Basic principles of Ashtanga yoga
- Fixed sequences (series) of asanas. The first one is called yoga-chikitsa, or yoga-therapy. It helps to improve health, make your body strong, flexible and enduring.
The second one – nadi-shodhana – works with your nervous system. Though really both series have a combined effect.
The 3rd up to the 6th series are advanced. They are for those people, who can control their body and mind.
Each series has a maximum effect only in its consistency. There is no sense in taking out any parts, even if you can do some postures from the following sequences. So everyone starts from the primary series any gradually moves further. It’s the task of a teacher to decide if a student is ready for a new asana.
- Vinyasa – synchronization of breath and movement, the basic principle of Ashtanga yoga. Vinyasa is:
- one inhalation/exhalation and one movement
- dynamic transition between asanas
Every asana is hold from 5 to 25 breaths.
- Sound breathing – a specific way of breathing during all the practice.
- Drishti – concentration of your attention and stare on a particular part of the body or space.
- Bandhi – muscle (energy) locks. In Ashtanga yoga we use mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. Controlling the muscles of pelvic floor and lower abdomen, we learn to manipulate our body energy, accumulate and keep it inside instead of wasting it.
Without these principles Ashtanga yoga doesn’t make any sense and turns into a kind of fitness. So it is extremely important to pay them your full attention.
Way of practice
There are two ways of practicing Ashtanga yoga – maysore-class and led-class.
Mysore style of yoga practice is a particular way of teaching yoga within the Ashtanga Yoga tradition as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the southern Indian city of Mysore. The class is not «led» as a whole. Students practice their portion of Ashtanga sequence of asanas at their own pace and breath rhythm. The teacher assists each student individually by giving physical adjustments & verbal instruction.
In Mysore style classes students learn the fixed order of asanas combining movement with sound breathing.
Every asana is built from the previous and prepares you for the following ones.
Beginner students tend to have a much shorter practice than do those with more experience. As one gains more strength, stamina, flexibility and concentration, additional asanas are given to the student. The sense of the word «given» in this context comes from how the practice is taught in India, where a yoga practice is something that a teacher gives to a student as a spiritual practice. Western people are accustomed to learning a lot of asanas all at once – such as in a typical modern «led» yoga class.
The structure of the class depends on the teacher being able to keep track of what every student is doing. If a student has trouble with a particular asana, the teacher can offer a modification that is consistent with the intention of the practice. As a student is given a new asana, he practices his sequence up to that asana, then does backbends if applicable (backbending is the climax, not a part of the finishing sequence), and then goes to the finishing sequence. In general, the next asana in the sequence should be added/taught/learned only after obtaining stability in the previous one.
The Ashtanga vinyasa method – as is any hatha yoga practice – is intended to be a daily practice. Traditionally, practice takes place every day except for Saturdays and full & new moon days which usually occur twice a month.
This type of class is led by a teacher who names the asanas, counts vinyasas and sets the rhythm of breath. The teacher can help a student in a posture and remind about the importance of concentration and bandhas. There are no any technical explanations during led-class. First, it is impossible to do because of continuous flow of practice. Second, a student is supposed to gain necessary skills attending mysore-classes. Led-classes of the first and second series are given separately.
Led-class is not for beginners. Before you start coming to such a class, you need to master at least 2/3 of the first series, know and apply basic principles of Ashtanga yoga (breath, bandhas, drishti).
What’s the purpose of a led-class? On the one hand, it is kind of test that shows if you can do asanas without tension and without losing concentration and breath. If you have any shortcomings which you don’t notice during your personal practice, you will certainly see them and understand what you need to work on. On the other hand, practicing on a led-class we do everything in a flow, without stops and interruptions, keeping steady breath rhythm during the whole series. It is a kind of standard which we strive to achieve on mysore-classes.
Regularity of practice
Ashtanga yoga students practice 6 days a week, excluding new and full moon days (besides, females aren’t supposed to practice for 3 days of their period). Usually, they attend 1-2 led-classes, and 4-5 mysore-classes.
Of course, no one requires such a regularity from a beginner. You can start from three days and gradually, as your body becomes stronger, extend it to 4, 5 and eventually 6 days.
- hernias and protrusions of the spine
- resent injures of the knees and musculoskeletal system (such as meniscus tears, fractures and so on)