Ashtanga Yoga means: Ashta = eight ; Anga = branch or limb ; Yoga = union
The sage Patanjali in the Yoga-Sutra, described the eight limbs of yoga that lead to enlightenment, like the branches of a tree. The sprout and then the development of the branches of the tree of yoga takes place according to the individual characteristics, as the several species of trees in the forest. Each tree is leaning toward the light, it looks for it, as each man grows to enlightenment.
THE EIGHT LIMBS OF ASHTANGA YOGA
Yama: ethics, universal principles
Pranayama: control of breath
Pratyahara: withdrawal of senses
Samadhi: lighting, state of bliss and peace, “full intuition forever.”
Ashtanga yoga is a practical method, also known as “Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga”, that has been transmitted to our days by Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois who was director and founder of Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore in India. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, learned this method from his dynamic yoga master Sri T. Krishnamacharya. This teacher had learned the system of Vinyasa by his guru Rama Mohan Brahamachari and had memorized all the ancient Indian manuscript: “Yoga Kurunta” that always came to him through his guru in 1900. “Yoga Kurunta”, contained all the asanas, the Vinyasa, the Bandha and Drishti of the six sequences of the Ashtanga yoga.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois knew and applied the content of the ancient manuscript in the years of study with Sri T. Krishnamacharya, from 1927 to 1945.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois continued teaching according to the ancient lineage until the day of his passing at age 93.
The regular practice of Ashtanga yoga, allows the development of the eight limbs of yoga described by Patanjali.
With practice, we become increasingly aware of our interaction with the outside world and with our bodies and we develop the qualities of Yama and Niyama. With the movements and postures focused on the breath, we develop the branches Asana and Pranayama. Fixing the mind on the breath’s sound and its quality, the senses withdraw inwards and develops Pratyahara. If the senses aren’t disturb by different sounds, we’ll reach Dharana the concentration’s branch. The constant practice, improves the ability to be fully present and helps develop Dhyana, a deep meditative experience. From the development of the previous branches, Samadhi spontaneously arises.
THE FIVE JEWELS OF ASHTANGA YOGA
“Asana” means position. Asana is reached, when the effort and pain cease completely and remains just a sense of bliss, the Infinite arrives and the feeling of Oneness with everything belongs to us. From Yoga Sutra: “Sthira-Sukham asanam” which means: “Asana is a comfortable and stable posture.” According to the ancient texts about yoga, the practice of Asana allows you to “conquer death”, “destroy the old age”, “get the Siddhis powers”. The body is no longer a source of pain and suffering, but it becomes a wonderful means to freedom.
Through Asana, we assume the form of animals, as in Kurmasana, the turtle or plants, as in Padmasana, the lotus flower, or legendary heroes, as in Marichyasana, recalling the sage Marichi, or even inanimate objects, Navasana as in the boat. The practice of Asana, makes us feel in communion with all creatures, animate and inanimate. Sri Rama Mohan Brahmachari, knew 7000 Asana, while his disciple Sri T. Krishnamacharya under his guidance has learned 700. Each Asana in Ashtanga yoga is a preparation for the next position, so it is important to follow the order and sequence.
The Ujjayi Breath
“Ujjayi” means: “The Victorious” is also called “The breath of the hero.”
This type of breath is maintained throughout the practice and is obtained through a partial closure of the glottis. The sound that comes from the air that passes through the throat, has the surprising effect of creating a deep peace of mind, physical and spiritual strength come from this quiet, it’s like a mantra that allows you to focus your mind without distractions. With Ujjayi breath, you are able to lengthen both inspiration and expiration so to match the length of each single movement. The breath is the largest prayer that connects us directly to the Divine: when we breathe in, we receive the strength that comes from the Divine and when we exhale we humbly share our gratitude to the Divine.
“Bandha” means: to bind, hold, join, and also: restricting position, contraction, control of certain parts of the body. The Bandha, are energy barriers that regulate the flow of prana in the subtle body, they are unable to dissipate energy by directing prana in the nadis or energy channels. Bandhas are capable of awakening the Kundalini energy and directing it up through the susumna channel, which is the main channel and is located along the spinal cord. It’s difficult to understand the bandha’s with the mind, only through regular practice they will become more clear and understood.
