Ashtanga yoga is taught as one of the main paths of yoga in all yogic systems. However, our online blog community is growing each day and we want to ensure that all aspiring yogis should have a basic understanding of ashtanga yoga. What is ashtanga? How ashtanga yoga is performed? What are the misconceptions about ashtanga yoga?
So, let’s take a quick swim in the ocean of ashtanga yoga and find some gold that adorns our journey of liberation.
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
Knowing the definition of ashtanga yoga is easy, “asht” means eight, and “anga” means limbs, eight limbs of yoga but understanding each limb’s true meaning and essence will require patience and real-life experiences.
What are the eight limbs in Ashtanga Yoga?
Eight limbs of ashtanga yoga unfold wisdom and spirituality in the same as a tree grows. Nature is steady and gradual— with its numerous styles and approaches, the world of yoga may be linked to a forest filled with variety and color. Every tree in a forest has the same goal: to reach toward the light. One tree’s method is not better than another’s.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
YAMA- Ethical disciplines
NIYAMA- Self observation
PRANAYAMA- Breath Control
PRATYAHARA- Withdrawal of senses
SAMADHI- A state of joy and peace
Each species has individual characteristics which enable it to grow to its greatest potential. The various yogic systems are unique, yet all have the same purpose: to grow toward enlightenment.
As K Pattabi Jois said, 99% practice and 1% theory. Through regulation of practice, the eight limbs are nourished. Personal insights begin to show in real life.
How Practice Ashtanga Series Align Every Limb?
The system of yoga described in ashtanga yoga focuses on practice. When practiced with regulation and awareness, the tree of eight limbs begins to sprout. Practice is the only means of feeding it.
With this type of introspection and awareness, the qualities of Yama and Niyama begin to develop. Asana and Pranayama grow when focused awareness is applied while practicing each posture. As we keep the mind fixed on the sound and quality of our breath, the senses are encouraged to turn inward and the element of Pratyahara manifests. As we improve our abilities to control the senses from wandering during practice, the subtle quality of concentration deepens in the form of Dharna.
In time, the practice moves further internally and the refinement of concentration develops as our ability to remain present is enhanced. The practice then grows into a deep resounding meditative experience known as Dhyana.
At this stage, we are creating the greater potential to explore the finest realms of yoga known as Samadhi. in which we realize the pure essence of all that exists.
IMPORTANT TO KNOW!
The development of these limbs of ashtanga yoga does not unfold in a linear fashion. They sprout when the time is appropriate. Ashtanga practice may be utilized as a method or pathway to explore the subtle realms of spirituality. Whatever you choose, there is only one method to reap its benefit: Practice.,
BREATH, LOCKS, FLOW, AND GAZE
Before beginning to practice, it is necessary to discuss some of the fundamental aspects of Ashtanga Yoga. These elements exist within an unseen world. Without them, yoga becomes nothing more than an outward expression of physical movement. When performed correctly these subtle tools allow the practitioner to enter into the mystical realms of prana and experience the subtle wonders of Ashtanga Yoga. These invisible tools are “Ujjayi Breath”, “Bandhas”, “Vinyasa” and “Drishti”
Ujjayi is a specialized breathing technique that means victorious. This unique form of breathing is performed by creating a soft sound in the back of the throat while inhaling and exhaling through the nose. It is helpful to gently smile while breathing to allow the air to swirl around the back of the throat before continuing its journey to the lungs.
Bandhas are a series of internal energy gates within the subtle body that assist in regulating pranic flow. There are three main bandhas used in Ashtanga. They are “Mulabandha”, “Uddiyana Bandha” and “Jalandhara Bandha”. You may think of them as valves that work similarly to the valves within the circulatory system. When the heart beats, the blood surges through arteries and veins. Valves keep the blood from sloshing back toward the heart. In this way, the blood continues forward movement when the heart beats. Bandhas regulate the flow of prana (life force) in a similar way within subtle energy channels known as Nadis. When engaging the locks, energy is forced to spread throughout these pathways. We are then able to assimilate this energy on a cellular level as the prana bathes and feeds our subtle body and balances the gross nervous system.
Mulabandha is the root lock. It is so called because of its location at the base of our nerve tree, the spinal column. There is a difference in location for this bandha in males and in females. In males, the seat of Mulabandha is the perineal muscle which is located in front of the anus and behind the genitals. In females, the location is near the top of the cervix.
The second lock is Uddiyana Bandha which means flying upward. In its complete expression, Uddiyana Bandha is performed by exhaling fully and then drawing the lower belly inward and upward while simultaneously lifting the diaphragm. This level of Uddiyana is primarily utilized during the exhale retention phase of specialized breath control methods known as pranayama.
Jalandhara Bandha is the third lock to discuss. It is the chin-lock. This lock is not utilized as frequently as the other two. It occurs spontaneously in some asanas such as shoulder stands and is prescribed for use in others. It is, however, used extensively for pranayama. To engage jalandhara bandha you may extend the chin forward and then draw it back into the notch which is formed where the two clavicle bones meet, at the bony protrusions below your Adam’s apple. When engaging all three bandhas simultaneously it is called “mahabandha” or the great lock. Bandhas are an integral part of Ashtanga Yoga but they cannot be understood through mental powers. Understanding of them will grow from these early seeds of awareness as personal practice develops.
Vinyasa is the unique linking of one asana to the next in a serpentine flow. It is more than a simple set of physical maneuvers. It is a dynamic marriage of our internal and external worlds. Vinyasa is an outward expression of the subtle movement of life force. It is a manifestation of prana. Vinyasa orchestrates balance. A balance of strength and flexibility, lightness and heaviness, movement and stillness. Through vinyasa one may know the vibration of life. This integration manifests when the act of breathing and movement cease to be separate entities. The two actions converge to create a symphony of seamless unity. Each action encourages the other. They exist as one. The mind is then set free and the practice may become a rhythmic dance.
Drishti- Looking Out/Looking In
Drishti is a point of gaze or focus, yet it has little to do with our physical sight. The real “looking” is directed internally. We may fix our physical sight upon an external object or a specific point on our body, yet truly the Drishti is meant to draw our attention to the subtle aspects of our practice, the breath, and bandhas as well as the mind. Those of us with sight are easily distracted by our surroundings. Other students in the room, a clock on the wall, or the myriad of other forms may pull us away from the immediate concerns of practicing yoga with awareness. The Drishti is a device designed to balance our internal and external practice. There are officially nine Drishti points which have listed below:
- Nasagrai-Tip of the nose
- Ajna Chakra – Between the eyebrows
- Nabi Chakra – Navel
- Hastagrai – Hand
- Padhayoragrai – Toes
- Parsva Drishti – Far to the right
- Parsva Drishti – Far to the left
- Angushta Ma Dyai – Thumbs
- Urdhva or Antra Drishti – Up to the sky
Hope this helps you begin your practice of ashtanga yoga. To know more write us back.
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