Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga is a system of yoga popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois, and which is often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. Pattabhi Jois began his yoga studies in 1927 at the age of 12, and by 1948 had established an institute for teaching the specific yoga practice known as Ashtanga Yoga (Ashtanga is Sanskrit for “eight-limbed”).
The term vinyasa used in Ashtanga Yoga refers to the alignment of movement and breath, a method which turns static asanas into a dynamic flow. The length of one inhale or one exhale dictates the length of time spent transitioning between asanas. Asanas in Ashtanga Yoga are then held for a predefined number of breaths. In effect, in Ashtanga Yoga attention is placed on the breath and the journey between the asanas rather than solely on achieving perfect body alignment in an asana, as is emphasized in Hatha Yoga.
The term vinyasa also refers to a specific series of movements that are frequently done between each asana in a series. This vinyasa ‘flow’ is a variant of Surya Namaskara, the Sun Salutation, and is used in other styles of yoga beside Ashtanga Yoga. A standard vinaysa consists (for example) of the flow from caturaṅga, or plank, to caturaṅga daṇḍāsana, or low plank, to ūrdhva mukha śvānāsana or upward-facing dog, to Adho Mukha Svanasana, or downward-facing dog.
The breathing style used in Ashtanga Yoga is Ujjai, which is a relaxed diaphragmatic style of breathing, characterized by an ocean sound which resonates in the practitioner’s throat. Throughout a practice of Ashtanga Yoga, this specific breathing style is maintained in alignment with movements. The steady cycle of inhales and exhales provides the practitioner with a calming, mental focal point. Additionally, vinyasa and Ujjayi together create internal heat, which leads to purification of the body through increased circulation and sweating.
Another major principle of Ashtanga Yoga is the bhanda, or muscle locking/contraction, which focuses energy in the body and is closely tied to the breath. There are a variety of bandhas (see below).
Ashtanga Yoga is different from many yoga classes in the west in that the order of asanas is completely predefined. A practice will comprise four main parts: an “opening sequence,” one of the six main “series”, a back-bending sequence, and a set of inverted asanas, referred to as the “finishing sequence.” Practice of Ashtanga Yoga always ends with savasana.
The opening sequence in Ashtanga Yoga begins with 10 Sun Salutations and then several standing asanas. Next, the practitioner will do one of the six main series, referred to as the Primary series (Yoga Chikitsa), Intermediate series (Nadi Shodhana) or Advanced A, B, C, or D (Sthira Bhaga) series level. Newcomers to Ashtanga Yoga practice the primary series, after learning the standing sequence. The Primary Series is the most important series in Ashtanga Yoga as it forms the basis of the entire system. Practitioners may advance to more difficult series over a period of years or decades, but the goal of this style is not to learn the more difficult asanas but rather to learn to maintain internal focus throughout the practice.
Daily or regular practice is highly emphasized in Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is traditionally taught in Mysore style (supervised self practice, named after the city in India where Ashtanga originates), where each student moves through the practice at his or her own pace and level. Yotopia is looking to add Mysore style Ashtanga Yoga classes in the future. Please register your interest by calling 0333 405 8888, or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.