History of Ashtanga
Ashtanga means ‘eight limbs’ and this style of yoga is based on the eight limbs referred to in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The roots of this living method of yoga are said to lie in the Yoga Kurunta, an ancient text written by Vamana Rishi, said to be thousands of years old.
TKV Krishnamacharya, one of the world’s most known yoga masters and the guru of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, was an important part of the Ashtanga yoga tradition. This culminated with Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and continues to live on through his children, Manju and Saraswathi, his grandson Sharath, and all the teachers and students following the tradition to this day all around the world.
The Ashtanga Method
The three cornerstones of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga are called Tristana. These are:
- Ujayii – breathing
- Bandhas – inner support
- Dristi – focus
When these three parts are synchronised and evolve through the movement, a flow is created between body and breath. The senses are calmed and we are given the opportunity to go beyond our thoughts and emotions. This eventually enables us to deepen our self awareness and prana (life force) is released inside the body.
We develop both an inner and an outer strength and create a fertile ground for mental and spiritual growth. This leads us to a place of peace and stillness within; harmony with the inner and outer world will be established.
Ashtanga yoga consists of six different sequences that are always carried out in the same order. The idea is that every asana (posture) should be understood and mastered, on both a mental and a physical level, thus releasing tension, fears and resistances.
An important part of the practice is to pause and create a stable and comfortable posture, before new postures are added. This is stated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, chapter two, sutra 46, as “Sthira Sukham Asanam“, which means the importance of stability and comfort in the posture. Then we have an opportunity to develop our life force and be a part of the flow of life with acceptance and harmony.
Traditionally, the Ashtanga method is taught directly by a teacher to a student, which is called Parampara.
A mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that are considered capable of “creating transformation” (cf. spiritual transformation).
In Ashtanga yoga the practitioner opens and ends each session by reciting a mantra. The opening mantra can be found in the Yoga Taravali, a text by the philosopher Sankaracharya which dates back to 700 BC. The mantra contains references to Indian mythology, a tribute to “the highest guru” and also to Patanjali, assumed to be the author of the Yoga Sutras, one of the original texts of yoga. A guru is a teacher or master who guides man from darkness to light. Gu means darkness and Ru means light.
Vande Gurunam charanaravinde
Samsara halahala mohashantyai
Sahasra sirasam svetam
I bow in devotion at the lotus feet of the guru
who awaken happiness by revealing the true nature of the Self
by removing the poison of illusion and ignorance
which chains the mind to conditioned existence
born into a physical body
carrying a sword for discrimination
and a discus of fire for infinite time
and a conch for divine sound
and with thousands of white radiant heads
Patanjali, to him I salute
The closing mantra is a prayer for happiness and prosperity for humanity and the earth.
Pari pala yantam
Nya-yena margena mahi-mahishaha
May prosperity be glorified
may all the leaders
rule the world with wisdom, respect and love
may all things that are sacred be protected.
and may all living beings of the world be happy and live in peace and harmony
Both the opening and closing mantras begin and end with Om. This is a Sanskrit word and is used in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions and meditation. There are many explanations for the meaning of Om, but in the old scriptures it is said to represent the origin of life – everything that is and everything that will be.