“Mula” means root, source, origin, basis. This root is at the base of the spine which is also the base of the tree formed by the nervous system. From the esoteric point of view, with the practice of Mula Bandha, the Yogi can reach the true source of all creation, or “Mula” within himself. The location of this bandha in males is by the perineum muscle, while in females is at the base of the cervix. We contract the muscles of these areas by lifting them towards the navel, while at the same time the front part of the lower abdomen, just below the navel, is pushed back towards the spine and upwards. The practice of contracting the internal anal sphincter muscles (Ashvini mudra), also helps to promote Mula bandha. This bandha is maintained throughout the whole practice except for specific exceptions.
“Uddiyana” means that fly to the highest. The full practice of Uddiyana bandha, can only be made by exhaling completely and immediately after pulling the lower part of the abdomen in and up, while lifting at the same time the diaphragm. In the practice of Ashtanga yoga we only do a lighter form of Uddiyana bandha, as the full practice would prevent us from inhaling fully. This is made by controlling the lower abdominal muscles, which corresponds to a slight contraction of the muscles approx. three fingers below the navel. This Bandha is also maintained throughout the whole practice. During inspiration, the engagement of the lower abdominal muscles cause the diaphragm to move down massaging the abdominal organs, while the lungs and chest are free to expand, promoting flexibility together with the corresponding part of the spine. During exhalation, the muscles of the lower abdomen contract naturally, allowing for the lungs to empty completely.
“Jala” means network and “dhara” means support. This bandha is used only in the Ashtanga yoga pranayama’s, while it occurs spontaneously in some asana’s, such as Salamba Sarvangasana and Halasana. To perform Jalandhara bandha, the chin is pushed slightly forward and then brought the notch between the two clavicles, the head and neck are in this way folded forward. In some pranayama practices, all three bandhas are used together, in this case we speak about: TRYA Bandha, or Mahabandha, the great lock.
“Dristhi” means: look, vision, perspective, intelligence, wisdom. The Dristhi, is the conscious use of the eyes during practice, the eye is focused on an outside point, but in reality, the true gaze is directed inwardly. The Dristhi leads to Dharana, concentration, and Dhyana, meditation. It helps focusing on a vision of unity, it allows you to see the Divine in everything and then to see the world as it really is.
It ‘s important that while practicing Dristhi, the eyes are kept soft and relaxed. This allows us to “soften” our attention, redirecting it from the outer appearance, towards the true inner essence of things. The use of Dristhi during the practice also allows to align the body, to direct correctly the actions during each movement and to help balance.
Each Asana has its own specific Dristhi, there are nine types of it:
Nasagrai: tip of the nose, as in Purvottanasana.
Broomadhya: Ajna Chakra, the third eye, as in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana.
Nabi Chakra: navel, as in Adho Mukha Svanasana.
Hastagrai: hand, as in Trikonasana and Virabhadrasana B.
Angustha ma dyai: inches, as in Virabadrasana A.
Padhayoragray: toes, as in Paschimottanasana.
Parsva Dristhi R: right to the side, as in Pashasana
Parsva Dristhi L: left to the side, as in Marichyasana C
Urdva or Antara Dristhi: upwards, as in Utkatasana.
“Vinyasa” means breath synchronized with movement. The peculiarity and uniqueness of the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga are given by Vinyasa. It is the connection between one Asana and the other through movements made in synchronization with the breath. It is the union between our physical body and vital force, it is the manifested expression of the flow of prana. With the practice of Vinyasa, movement and breath become one, manifesting a pace that allows us to appreciate the rhythm in our lives when it is synchronized with the life force. The Vinyasa develops heat, maintains a flow of energy within the spine, purifies the body and in particular the nervous system. Vinyasa, through the heat , thins the blood, thus improving circulation in the internal organs, muscles, joints and throughout the body, toxins are eliminated. The sweat that develops during the practice is rich in mineral salts and other useful substances for feeding in a natural way our skin.