by Rory Coughlan
Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga recorded by the sage Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient manuscript said to contain lists of many different groupings of asanas, as well as highly original teachings on vinyasa, drishti, bandhas, mudras, and philosophy. The text of the Yoga Korunta was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927. Since 1948, Pattabhi Jois has been teaching Ashtanga yoga from his yoga shala, the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, according to the sacred tradition of Guru Parampara.
Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:
Yama: moral codes
Niyama: self-purification and study
Pranayama: breath control
Pratyahara: sense control
Samadhi: absorption into the Universal
Posture: The method for purifying and strengthening the body is called asana. In Ashtanga yoga, asana is grouped into six series. The Primary Series detoxifies and aligns the body. The Intermediate Series purifies the nervous system by opening and clearing the energy channels. The Advanced Series A, B, C, and D integrate the strength and grace of the practice, requiring higher levels of flexibility and humility. Each level is to be fully developed before proceeding to the next, and the sequential order of asanas is to be meticulously followed. Each posture is a preparation for the next, developing the strength and balance required to move further. Without an earnest effort and reverence towards the practice of yama and niyama, however, the practice of asana is of little benefit.
Breathing: The breathing technique performed with vinyasa is called ujjayi, which consists of puraka and rechaka. Both the inhale and exhale should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale. Over time, the length and intensity of the inhalation and exhalation should increase, such that the increased stretching of the breath initiates the increased stretching of the body. Long, even breathing also increases the internal fire and strengthens and purifies the nervous system.