Origins Ashtanga yoga
Ashtanga yoga represents a yoga system which was recorded by the sage called Vamana Rishi, in an ancient manuscript called Yoga Korunta. According to the ancient manuscript, ashtanga yoga is said to contain the list of many different asana groupings, in addition to the highly original teachings on yoga philosophy, vinyasa, bandhas, mudras and drishti. Such text of Yoga Korunta was significantly imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the beginning years of 20th century, by his guru called Rama Mohan Brahmachari.
Later on, it was passed down to Pattabhi Jois, during his studies with Krishnamacharya, which began in 1927. Pattabhi Jois started teaching ashtanga yoga back in 1948, until his death, right from his Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, according to the Guru Parampara’s sacred tradition. The literal translation of ashtanga is eight-limbed yoga, which was outlined by the Patanjali sage in Yoga Sutras. According to him, the internal purification path for Universal Self revelation is consisted of the eight following practices:
- Yama [the moral codes]
- Niyama [study and self-purification]
- Asana [the posture]
- Pranayama [the breath control]
- Pratyahara [the sense control]
- Dharana [the concentration]
- Dhyana [the meditation]
- Samadhi [the absorption into the Universal]
The first four mentioned limbs, yama, niyama, asana and pranayama, are considered to be the external cleansing practices. If defects occur in external practices, according to Pattabhi Jois, these could be corrected by our actions. The other four limbs, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi, are the internal cleansing practices, which are not correctable. The defect in these may be dangerous to the mind, unless the correct method of ashtanga yoga is followed.
The breathing style which is used in ashtanga yoga can be referred to as the “free breathing with sound”, or even “normal breath with free flow”. The breathing could be characterized by the relaxed diaphragmatic style, which produces the ocean sound, resonating in the throat of a practitioner. During the practice, the breathing style is maintained in the alignment with movements and represents a specific approach to the yoga practice. A steady and good combination of inhalation and exhalation cycles provides a calming mental focal point for the practitioner in order to practice the ashtanga yoga in proper way. This way, the internal heat of such combination is created, leading to the body purification, through an increased sweating and circulation.
Many practitioners have thought that the breathing method was actually called Ujjayi Breath. Yet, in 2011, Sharath Jois, the director of K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute has cleared up the confusion. He stated that the ujjayi represents a breath that is meant for the pranayama practice, while in asana practice, such is ashtanga yoga, it is meant to be practiced as free breathing with sound.
Bandhas allow our energy to freely flow and to support our yoga practices. Technically, this represents something which is very subtle. According to that, the physical action in combination with muscle contraction represent just a small part of bandha. The most important valves in ashtanga yoga, which allow our energy to flow freely, are Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha.
Mula Bandha is introduced to the practices with the contraction of muscles which belong to the pelvic floor. Good example of the Mula Bandha use is when you urgently need the toilet. If there isn’t one around, you are probably already using your Mula Bandha to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Keigel therefore suggests that you should strengthen these weak muscles by practising the flow of urine when using a toilet. If you alternately contract the muscles to the front and back, concentrating on maintaining a middle contraction in the middle section, then you are certainly a step towards the Mula Bandha. The proper way to activate it is at the end of inhalation, as soon as the exhalation starts. Then draw the pelvic floor muscles in and then up.
If you want to achieve Uddiyana Bandha, then you should gently draw your stomach muscles inwards. It happens at the end of exhalation, with each beginning of inhalation. Imagine this way, with a golden thread attached under the navel with two fingers width and pulling in and up. In anatomical meaning, the transverse abdominal muscles are activated lightly.
As you may have noticed, the Mula Bandha is linked to exhalation, while Uddiyana Bandha is linked to inhalation. This way, the exhalation connect to inhalation and so on, with both bandhas remaining activated continuously throughout the entire practice. It’s very difficult to begin with such practice. You will notice that you’ll forget the bandhas, but later on the success will prevail. With each practice of yoga, you’ll remind yourself about the bandhas, until it becomes your companion and true follower to your yoga practice.
Mantras represent a sacred sound or even a verse, which symbolically represents a spiritual experience through which a practitioner is going through while practicing yoga. There is a large yoga collection of mantras, available with the translation from Sanskrit for those who wish to practice yoga outside Hindu world, where is now yoga largely popular. The most popular mantra available consists of only two letters: O-M! In addition to this, there are numerous mantras by which the spiritual background of yoga practice is symbolized. The tradition is to open and close the ashtanga practice with a certain mantra.
It is important to understand that ashtanga yoga represents a yoga discipline which is aimed towards the mind and body. In order to practice ashtanga yoga correctly, it is important to prepare your body before each practice and to understand the essence of each yoga sequence. This way, you will completely benefit both your body and mind, relaxing it to the state where the stress doesn’t make any difference. Be sure to practice yoga daily and according to your teacher’s instruction in order to achieve the full effects. Remember that ashtanga yoga is aimed towards your full mind and body experience, so be wise to take the advantage which this discipline offers to you.