Ashtanga Yoga – 8 limbs practice
Asta means eight, anga is a limb. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describes eight limbs of yoga:
1. YAMA – observances and moral disciplines.
- Ahimsa- non-violence
- Satya- trufhfulness
- Asteya- non-stealing
- Brahmacharya- celibacy
- Aparigaha- non-possessiveness
2. NYAMA – commitments and personal discipline.
- Saucha- purity, cleansing
- Santosha- contentment
- Santosha- contentment
- Tapas- self-discipline
- Svadhyaya- self-study and scripture study
- Isvara pranidhana- devotion to God
3. ASANA – posture.
4. PRANAYAMA – breath control.
5. PRATYAHARA – abstraction of the senses.
6. DHARANA – concentration.
7. DHYANA – meditation.
8. SAMADHI – liberation, illumination.
Ashtanga yoga is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri, T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927.
Practicing ashtanga yoga means practicing all of the eight limbs. It is important to understand each and every limb, as they all are interconnected and lead to the final limb called Samadhi, the realization of higher consciousness.
Yoganganusthanadasuddhiksaye jananadpitiravivekakhyateh(yoga sutra 2.28)
By practicing all the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga, the impurities of the body and mind will be destroyed. These impurities are obstacles that prevent us from realizing the true nature of the soul.
Once these obstacles are cleared by practicing the eight limbs of yoga, the true wisdom, or jnana, is understood and will glow. Only then we will be able to distinguish between what is true and what is untrue.
The following are aspects that Pattabhi Jois emphasizes as the main components of Ashtanga yoga.
Vinyasa means breathing and movement system. For each movement, there is one breath.
The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing. Breathing and movement together while performing asanas makes the blood hot, or as Pattabhi Jois says, boils the blood. Thick blood is dirty and causes disease in the body. The heat created from yoga cleans the blood and makes it thin, so that it may circulate freely around the joints, taking away body pains.When there is a lack of circulation, pain occurs. The heated blood also moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and diseases, which are brought out of the body by the sweat that occurs during the practice.
Sweat is important by product of vinyasa, because it is only through sweat that disease leaves the body and purification occurs. If the method of vinyasa is followed, the body becomes healthy and strong, and pure like gold.
After the body is purified its possible to purify the nervous system and the senses organs. The senses organs have the focus on the outside of the body, leading it into laziness. However, through determination and diligent practice, these can be controlled. After this is accomplished, mind control comes automatically. Vinyasa creates the foundation for this to occur.
This means the three places of attention or action: posture, breathing and fixed sight. These are very important for yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind. They are always performed in conjunction with each other.
(postures) – Asanas purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body.
(Ujjayi breath) – Ujjayi means victorious and pranayama means expansion of vital energy through the breath.
The ujjayi breath is done contracting the glottis to the rear part of the throat. The contracting creates the deep sound that increases the diaphragm movements, lengthening all the spine. There are three areas that the sound snores: nostrils, palate and throat.
– It means gazing point. The specific place where the eye focuses on the posture. Each posture has the specific dristhi. There are nine dristhis: nose, third eye, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. Dristhi purifies and stabilizes the functioning of the mind.
– This component is indispensable in the execution of breath. Bandha is defined as lock, closure.
These are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body and help to build a strong internal fire.
– Mula means root and it is placed in the pelvic area. Its a contraction of all the muscles of this region(anus and perineum).
Uddyana Bandha- Uddyana means upward way. It is placed in the lower abdomen. Uddyana bandha is kept during all practice, which is being intensified more during the inhalation.
– This contraction made in the throat pressing the chin toward the chest. This bandha is used in some postures of the practice. Its also used during pranayama practice. The six poisons: A vital aspect of internal purification that Pattabhi Jois touch relates to the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart.The yoga shastra its said that God dwells in our heart in the form of light, but this light is covered by six poisons: kama, krodha, moha, lobha, matsarya and mada. These are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth. When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the heat generated from it burns away these poisons, and the light of our inner nature shines forth.
The traditional method of teaching is through the self-practice, where the student learns the series gradually on your own pace. All students commence their instruction in the same manner in which on the first day of class they are taught surya namaskar, followed by padmasana and deep breathing and a few minutes of rest. After both of surya namaskar have been learned correctly, each of the various asanas are added one by one. When one asana is correct, the next one is taught.
Learning yoga in this traditional method manner benefits the students on many levels. It is possible for one to gain independence and confidence in their sadhana( spiritual practice), as well, something truly becomes one’s own when they learn it by heart. It is through the daily practice of Ashtanga Yoga that we draw it into ourselves, understand it, and become proficient in its methods, thereby reaping its wide range of benefits. For this accomplished, a slow, dedicated and patient approach is best.