Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Ashtanga Mean?

Ashtanga yoga is a physically demanding style of yoga, developed by T. Krishnamacharya and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the 20th century. Sometimes referred to as Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, the style was derived from a system of Hatha yoga described in the ancient text, the Yoga Korunta.

Ashtanga is a Sanskrit term meaning "eight-limbs," referring to the eight limbs or eight-fold path of yoga as outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic, flowing style that connects each movement of the body with the breath. The method stresses the importance of daily practice, in which students follow a set sequence of postures known as a series.

There are six series of Ashtanga yoga, which practitioners can progress through at their own pace.


Yogapedia Explains Ashtanga

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois began teaching Ashtanga yoga in 1948, having developed the style based on T. Krishnamacharya’s teachings from the Yoga Korunta. Jois believed that the asana "limb" of yoga must be practiced before others such as pranayama and meditation can be mastered. The practice was developed in Mysore, India, where Jois established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute.

The six series of Ashtanga yoga are known as Primary, Intermediate and Advanced A, B, C and D. The practice starts with five Surya Namaskara (sun salutation) A and five B, followed by a fixed sequence of poses from the relevant series and a finishing sequence.

Traditionally this is taught in a "Mysore" style, in which the practitioner learns and practices the sequences at their own pace, in the company of other students and under the personalized guidance of a teacher. Alternatively, Ashtanga classes offer the same practice in guided unison with the teacher and other students.

There are several key principles underlying the practice of Ashtanga yoga:

  • Breath: deep, audible Ujjayi breath is central to the practice as a means of developing focus and concentration. It is recommended that certain postures are held for five to eight breaths or more, if possible.

  • Drishti: there is a drishti (gazing point) for every posture in the series.

  • Vinyasa: a series of movements used to link each asana, synchronized with the breath.

  • Bandhas: Mula bandha (root lock), Uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock) and Jalandhara bandha (chin lock) are engaged in order to direct the flow of prana (vital life force) and maintain stability.

  • Daily practice: Practice is encouraged six days per week, with Saturday as the rest day. The days of the full and new moon should also be taken as rest days, and women may refrain from practicing during menstruation.

The ultimate goal of Ashtanga yoga is to generate tapas (discipline) in order to purify the body and mind. Since it is vigorous and physically demanding, it is one of the best styles of yoga for developing strength and flexibility, in addition to cultivating focus and challenging the mind.

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