Ashtanga Yoga, as taught at KPJAYI in Mysore, India
“Ashtanga Yoga Mysore Style” is named after the city Mysore in southern India where the Guru of Ashtanga Yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois lived and taught the method of Ashtanga for his entire life. He founded the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI) where nowadays his grandson and the Guru of all Ashtangis (Paramguru) – Sharath Jois continues the teachings.
In the method of practice called Ashtanga Mysore Style, the practitioner follows his own breath and not the guidance of the teacher leading the class. On their first class, students are introduced to the sequence of postures which they repeat several times (Sun Salutations). Once the memorize the given sequence, they learn new poses – one by one – until they learn and are able to perform while keeping steady mind and breath the whole Primary sequence of Ashtanga Yoga. After a few years of regular practice one can learn the second sequence (Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga) by gradually adding postures to their daily practice.
All together there are 6 series of Ashtanga Yoga but most of us learn only the first one or the first two series of the postures, as the further ones, named Advances A, B, C and D demand a lot of dedication and many years of daily practice.
In the Ashtanga Yoga method it is recommended to practice six days a week, so the practice becomes a part of the everyday life and not only a physical practice. Practicing more than 2 or 3 times a week, one can easier observe the subtle fluctuations of the mind and notice different ‘moods’ of the body. Memorizing the postures allows students to focus internally, which is the real practice of yoga.
As we all have different bodies, different needs and levels of strength and flexibility, the ‘Mysore’ method of practice enables an individual approach to each student. This method of practice is the safest and best way for every person to practice.
Nowadays the city of Mysore is a very popular place among Ashtanga practitioners from all over the world. Every year from October till late March the KPJAYI opens its gates to the students willing to spend the minimum of 4 weeks of daily practice in the famous Yoga Shala in Gokulam.
Beginners are not allowed to practice with Sharath Ji. Only his mother Guru-Ma Saraswathi accepts beginners in her shala. To attend classes at the KPJAYI taught by Sharath practitioner is expected to had been practicing for at leas 3 months with an authorized or certified teacher. The list of teachers is available here
The method of practice taught in Ashtanga Yoga relies on the linking of yoga postures through prescribed movements and incorporates deep, even breathing and steady gazing with the eyes. The ‘vinyasa,’ or movement between postures, encourages the blood to circulate properly in the body, while the deep breathing supplies a rich source of pure air, oxygenating the blood.
In Ashtanga Yoga Mysore Class, the student is taught a sequence of postures through one-on-one instruction. The correct movements, breathing, and other aspects of the practice are learned gradually, in a step-by-step process accessible to anyone. This method allows each student time to practice and memorize what they have learned before adding more. Students are able to practice independently and at their own pace while surrounded by the energy and inspiration of other students in the room.
In Hatha Yoga, and Ashtanga also belongs to this big family of yoga, as term Hatha Yoga refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical posture, we use a form of control of the breath called Ujjayi. Nowadays, there is a tendency to call this technique simpy ‘deep breathing with sound’ as the real Ujjayi is a very advanced technique.
To create this sort of deep breath, one must constract the back of the throat, similar to the constriction made when speaking in a whisper. Therefore, it is an audible breathe that is often compared to the sound of the ocean. Although there is a constriction of the throat, the breath flows in and out through the nostrils, with the lips remaining gently closed.
In the Ashtanga style of yoga, the breath is emphasized as a way to link the breath with the movement. There are several important benefits of this form of breathing:
– Enhances the energy (Prana) in your physical and energetic body
– Regulates the temperature of the body
– Improves detoxification of the blood
– Improves concentration
– Diminishes distractions and allows the practitioner to remain self aware and grounded in the practice.
– Generates internal heat which releases the tension and prepares the body for the safe stretching
– Enhances a flowing practice by lending a meditative quality that maintains the rhythm of the class
– Strengthens the nervous and digestive system
– Increases endurance
– Steadies the mind
When listened to, your breath can be your true teacher, guiding you through your practice. In yoga we believe, that there is a deep connection between the breath and the mind. As one of the goals of yoga is the become self-aware and conscious, through controlling the breath and keeping it deep and steady in even the most advanced postures, we learn to control our intuitive reactions in the most unexpected situations of the everyday life. Surrender and follow your breath.
Eight Limbs of Yoga
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life aka reach the state of Yoga or Self-Realization. They are limbs in the sense that they all belong to the same body of teachings and each is essential, but they are steps in the sense that there is logical order to them and to how they must be approached.
They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.
The eight limbs of yoga are interconnected, and not separate steps along the path. Whether one starts by practicing the physical postures, breath awareness, or mindfulness in the daily practice of the yamas and niyamas, each limb encourages growth in the others.
As the body becomes steady and at ease, the breath starts to come under control, and the mind begins to experience moments of clarity, and essential peace.
The Yamas or the first limb, consists of five parts: ahimsā (non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (directing one’s energy towards the Divine), aparigraha (greedlessness, non-hoarding).
The Niyamas or the second limb, also contains five aspects: śauca (purity), santoṣa (contentment), tapas (purifying practices), svādhyāya (self-study, and the study of sacred texts), Īśvara praṇidhāna (surrender to the Divine, Universal Self).
The Āsanas we practice and teach have been given to us by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. He believed it was necessary to enter into the eight limbs of yoga through the physical postures, the third limb.
The Prānāyāma is a control of life force and we learn it by controlling the breath. The Ashtanga Yoga Pranayama is a complexed technique and it is required to have a few years of asana practice before learning the breath control.
As the first four limbs are referred to as “external yoga,” the last four limbs are called “internal yoga.” The fifth limb, Pratyāhāra, acts as a bridge between the external and internal limbs.
As students of yoga we are able to actively practice the external limbs, while the internal limbs are the fruits of a sincere and continuous practice.
The final limbs of our practice (Dhāranā, Dhyāna and Samādhi) are manifested through Divine Grace and arise spontaneously. They are not mental states that can be brought about by our own individual efforts. They are the result of fully understanding what it means to completely surrender to something greater then oneself.