Ashtanga began for me in 2005 and is my daily practice and an integral part of life.
I remember vividly the newfound delight of quietening my mind, being with my breath and feeling the strong sense of inner calm which came with each practice. The physical side of the yoga practice allows the body to become stronger and more agile. Over time and together with the breath, a practice develops that is both contemplative and challenging. Thank you Gill MacLean (now in Houston) for those brilliant first years of learning.
Edinburgh based Sarah Hatcher has since been my local teacher with whom I continue to learn.
Daily practice of this ancient method is a good way to stay healthy and give support to everything else in life. My teaching of this structured, intelligent and dynamic approach to yoga has evolved from love of the ashtanga system and regular practice and study, following the teaching and traditions of Ashtanga yoga, practised by millions worldwide.
Other teachers of Ashtanga yoga, with whom I have spent pieces of time with include:
David Keil, Eddie & Jocylene Stern, Christine Hoar, John Scott, Dena Kingsberg & Jack Wiseman, Kino MacGregor & Tim Feldmann, Mark & Joanne Darby, and Sharath Jois.
My aim is just to share what little I have experienced and learned of this beautiful practice as best I can.
What is Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic form of yoga where breath and movement is connected so that posture follows posture in a flow from start to finish. Vinyasa means coordination of movement with the breath. When to inhale and exhale and how to move from one posture to the next is well defined. Postures are done in a certain sequence.
The primary series of Ashtanga Yoga is also called “Yoga Chikitsa”, which means yoga therapy. The purpose of this series is to strengthen, adjust, align and clean the body. The intermediate series “Nadi Shodana” strengthens and cleans the nervous system by opening and cleansing the energy channels of the body.
For most people, it takes at least a couple of years to establish a steady practice of the primary series. There is no hurry, yoga is a lifelong practice and a solid foundation is so important for the practice to develop.
Ashtanga Yoga affects both the physical and the mental levels of the body and mind. The three key elements are the breath, the bandhas, and the dristi (visual focus points) . When all of these come together, called tristana, you may experience the yoga practice as meditation in movement.
Ujjayi is a powerful breathing technique. With the mouth closed, you breathe in and out through the nose, moving the air in and out of the lungs. Ujjayi breathing ensures an even and enhanced supply of oxygen, which is necessary for a powerful yoga practice – and at the same time the calm rhythm of the breath can be preserved. The sound of ujjayi breathing comes from a soft contraction in the back of the throat. The purpose of the sound is primarily to concentrate the thoughts in the yoga practice and to make you stay present in the moment.
The purpose of the body locks is to restrain and redirect the energy in the body (prana).
Mula bandha – At the physical level the root lock is a contraction and lifting of the perineum, pelvic floor area. The challenge is to maintain the root lock through both inhalation and exhalation – and through a full yoga practice.
Uddiyana bandha – Drawing the stomach just above the pubic bone inwards and upwards holds the stomach lock. This is also maintained through the full yoga practice. In addition to conserving energy, the stomach lock is also very important for the ujjayi breath as it supports the muscles used in this breathing technique.
Jalandhara bandha – The chin lock is mainly used in pranayama, which are various breathing exercises done to strengthen the breath. However, it often occurs naturally in a softer variant in many postures because of dristi.
In addition to the sound of the breath, visual focus points (dristi) help ensure mental focus. Visual focus points where the eyes rest during the practice, are defined for every posture. Most often it is the nose but it can also be the navel, thumbs, big toes or the distance.
In the beginning it is necessary to get instructions from a teacher, either in a class or one-to-one. Gradually learning the postures and the sequence by heart so that you can practice independently (called “Mysore style”). When a group practice together “Mysore style”, the teacher will give instructions and guide the students one-to-one, and gradual introduction to new postures is given when you are physically and/or mentally ready.
Traditionally, days with full or new moon are days of rest.
Ashtanga Yoga originates in India. In the 1930s Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his teacher Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya deciphered an old writing, Yoga Korunta, by the sage Vamana Rishi. The work accentuates the importance of vinyasa, describes sequences of postures (asanas) and other aspects of yoga philosophy and practice (e.g. bandhas, dristi and mudras). Together with other classical yoga writings such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, The Bhagavad Gita and The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the interpretation of Yoga Korunta constitutes the foundation of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.