ashtanga1

“Yoga is good for man because the physical body improves, the nervous system improves, the mind improves, the intellect improves—so, how can yoga not be good?” — Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009)

Ashtanga

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a fluidly dynamic sequence of postures that are woven together by the breath.  Brought to light through the teachings of Sri K Pattabhi Jois {affectionately known by his students as Guruji}, the Ashtanga yoga method is one of the most enduring traditional styles of yoga still being taught and practiced today.  Ashtanga vinyasa yoga was taught to Guruji by his teacher, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya is often gifted the title, “the father of modern yoga,” having instructed Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar, TKV Desikachar, and Indra Devi.  Sharing the lineage, each of these great masters and teachers practiced and taught a yoga that emphasizes both physical health and spiritual growth while assisting in the development of each individual’s highest self.

The uniqueness of the Ashtanga yoga method lies in its approach – namely, that of the tristhana method {posture, breath, & focus: asana, prana, & drishti}. The series of postures are sequential in nature, and it is through their daily practice, while simultaneously cultivating a deep internal and focused awareness via the gaze and control of the breath, that leads one to freedom, peace, and ultimately, liberation.  An additional signature element of this system is it’s focus on vinyasa.

Viranchyasana by Caroline Klebl

Viranchyasana by Caroline Klebl

Vinyasa is the linking of breath with movement, and ashtanga vinyasa is much of a science, whereas each asana and movement carries a respective and corresponding breath – either an inhale {prana} or exhale {apana} – a cyclical and fluid expansion and contraction.  This continual flow, with concentration on the steadiness, and rhythmic fluidity of the breath creates an internal heat {agni} which in turn produces a purifying sweat.  With focus on the breath in this way, we create a deeper awareness within the self and more freedom within the body.

The Ashtanga method is comprised of 6 complete series that are taught in a sequential manner. Traditionally the method in which they are taught is known as “Mysore,” which draws its name from the city in south India that is the home to the late Sri K Pattabhi Jois, and still home to the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, where his daughter Saraswathi and grandson Sharath continue to offer classes and instruction.  (For more information, click here: http://kpjayi.org).

After proficiency is attained in whichever given posture the student is working on, the next in the sequence is given and the student’s practice concludes there until proficiency in that posture is gained & so on such that the student progresses through learning and mastering each of the asanas and series.

Sharath & Saraswati teaching a led class in New York City, 2012

Sharath & Saraswati visit New York City, 2012

This style of teaching is truly an all levels style, as each individual is accepted for where they are in the process and granted the freedom & space to move at their own pace & level of comfort for their body and mind. Most students practice primary series, some intermediate series, and the advanced series are learned only by quite experienced students; once learned, the advanced practices are used mostly for demonstration.

All of the series share the same commencement and closing, varying only in the postures that are practiced between the opening and finishing sequences.  At the beginning of each series lie the Surya Namaskar, or sun salutations, and a series of standing postures that help to ground, strengthen, and open the body.  The finishing sequence begins with back bending and includes several inversions that harness the energy cultivated during the practice and allow it to rise to the crown, purifying the mind and settling the entire body.

Patañjali Statue (traditional form indicating Kundalini or incarnation of Shesha)The primary series, known as yoga chikitsa, or yoga therapy, is the foundational series within which the basic elements of the practice are learned, eventually mastered, and form the foundation for all of the other series.  It is comprised of multiple forward bends which work to lengthen and elongate the spine, allowing energy to flow more freely; hip openers that start to awaken the pelvis; twists which detoxify and purify the physical body; and many vinyasas and core strengthening postures that aid to build upper body strength and overall physical stamina.

The intermediate series, known as nadi shodana, is a cleansing of the subtle body and the nervous system.  Building on the strength, stability, and openness cultivated during the primary series, intermediate series asks the student to move more deeply within by proceeding through dynamic, alternating deep extensions and flexion of the spine, deeper hip openers, and more demanding arm balances and transitions.

Guruji is oft quoted to say yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.  In light of this, we hope to see you on the mat where you can experience firsthand the power, beauty, and expansive nature of this practice of internal cultivation, stillness, and peace.

Opening Chant (from ashtangayogapractice.com/chanting.htm)

वन्दे गुरूणां चरणारविन्दे
vande gurūṇāṁ caraṇāravinde
संदर्शितस्वात्मसुखावबोधे |
saṁdarśita-svātma-sukha-avabodhe |
निःश्रेयसे जाङ्गलिकायमाने
niḥśreyase jāṅgali-kāyamāne
संसारहालाहलमोहशान्त्यै
saṁsāra-hālāhala-moha-śāntyai
आबाहुपुरुषाकारं
ābāhu-puruṣākāraṁ
शङ्खचक्रासिधारिणम् |
śaṅkha-cakra-asi-dhāriṇam |
सहस्रशिरसं श्वेतं
sahasra-śirasaṁ śvetaṁ
प्रणमामि पतञ्जलिम्
praṇamāmi patañjalim

Gist: Because I want more peace of mind and stability in my life, I am now going to practice yoga as I have learned it from my teacher.

Interpretive: For the peaceful resolution of the deluding nature of repetitive existence, I bow at the Gurus’ lotus feet, and behold the awakened joy of my own Soul; this is the ultimate refuge acting as a shaman for my spiritual enrichment.

Literal: I respectfully honor Patañjali – a principle proponent of yoga – who has assumed the form of a brilliantly luminous man with thousands of [snake] heads, and who bears a conch, a discus and a sword.

Closing Chant (from ashtangayogapractice.com/chanting.htm)

स्वस्तिप्रजाभ्यः परिपालयन्तां
swasti-prajābhyaḥ paripāla-yantāṁ
न्यायेन मार्गेण महीं महीशाः |
nyāyena mārgeṇa mahīṁ mahīśāḥ |
गोब्राह्मणेभ्यः शुभमस्तु नित्यं
go-brāhmaṇebhyaḥ śubha-mastu nityaṁ
लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु
lokāḥ samastāḥ sukhino bhavantu
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः
oṁ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

Gist: May the merits of my yoga practice [or other such action] benefit the entire world.

Literal: May the leaders of this earth
Protect the welfare of all generations
By keeping to the path of virtue.
May the religious, and all peoples be forever blessed,
May the whole of all the worlds be happy.

Om peace, peace, peace…

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