Ashtanga yoga is dynamic
Ashtanga yoga is a flowing style of yoga, where one pose flows seamlessly to the next. How you transition between poses is just as important as the pose itself. So, the journey is as important as the destination.
Ashtanga therefore differs from other types of yoga, like Iyengar or Hatha yoga, where there's less focus on the transition, and more focus on the pose itself. While Ashtanga takes on a more flowing quality, Hatha or Iyengar tend to be more static (but not necessarily less wonderful).
Ashtanga synchronises breath with movement
In Ashtanga, your breath is your soundtrack, and you allow the breath to dictate the rhythm of your movement. Ashtanga yoga is meant to be a moving meditation – throughout the practice, we try to maintain focus on full and even inhalation and exhalation.
Another defining characteristic of Ashtanga yoga is that the poses, and the order they come in, are the same every time. As you become stronger and more flexible, you gradually add increasingly more advanced poses to your routine.
There are at least two advantages of having a set sequence.
- Repetition allows you to track the patterns and the subtle
daily changes in your body. In other words, you get to know your
body better. Cultivating body awareness is a good thing. For one,
it helps you to correct your postural habits.
It also means that over time, you can stop intellectualising
the yoga practice. That is, as you become familiar with the
sequence, you won't need to worry too much about where your hands and feet are. You can shift your awareness to delve deeper internally, focusing on the sensations in your body, the rhythm of your breath, noticing the activities of the mind. This is when the moving meditation begins.
Where does Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga come from?
The official version (put forward by Pattabhi Jois):
Ashtanga Vinyasa comes from a five thousand year old text called the Yoga Korunta, by Vamana Rishi.
Krishnamacharya (legendary yogi, and teacher to some of the most influential yoga teachers of the modern world, including Pattabhi Jois) apparently learned the Ashtanga Vinyasa system from his guru, Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari at Mount Kailash in the early 20th century. Later on, Krishnamacharya discovered the Yoga Korunta in a Calcutta library, transcribed it, and taught it to Pattabhi Jois.
An academic version (put forward by Mark Singleton, Sanskrit scholar and academic):
Ashtanga yoga is a fusion of Scandinavian gymnastics, British military drill, Indian body building, stitched together with classical Hatha yoga traditions. Krishnamacharya cleverly combined elements of all these different traditions and called it 'yoga'. He handed it down to Pattabhi Jois who taught it to young Indian men. The name for the system of Ashtanga yoga didn't pop up until the 1970s, when the first Westerners started going to Mysore to learn yoga from Pattabhi Jois.
While this story isn't as romantic as the version often used in marketing, there's a lot of academic study to support this version. See Mark Singleton's thorough studies in, Yoga Body, The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, Oxford University Press, 2010.
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