Ashtanga

Utthita hasta padangustasana assist at Yoga Manila's mysore class. Photo by Margo Lao.

Practice, practice. All is coming…
–Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

THE PHILOSOPHY, YAMAS & NIYAMAS
Yoga, from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning “to yoke”, is a life philosophy and a tool to connect with ourselves, with each other, with the world at large, and with our highest truth.

Classical ashtanga yoga takes its name from the great sage Patanjali, who first codified the practice of yoga as a meditative path to enlightenment. In Sadhana Pada, the second chapter of his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains practice as being 8-limbed (ashta is 8, anga is limb): Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. The first four are external practices determining behavior, posture and breath. The last four are internal practices, the drawing in of the senses and varying degrees of focused awareness and meditation.

The foundations of practice start with the yamas and the niyamas, which are principles for living. When we apply the yamas and the niyamas into both daily practice and into our day-to-day lives, we become more present and aware, cultivating gratitude and love in all that we do.

The yamas are ahimsa/non-harming, satya/truthfulness, asteya/non-stealing, brahmacharya/conserving one’s energy, and aparigraha/non-grasping.

The niyamas are saucha/cleanliness, santosha/contentedness, tapas/disciplined effort, svadyaya/self-study, and ishvarapranidhana/surrendering or offering one’s actions to the highest.

ĀSANA & YOGA PRACTICE
Ashtanga, in the modern sense, is often identified by a series of asanas/yoga postures that is practiced with a breath-movement flow called vinyasa. Yoga exponent and Sanskrit scholar, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (lovingly called “Guruji” by his students) developed and introduced to the West, the system he learned from his guru, Sri T. Krishnamacharya in Mysore, India, where his shala still stands today.

To practice ashtanga wholly, however, is to go much deeper than the physical. The asana, or seat, is only one part of the 8-limbs as laid down by Patanjali. It is, however, an important gateway to finding union between the body and mind as it explores the synergy between postures, breath, and drishti. Together, the three form the tristāna, the method that allows for external practice to draw inwards, to flow with effortless effort and powerful grace. Through practice, the body and mind is both strengthened and softened, and prepared to go the depths into the exploration of yoga.

The ashtanga practice continues to grow through the efforts of the Sharath Jois, the current director of KPJAYI (Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute) and grandson of the late Jois, and the through work of dedicated students who teach around the world.

TWO METHODS OF TEACHING
There are two methods of teaching ashtanga yoga by this tradition. They are meant to be complimentary, and are both starkly different from the western-influenced, modern-day yoga class.

Self-Practice/Mysore Class. This style of instruction cultivates independence and mindfulness. The class is self-paced, students practicing to whatever point is appropriate for them. Mysore classes are good for all levels: beginners have time to integrate new postures slowly, while the more experienced can explore with greater care the intricacies of their last posture. The teacher is there to provide support, assistance and guidance when needed and will give new postures when the body/mind is ready. Postures are often taught one at a time, and there is an emphasis on physical adjustments when necessary.

Led Class. Led class is fully guided by the instructor. The pacing is often counted in Sanskrit with concise verbal cues, allowing for students to learn the count, find the flow without any extra flourishes and dive into the posture, breath and drishti with a mediative like fluidity. Unless otherwise designated, classes are full primary. Students who have not yet learned all of primary series are encouraged to stop at their last posture.

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