Ashtanga yoga is named after the term given in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for the eight-fold path of yoga, or ashtanga, meaning “eight-limbed” in Sanskrit. It was Sri K. Pattabhi’s belief that the asana "limb" of yoga must be practiced before the others could be mastered. The practice was developed in Mysore, India where Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught and set up the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute.
There are several key principles that underlie the practice of Ashtanga yoga:
- Breath: It is recommended that postures are held for five to eight breaths or more, if possible.
- Drishti: For every posture in the series, there is a set of drishtis, or gaze points.
- Vinyasa: This is the breathing system that connects every movement in the series with the breath.
- Bandhas: The practice should be carried out with the bandhas, or "body locks," engaged in order to ensure that the breath is also correct.
- Daily practice: A six-days-per-week practice is encouraged, with Saturday as the rest day. The days of the full and new moon should also be taken as rest days, and women may also refrain from practicing during menstruation.
Ashtanga yoga classes are often taught in the “Mysore style.” In this style, practitioners are encouraged to memorize the sequence they are working on, then individually work through the sequence during the class. The teacher then comes around to adjust and support, rather than guiding the individual's practice. Thus, the students set their own pace consistent with their ability, but practice in the company of other students and with the encouragement of their teacher. They should master each pose in the sequence before they move on to the next.
Ashtanga yoga is considered a vigorous, orderly practice and, as such, is more suited to students who want a dynamic and rigorous yoga practice.