Ashtanga. What is it?
Ashta = 8, Anga = limbs.
Ashtanga is the 8 Limbs of Yoga, and is therefore an eightfold path to Yoga.
Here is a brief summary of the 8 Limbs:
1. Yama – behaviour towards others
2. Niyama – behaviour to yourself
3. Asana – posture / physical movement
4. Pranayama – expansion of energy / breath awareness
5. Pratyahara – withdrawing the sense / turning in
6. Dharana – power of concentration / focus
7. Dhyana – meditation
8. Samadhi – absorption / enlightenment
When the majority of (the mainly Western) world think of Yoga, we think of being flexible – being able to touch toes, jumping up into handstands and headstands and holding a pose for hours on end. Yes, this is a part of Yoga, but it is only one of eight parts. Asana, the physical practise, is the third limb and to be able to truly practice Yoga, you have to be aware and conscious of the other seven limbs. For some, just the physical side of Yoga is all they want, and thats great! But for those who are curious of the other seven, it offers a way to enrich and deepen our practise.
Patanjali outlined in his Yoga Sutras that the path to ultimate enlightenment was to go through life following these eight spiritual practises. For most Yogi’s, these Yoga Sutra’s are a way of life and a way of practise.
Ashtanga follows a dynamic set sequence which is structured to detoxify and align the body. Both B.K.S Iyengar and Pattahbi Jois studied and refined this practise, in different ways, after both being taught by T. Krishnamacharya.
Iyengar’s style of teaching (which I am personally trained in) attention and focus is drawn to correct alignment in the core poses as well as building core strength and combining breath and movement.