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
Yoga, from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning “to yoke”, is a life philosophy and a means 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 the Yoga Sutras. In Sadhana Pada, the second chapter of the 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 the mind 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.

And while Patanjali refers to practice of yoga specifically as meditation, these age-old principles feed beautifully into all practices which aim is integration, and ultimately union with one’s highest purpose.

THE PRACTICE
Ashtanga, in the modern sense, is often identified by a series of asanas/yoga postures that is practiced with a breath-movement flow often called vinyasa. Yoga exponent and Sanskrit scholar, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (lovingly called “Guruji”) developed and introduced to western yoga students 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 tristana, 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, prepared to go deeper into the exploration of yoga.

The ashtanga practice continues to grow through the efforts of the Sharath in India, the grandson of Jois and new director KPJAYI, and the through the dedicated students of both his and his grandfather’s who teach around the world.

TWO METHODS OF TEACHING
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.

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 and dive into the posture, breath and drishti. Unless otherwise designated, classes are full primary. Students who have not yet learned all of primary series can stop at their last pose and go into finishing postures independently.  

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