The principles of the traditional practice of Ashtanga Yoga can bring a deeper sense of awareness and connection to your practice no matter what style of of yoga you practice. Join E-RYT and The Yoga House co-owner Jacqui Nash to learn about the systems of energies, breath and focus established in the Ashtanga lineage which help create a stronger practice, both physically and spiritually. We’ll dive into the incorporation of these elements to bring you into a fuller awareness of the self while practicing any style of yoga. We’ll also go over some sticking points in the Ashtanga practice in order to feel comfortable with where your body is in the asanas and to find your full potential every time you practice, whether it be Ashtanga or Vinyasa Yoga. All practitioners, new and experienced, welcome.
*3 Continuing Education credits earned for existing RYTs with the Yoga Alliance.
You have probably heard us quoting the likes of Iyengar, Yogananda and other yoga masters before or after class, and if you have been to the studio recently, you have seen a few new faces on the front wall. They are T.K.V. Krishnamacharya, Paramahansa Yogananda, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Pattabhi Jois. Although these are certainly not the only fore-figures of theyoga tradition (Hey! where are the women?), they are among the most authoritative practitioners and teachers of yoga as we now know it. This month, we shed light on the history of modern yoga, specifically our Ashtanga-Vinyasa heritage, by sharing from some of the major texts written by these and other influential yogi and yogini teachers. Here’s a brief snapshot:
T.K.V. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), who came from a family of yoga philosophers, was a celebrated yoga scholar and Ayurvedic physician credited with the revival of Hatha Yoga‘s physical forms. He had a reputation for being a demanding teacher of ancient texts and yogaasana as methods of gaining “right knowledge” of the divine. He is called the “architect of vinyasa” and “the father of modern yoga” and was guru to many influential yogis, from Pattabhi Jois to Iyengar to Indra Devi.
Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) heard his life’s calling — to experience oneness with the divine — quite early on in his life. His meditations took him from teacher to teacher until he found his guru, Swami Yukteswar, who advised him to take the teachings of yoga to the U.S., which he did in 1920, eventually opening the Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles, California. He penned Autobiography of a Yogi, detailing his incredible and ofttimes mystical-magical journey toward union with the cosmic consciousness.
Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) is said to have codified the system of Ashtanga Yogaasana, from the Primary Series to the Advanced Series, as it is still practiced today. According to Pattabhi Jois himself, the sequences he popularized were taken, nearly pose by pose, from the teachings of his longtime teacher Krishnamacharya. Chanting, breathing exercises, meditation, and intense study of philosophical texts were also a major component of Jois’ teachings.
New limbs and leaves are sprouting on yoga‘s ancestral tree every day. Thanks in part to these teachers, the practice is alive, well, and evolving as it unites practitioners around the globe in the aspiration to realize our connectedness. Look forward to sharing the journey together on our mats!In peace,
As yogis, we know that there are countless reasons why we incorporate a yoga practice into our lives. The calm, the meditation, the stress relief, the strength, the flexibility, the energy….we could recite an endless list with a blissful grin on our lips. And we can’t deny that many of us are creatures of habit; we enjoy the discipline and the routine that a regular practice adds to our lives.
There isn’t quite a more disciplined yoga practice than that of Ashtanga Yoga. There is very often a cloud of mystery around the meditative practice that might make some uneasy at the site of its listing on a studio’s schedule. To most it seems more physically demanding and rigid than other yoga practices. And the truth is, well, it can be, but in reality Ashtanga yoga is the very foundation for all styles of hatha yoga. Based on a systematic series of asanas, or postures, the Ashtanga format and postures are the building blocks for the different yoga practices that each of us know and love.
K. Pattabhi Jois in Padmasasa
Developed by the father of Hatha Yoga, T. Krishnamacharya in the early 20th century and popularized by his student, K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India, the practice was named for the eight-limbed (literally, ashta-anga) path outlined in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali in the second century CE. It is through this committed hatha yoga practice of Ashtanga Yoga that each limb can eventually blossom and unfold, leading to Self liberation.
What should you expect when you come to the mat for an Ashtanga practice? You will do the same exact postures every time, beginning with Sun Salutations A & B, then standing postures, then seated postures (if you’re doing the primary series. There are actually six series, with the last series including mind-blowing displays of what the human body may be capable of) and last are inversions and finishing postures. Sound boring? Well this practice is anything but that. Filled with numerous vinyasas, or flows, challenging binds, arm balances, hip openers, and most importantly an emphasis on pranayama and drishtis, or focal points, the practice can challenge your focus and commitment like no other practice.
While it’s definitely fun to notice how your body evolves as you do the same asanas at every practice, one can easily forget that we should not be fulfilled by the feats of body contortion and physical strength. The practice offers a myriad of postures from accessible to challenging, from the ones we love to the ones we aren’t too hot on. We cannot avoid running into ourselves—our frustrations, our elations, our falls, our accomplishments—and it takes a concentrated mind to not get caught up in the emotions that might accompany the development of your physical practice. Pattabhi Jois said it best: “It would be a shame to lose the precious jewel of liberation in the mud of ignorant body building.”
It’s hard to believe that Pattabhi Jois didn’t place any emphasis on the physical body when he, as a teacher, would not allow a student to advance beyond the posture that he/she was not able to get completely into. What does that mean? Basically, if you couldn’t quite meet the demands of a physical posture, that’s where your practice ended that day. Seems counterintuitive to the previously mentioned quote from the master, however, he wanted to emphasize that the limitations we inevitably encounter in our body are actually a mirror of the personal limitations and mental blocks that stop us from experiencing real freedom and personal contentment. As we move past these physical blocks through our practice the higher consciousness is revealed so we can eventually separate our ego from that being.
Studnets practice Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore, India.
To help keep our focus on our inner development and not the external, there is the deliberate incorporation of what student of Pattabhi Jois, David Swenson, calls “The Internal World,” which consists of breath, locks, flow and gaze, or prana, bandha, vinyasa and drishti, to guide us through this moving meditation. The sound of the breath is your mantra, the rhythm that keeps a single pointed focus for the mind. The locks and bandhas assimilate the prana or life force and help feed the subtle body and balance the gross nervous system. Flowing through the postures becomes a physical dance that connects our body with the music of the breath. And while the drishti connotes the fixation of our vision on an external point, it reaffirms our attention to the subtle or internal aspects of our practice.
As a rapidly increasing number of people are drawn to the practice of yoga, different styles will continue to emerge to meet the growing demands of the “yoga marketplace.” Although we can appreciate how accommodating this entire practice of yoga is, it’s comforting to know that the direct Krishnamacharya lineage will not be forgotten through the Ashtanga Yoga practice. Yes, the postures and the flow are mesmerizing and visually stimulating to a passer-by, but the progression of the mind and ultimately the spiritual path can be life-changing to the practitioner. Like the postures themselves, the deep benefit of this authentic yogic process may not reveal its extent all at once. It is through repetition, discipline, focus and compassion that all will be revealed.
We invite you to try out this sacred practice each Sunday morning at 8:00am & Thursday evenings at 5:45pm. Come explore the challenges of the body, but most importantly, the mind.
I bow to the lotus feet of the Gurus
The awakening happiness of one’s own Self revealed
Beyond better, acting like the Jungle physician
Pacifying delusion, the poison of Samsara
Taking the form of a man to the shoulders
Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword
One thousand heads white
To Pantanjali, I salute.