Astanga yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a system of yoga that has its origins (allegedly) in an ancient manuscript known as the Yoga Korunta, compiled by the sage Vamana Rishi. Its current form was developed at the Mysore Palace in Mysore India. and is commonly attributed to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois by way of his Satguru, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.

In discussing the Ashtanga Vinyasa system, a clear distinction must be made between the eight (ashta) limbs (anga) of classical yoga as outlined by Pantanjali in the Yoga Sutras, and the Ashtanga which is the subject of this article. The eight limbs denoted by the word ashtanga refer specifically to the eight spiritual practices outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra. It should be noted that practitioners of most modern day schools of Hatha Yoga, including Pattabi Jois, draw from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and thus practice ashtanga yoga. To avoid this confusion many yoga practitioners have taken to referring to Jois's system as Pattabi Jois's Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

History and legend

The Ashtanga Vinyasa series is said to have its origin in an ancient text called the Yoga Korunta, compiled by Vamana Rishi, which Krishnamacharya received from his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari at Mount Kailash. In addition, there is also evidence that the Ashtanga Vinyasa series incorporates exercises used by Indian wrestlers and British gymnastics.

Krishnamacharya has had considerable influence on many of the modern forms of yoga taught today. Among his students were many notable present-day teachers such as B.K.S. Iyengar, Indra Devi, his son T.K.V. Desikachar, his grandson Kausthub Desikachar, along with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Krishnamacharya was well known for tailoring his teachings to address specific concerns of the person or group he was teaching, and a vinyasa series for adolescents is a result of this. When working under the convalescing Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnamacharya set up a shala, or yoga school in the palace grounds and adapted the practice outlined in the Yoga Korunta for the young boys who lived there. Vinyasa has since been thought of as a physically demanding practice, which can be successful at channeling the hyperactivity of young minds. This system can also be used as a vessel for helping calm ongoing chatter of the mind, reducing stress and teaching extroverted personalities to redirect their attention to their internal experience.

Vinyasa method

This style of yoga is characterized by a focus on viṅyāsa, or a dynamic connecting posture, that creates a flow between the more static traditional yoga postures. Vinyasa translates as linking and the system also implies the linking of the movement to the breath. Essentially the breath dictates the movement and the length of time held in the postures. Unlike some Hatha yoga styles, attention is also placed on the journey between the postures not just the postures themselves. The viṅyāsa 'flow' is a variant of Sūrya namaskāra, the Sun Salutation. The whole practice is defined by six specific series of postures, always done in the same order, combined with specific breathing patterns (ujjāyī breathing).

A standard viṅyāsa consists 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 purpose of viṅyāsa is to create heat in the body, which leads to purification of the body through increased circulation and sweating. It also improves flexibility, as well as tendon and hard tissue strength, allowing the student to practice advanced āsanas with reduced risk of injury.

There are six series altogether. Each sequence typically begins with 10 Sun Salutations and the standing poses. This is referred to as the "opening sequence". The student then moves to either the Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, B, C, or D, depending on his or her skill level, a back-bending sequence, finally closing with a set of inverted postures, referred to as the "finishing sequence". Ashtanga Yoga is traditionally taught in Mysore style (supervised self practice), where each student moves through the practice at his or her own pace and level. In the West, it is more common to find classes devoted to a specific series, and guided by an instructor.

Higher level practices within Hatha


There are three bandhas which are considered our internal body locks, prescribed in the different postures. The bandha is a sustained contraction of a group of muscles that assists the practitioner not only in retaining a pose but also in moving in and out of it. The Mūla Bandha, or root lock, is performed by tightening the muscles around the pelvic and perineum area. The Uḍḍīyāna Bandha, often described as bringing the navel to the base of the spine, is a contraction of the muscles of the lower abdominal area – this bandha is considered the most important bandha as it supports our breathing and encourages the development of strong core muscles. Jālaṅdhara Bandha, throat lock, is achieved by lowering the chin slightly while raising the sternum and the palate bringing the gaze to the tip of the nose.


Drishti (dṛṣṭi), or focused gaze, is a means for developing concentrated intention. The most common is Ūrdhva, or upward gazing, where the eyes are lifted, with the spine aligned from crown to tailbone. This technique is employed in a variety of postures.

There are, in total, nine drishtis that instruct the yoga student in directing his or her gaze. Each pose is associated with a particular drishti. They include:

  • Aṅguṣṭha madhyai: to the thumb
  • Bhrūmadhya: to the third eye, or between the eyebrows
  • Nāsāgrai: at the tip of the nose (or a point six inches from the tip)
  • Hastagrai: to the palm, usually the extended hand
  • Pārśva: to the left/right side
  • Ūrdhva: to the sky, or upwards
  • Nābhicakra: to the navel
  • Pādayoragrai: to the toes


The Ashtanga practice is traditionally started with the following Sanskrit mantra:

which is roughly translated into English as:

and closes with the mangala mantra:

which is roughly translated into English as:

A more literal translation:

Although many practitioners assert that this yoga was devised by Jois from reading the Yoga Korunta, no one (aside from Krishnamacharya and Jois) has ever seen this text and Jois himself has occasionally dismissed the story as untrue. A far more likely explanation for Ashtanga's creation is that Jois was asked to devise a yoga sequence for children and adolescents, whom he had been asked to teach by his guru. Noticing that their attention spans were short, particularly for poses held for any length of time, and that introspection was not one of their strengths, Jois began to formulate a style of yoga that would cater to the youths' natural vigor and flexibility, while minimizing aspects they found tedious. And so he devised a new form of surya namaskara with athletic jumps and challenging push ups, and a series of poses -- none of which would be held for more than five breaths with the exception of shoulder and headstand -- that were visually exciting, and physically demanding. The poses were sequenced to be performed without interruption, and the sequences were designed with young, flexible bodies in mind.

Modern culture

The practice of Yoga asana has been popularized by the entertainer Madonna, who is a student of the Vinyasa style. British musician Sting, a Kundalini and Tantric Yoga devotee, has also contributed to the popularization of Yoga practice in the West. One of the more popular Yoga practice video features actress Ali McGraw, also a long-time practitioner.

The mantra referenced above was made famous in Western culture by Madonna's use of it in her song "Shanti/Ashtangi".


Further reading

  • Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (2002). Yoga Mala. 3rd Edition. Patanjali Yoga Shala, New York.
  • Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (2005). Sūryanamaskāra. Ashtanga Yoga, New York.
  • Gregor Maehle (2006). Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy. Kaivalya Publications.
  • Lino Miele (1994). Ashtanga Yoga: Including the Benefits of Yoga Chikitsa. AYRI.
  • John C. Scott (2001). Ashtanga Yoga: The definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Dynamic Yoga. Crown Pub.
  • David Swenson (1999). Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual. Ashtanga Yoga Productions, Austin, Texas.

See also

External links

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