Ashtanga Yoga, A History

Ashtanga Yoga, A History
Compiled by Tonya Makowski

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a style of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is a path of yoga that focuses on the physical aspects of posture and breath. The distinction between Ashtanga Vinyasa and other forms of yoga is in the vinyasa. The term vinyasa refers to the continuous, dynamic flow of postures linking breath and movement.

In the 1930's Sanskrit scholar Sri Trirumalai Krishnamacharya and his disciple K. Pattabhi Jois found a manuscript, called the Yoga Korunta, written on palm leaves describing the Ashtanga yoga system. The Yoga Korunta, which is literally hundreds of rhyming stanzas describing how to enter and exit postures, breathing techniques and the benefits of practicing, was written by an ancient seer called Vamana Rishi and was figured to be between 500 and 1500 years old. Prior to the manuscript medium, the Ashtanga system is believed to have been an ancient oral tradition.

Following instruction from his teacher, Jois took the Yoga Koruntas Ashtanga system as the basis for his practice and teaching, which he continues to teach today in Mysore, India.

The Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga system includes three specific sequences. The primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa, meaning yoga therapy. The traditional primary series consists of 72 postures, specific breathing patterns and careful focus. Once the primary series is mastered then one moves on to the intermediate series called Nadi Shodana, meaning nerve purification. Next is the advanced series, consisting of four parts (sometimes counted individually), collectively called Sthira Bhaga, meaning divine stability.

Ashtanga is also translated as the 'eight-limbed path', referring to the eight parts of practice followed as a path of enlightenment. These eight limbs are discussed in great detail in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In brief the limbs are:

  1. Yama: ethical observations, consisting of five parts-
    1. ahimsa: non-violence
    2. satya: truthfulness
    3. asteya: non-stealing
    4. brahmacharya: continence
    5. aparigraha: non-possessiveness
  2. Niyama: self-discipline, also consisting of five parts-
    1. saucha: inner and outer purification
    2. santosha: contentment
    3. tapas: discipline
    4. swadhyaya: study of spiritual works
    5. ishwara pranadhanini: surrender to nature
  3. Asana: physical postures
  4. Pranayama: breath and energy cultivation and control
  5. Pratahara: turning the senses inward
  6. Dharana: concentration
  7. Dhyana: meditation
  8. Samadhi: absorption or integration with the universal


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