just improve physical strength and flexibility; it cultivates mental focus and discipline, offering a holistic path to wellness that resonates deeply with practitioners around the globe.

Origin of Ashtanga Yoga

The roots of Ashtanga Yoga trace back to Mysore, India, where Sri K. Pattabhi Jois popularized the practice in the 20th century.

Jois’s teaching emphasized the transformative power of Ashtanga Yoga, which he believed could purify the body and mind.

The practice involves a set sequence of postures, starting with Sun Salutations, followed by standing and seated poses, and concluding with inversions and a closing sequence.

Ashtanga Yoga benefits

Ashtanga Yoga, with its structured and intensive approach, brings a wide array of benefits that extend beyond the physical to the mental and spiritual realms.

These benefits are magnified by the practice’s demanding nature, offering a comprehensive enhancement of well-being.

Strength enhancement

The dynamic movements and weight-bearing poses inherent in Ashtanga Yoga practice contribute significantly to building muscular strength.

Practitioners often notice rapid gains in:

  • Core strength
  • Arm strength
  • Leg strength,

which are essential for the more advanced asanas and for overall physical health.

Improved flexibility and balance

Ashtanga Yoga involves a variety of asanas that stretch and open the body in all directions.

This not only improves flexibility over time but also aids in developing better balance and coordination.

The practice of standing poses, in particular, is crucial for establishing a foundation of balance and for preparing the body for more challenging postures.

Enhanced respiratory efficiency

One of the hallmarks of Ashtanga Yoga is the synchronization of breath with movement, known as Ujjayi Pranayama.

This focused breathing technique enhances respiratory efficiency, increasing lung capacity and facilitating better oxygen exchange.

The rhythmic nature of the breath also helps to calm the mind and improve concentration.

Stress management and inner peace

The rigorous physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga, combined with deep, mindful breathing, has a profound calming effect on the nervous system.

It aids in stress management by releasing tension from the body and quieting the mind.

As practitioners progress, they often experience a deepening of their meditative practice, leading to greater inner peace and mental clarity.

Cultivation of a meditative state

Ashtanga Yoga encourages a meditative focus through its repetitive sequences and the emphasis on breath awareness.

This continuous, flowing movement, guided by deep, conscious breathing, helps to cultivate a state of moving meditation.

Practitioners learn to maintain a singular focus amidst physical exertion, which can lead to heightened states of awareness and mindfulness.

In summary, Ashtanga Yoga offers a comprehensive suite of benefits that enhance physical health, mental well-being, and spiritual growth.

Principles of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is grounded in three fundamental principles: breath, posture, and gaze points, known collectively as Tristhana.

These elements synergize to foster a meditative state and purify both mind and body.

1. Breath: Ujjayi Pranayama

Central to Ashtanga is Ujjayi Pranayama, a controlled breathing technique that regulates energy flow and maintains a rhythmic balance throughout the practice.

It enhances focus and calms the mind.

2. Posture: Asanas

The sequence of postures, or asanas, is designed to improve strength, flexibility, and balance.

Precision in these poses ensures physical and internal benefits, promoting health and vitality.

3. Gaze Points: Drishti

Drishti, or focused gaze, aids in concentration and deepens meditation.

Each posture pairs with a specific gaze point, directing attention inward and stabilizing the mind.

Together, these principles form the core of Ashtanga Yoga, guiding practitioners toward a harmonious union of mind, body, and spirit.

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What does an Ashtanga Yoga class Consist of according to your level?

Ashtanga Yoga offers a systematic approach to practice, tailored to accommodate varying levels of experience and skill.

The structure of the classes is designed to guide practitioners through a progressive journey of self-discovery and physical improvement.

▶️ For beginners: The primary series

The initiation into Ashtanga Yoga begins with the Primary Series, also known as Yoga Chikitsa, which means yoga therapy.

This series is designed to detoxify the body and align the spine, laying the foundation for a healthy yoga practice.

It consists of a sequence of poses that focus on:

  • Forward bends
  • Hip openers
  • And the synchronization of breath with movement.

Beginners are encouraged to take their time to learn each pose, with an emphasis on mastering the basics before moving on.

For intermediate practitioners: The secondary series

Once the Primary Series is comfortably practiced, students may progress to the Secondary Series, or Nadi Shodhana, which translates to nerve cleansing.

This series introduces new poses that demand more strength, flexibility, and balance, including backbends, deeper twists, and arm balances.

The focus here extends to the purification of the nervous system and the subtle energy channels within the body.

For advanced practitioners: The advanced series

Advanced practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga may undertake the Advanced Series, which is further divided into A, B, C, and D levels.

These series intensify the challenge, introducing poses that require a high degree of physical prowess, concentration, and breath control.

The Advanced Series expands the limits of what the body can achieve and deepens the meditative aspects of the practice.

Ashtanga, a new way of understanding yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is more than just a physical practice; it’s a journey of self-discovery and transformation.

Whether you’re a beginner curious about Ashtanga or an experienced yogi looking to deepen your practice, Ashtanga Yoga offers a structured path toward physical health, mental clarity, and spiritual growth.

Embrace the challenge, and you may find Ashtanga Yoga to be a rewarding addition to your yoga practice, unveiling benefits that resonate both on and off the mat.

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