What is Ashtanga Yoga? A question you are probably asking yourself because you decided to read this article.

Ashtanga yoga uses fixed series of consecutive exercises. The end of each exercise marks the beginning for the next exercise; they dynamically merge into each other. Join Ashtanga yoga teacher training in Rishikesh to master it.

This is how it differs from “traditional yoga”, also known as Hatha yoga.

In this blog, we will explain what exactly Ashtanga Yoga is. Among other things, you will read:

  • What the difference is between the Eightfold Path and the yoga form Ashtanga Yoga.
  • Who Ashtanga Yoga is suitable for
  • How to start with Ashtanga Yoga
  • An example of Ashtanga Yoga exercises
  • The advantages and disadvantages of Ashtanga Yoga
  • What Ashtanga Power Yoga and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga are about

And much more. Read on.

The origins of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga as we know it today was brought to the West by Pattabhi Jois. Pattabhi Jois, like Iyengar (founder of Iyengar Yoga), was a student of Krishnamacharya.

While Iyengar was primarily concerned with the precision of the postures, Pattabhi Jois focused primarily on dynamism and strength.

Krishnamacharya based his teaching on an ancient manuscript, the Yoga Kuruntha, and modernized it.

They lived in Mysore, a city in India. This is where the name “Ashtanga – Mysore Style” comes from. When you attend an Ashtanga class in “Mysore Style”, it means that everyone practices the yoga series individually and at their own pace.

This is how it was done back in Mysore. You learn the yoga sequence from your teacher and gradually more challenging exercises are incorporated into the sequence.

Ashtanga Yoga guide

The eightfold path

The word “Ashtanga” means “eight/eightfold.” About two thousand years ago, Patanjali described the Eightfold Path of Yoga in the Yoga Sutra. He did this in eight steps.

The steps on the eightfold path are as follows:

  1. Yama. Guidelines for conduct toward the rest of the world. There are five yamas in all.
  2. Niyama. Guidelines that are directed inward, a kind of personal truths and disciplines. There are a total of five niyamas.
  3. Asana. Physical postures.
  4. Pranayama. Breathing to more life energy.
  5. Pratyahara. Control of the senses.
  6. Dharana. Concentration.
  7. Dhyana. Meditation.
  8. Samadhi. The ultimate goal of yoga. Bliss. In this case, you surrender completely.

The name of the physical form of yoga (i.e. Ashtanga Yoga) is based on this eight-fold yoga path. Although Ashtanga Yoga is based on these steps, the approach and interpretation of Patanjali and Pattabhi Jois is very different.

Patanjali considers yoga to be primarily about the mind. The asanas are only a small part of it.

Pattabhi Jois has given the asanas (in conjunction with the breath) the main role in the eightfold path. He sees the postures as a way of bringing body, mind and spirit together (and so all the steps are reflected in them).

Thus, one does not practice the steps in isolation, but as a whole. For example, there is also no extended meditation at the end of the practice. The postures are all flowing and connected to the breath.

In the rest of this blog, we will discuss this physical form of yoga, i.e. Ashtanga yoga as described by Pattabhi Jois :).

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Ashtanga Power Yoga

To make things a little more confusing, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Ashtanga Power Yoga are sometimes referred to as such.

Both Vinyasa Yoga and Power Yoga have similarities to Ashtanga Yoga, but are slightly different. Neither form uses a fixed series.

In Vinyasa Yoga, dynamics and breath play a major role. In Power Yoga, the emphasis is mainly on strength.

Want to learn more about the differences between these forms? Then read this blog.

What are the advantages of Ashtanga Yoga?

The fast pace of the exercises is a great advantage. Since you have to switch quickly between exercises, your body keeps moving.

The constant movement gets the circulation going and disposes of waste products from the body. It also gets your digestion going. It also promotes inner strength and stability.

Ashtanga yoga ensures that the body burns a lot of calories through exertion. Therefore, it is a suitable type of yoga for losing weight.

It also improves your flexibility. Because you are constantly busy, your body stays warm. This has the advantage that your muscles can stretch better, making you more supple and flexible!

The combination of asanas and Ujjayi breathing also allows you to clear your mind. This allows your body, mind and spirit to come together.

What are the disadvantages of Ashtanga Yoga?

Since the exercises are performed in a dynamic and fast style, this form is not suitable for everyone.

Ashtanga yoga is physically demanding, so there is a risk of going too fast and wanting too much. This can cause you to perform poses sloppily or incorrectly, which can lead to injury.

You can also become too outward looking and preoccupied with what the poses look like, rather than turning inward and feeling what the poses are like for you.

Corrections are also often made in Ashtanga yoga. Subtle corrections to make sure you are doing the pose correctly can be very helpful.

But never let anyone force you into a pose! Everyone’s body is different and everyone’s skeleton is different too, so we are not all able to do exactly the same thing.

You can get seriously injured doing this, so be very careful.

Also, in recent years there have been unsightly stories of unwanted touching by Patthabi Jois. This is, of course, incredibly sad and diametrically opposed to what yoga should be.

Is Ashtanga yoga suitable for everyone?

If you like a physical challenge and enjoy doing the same series of poses every time, then this might be for you!

If you are looking for a gentler form of yoga, if you do yoga mainly for relaxation, or if you have certain injuries or illnesses, Ashtanga Yoga is not suitable.

How can you get started with Ashtanga yoga?

We recommend that most yogis start with basic hatha yoga first.

This gives you the space to experience, build up and correctly perform the postures one at a time first. In Ashtanga yoga, there is less time for this.

For beginners, it may be advisable to first find out which form of yoga best suits their needs. Ashtanga yoga may be especially suitable for a fanatical yogi.

So it may be wise for any yogi to first understand themselves. What are your goals? What do you want to achieve with yoga?

Next, every yogi must learn to understand yoga. What type of yoga suits you best?

Hatha yoga offers answers to these questions. Whereas Ashtanga yoga is a good addition for the avid yogi.

Ashtanga Yoga Exercises

Ashtanga yoga exercises can be very difficult if you are new to Ashtanga yoga. This is because the exercises are performed in quick succession.

To master all the individual exercises and transitions, it is a good idea to study instructional videos or take yoga retreat in Rishikesh beforehand.

An example of Ashtanga Yoga exercises

Still, it is useful and fun to have one of these exercise sequences explained to you. After all, you want to get going quickly, and you’re reading this for a reason 😉 .

If you’ve done yoga before, you may know this series….

It’s namely about Surya Namaskar A or the sun salutation. So this sequence is found in Ashtanga yoga, but also in other forms of yoga.

The sun salutation is a set sequence of standing, lying and sitting yoga exercises that are repeated several times.

Here you can hold the different successive postures for a long time or perform the series in breathing rhythm and thus faster.

In Sun Salutation A, Mountain Posture, Plank Posture, Chataranga Dandasana, Cobra Posture or Upward Dog Posture, Downward Dog Posture and Namaste Posture are combined into one posture.

Which form of yoga suits you?

It is important to figure out for yourself why you want to do yoga. What are your goals, what do you want to achieve, and what are your desires?

The better you clarify this, the better you can find a form of yoga that suits your ideas!