Ashtanga in Sanskrit means eight limbs. It refers to the 8 limbs of yoga written about Patanjali (one of the great fathers of yoga). They are 8 steps that help us achieve pure bliss. The lineage has been passed down orally since ancient times. In the modern world Ashtanga is a popular type of yoga. It was made famous by a man called Pattabhi Jois. He taught classes in a place called Mysore in India. He was first recognized in Europe when his photo appeared in a book about Pranayama, and many Europeans went to visit him in Mysore during the 1970s. Over the next twenty years, knowledge of Ashtanga yoga was to be spread across the globe. He died in 2009.
Ashtanga yoga has 6 series to it, and each series has a set of asanas that are usually performed as a vinyasa (using breath with movement). Ashtanga focuses on both flexibility and strength. Traditionally students must master all the asanas in order, before moving onto the next series. All students will start on the first asana of the primary series. It is usual for Ashtanga classes to last around three hours with students able to come and go as they please. The student will have their own space to work on whichever asana they are on at that moment. The teacher will individually attend to the students’ needs and make hands-on adjustments where needed. When the teacher feels as though the student is ready, they will give them the next asana to work on. There are also teacher lead classes that you can attend, these are usually of the primary or secondary series and may only last an hour.
Ashtanga yoga is often described as being a very strict type of yoga. Students must pay enormous amounts of attention to the use of vinyasa, their Drishti, Bandha’s, and Mudras. The bandha’s are particularly important to engage in this practice as they will help with the many jumps through asanas that form part of the Ashtanga series. Keeping your Drishti during practice also helps to keep your attention on the present and stops the mind from wandering. People are known to have been injured during hands-on adjusting by the teacher trying to get their bodies into perfect asanas. In Ashtanga yoga, students are encouraged to practice six days a week except on a full moon. Pattabhi Jois believed that on a full moon, there was a higher risk of injury; therefore, students should take that day to relax and rest. Not many students reach the next series, and thus, a lot of secrecy surrounds these series. Teachers of Ashtanga yoga are required to study in Mysore with the descendants of Pattabhi Jois for many years before teaching other students. They must be at least two series ahead of their best student. It ensures that the lineage of Ashtanga yoga is passed down through the ages as the great fathers of yoga intended it.