Ashtanga Yoga: History, Info and Practice

Ashtanga yoga postures and Ashtanga yoga sequences. If you are looking for a place to go to practice Ashtanga yoga, and its lesser known pranayama (breathing technique) sequence and a few even lesser known practices like neti (cleansing of nasal passage using a waxed string), you may have to travel to Mysore India. Pattabhi Jois (deceased) and now his grandson Sharath teach these practices in Mysore, India. This is the extent of the Ashtanga yoga practices taught by Pattabhi Jois to me and there is no other who will give this complete experience. I lived in the city of Mysore, India, as a student, as well as a student of David Williams Ashtanga yoga school on Maui in 1979-80.

Sometimes Ashtanga yoga will be referred to as Ashtanga vinyasa yoga which is the same thing.  Vinyasa yoga is a yoga practice of poses linked together with cobra pose, down dog pose and breath.

The Sanskrit word "Ashtanga" means eight limbs: asht = 8 and anga = limbs

It refers to a yoga system, including Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.

The history of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is short as it is only a percentage of Pattabhi Jois' life and according to George Feuerstein (a predominant yoga historian), there is no other mention anywhere of this type of yoga, or the "Yoga Korunta", which is supposedly its source.

In my 40 years of experience I have found these ashtanga sequences inaccessible to 98% of people, because of it's vigorous sequences, duration of sequences which take between 1 ½ - 2 hours each to complete, and is full of contortionism.

Just as you see in sports or the Olympics, different body types excel at different activities. It is the small, lean and sinewy body that tends to progress through Ashtanga's sequences most easily (but still not easy). If this is not your body, progress in this style is usually very difficult or not possible. Just as you don’t see Olympic gymnasts that are over 6’ 4” tall.

Much of the Ashtanga yoga classes online (of which some are free), as well as Ashtanga workshops, have been altered to make them more accessible.  These are not Pattabhis Jois’ original style. They are softened and modified to allow for more accessibility. Pattabhi passed away around 2012 at 92 years old. Pattabhi Jois did not practice his own Ashtanga sequences and nobody truly knows why. Pattabhi spoke very little English and relayed no adjunct philosophy along with the practices mentioned above.

I appreciate and feel fortunate to have participated in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga my first 12 years of yoga. Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga is certainly influenced by this style.

Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga takes from Ashtanga vinyasa yoga the dance like elements (Vinyasa flow) and combines that with the higher practices of meditation and blends these with a motivating and uplifting dialogue. Offering a modestly vigorous and comprehensive yoga and overall fitness experience. Power Yoga.

The predominant Ashtanga yoga practice in the western world is a yoga asana (yoga postures) system of 6 (Ashtanga) yoga sequences consisting of approximately 40 asanas each. If you ever see an Ashtanga yoga video you will most likely see all or part of these 6 sequences as these are the most commonly practiced aspects of Ashtanga yoga. A lesser known pranayama (breathing techniques) sequence and a few even lesser known practices like neti (cleansing of nasal passage using a waxed string). Pattabhi Jois teaches that this asana practice should be performed Sunday through Friday taking Saturday and new moons and full moons as rest days. I never witnessed Pattabhi Jois allowing for modifications regardless of gender or age or even ailments although menstruating women were not allowed to participate until menstruation was complete. This is the extent of the Ashtanga yoga practice as taught by Pattabhi Jois to me as I lived down the street from his shala (yoga house) in Mysore, India spending my days with him and his wife in their shala. I also studied with Pattabhi Jois’ earliest and most prolific student David Williams whom was my first Ashtanga yoga teacher as well as my roommate on the island of Maui in 1979-80.

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