What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Beate Chung
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
Ashtanga Yoga is for people who like a challenging and highly structured practice. Sequences are predefined based on your personal level. The poses are done in a constant flow and at your own pace.

Ashtanga Yoga is one of the more popular styles of yoga, and was introduced by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 1975. This style of yoga involves doing specific sequences of Ashtanga Yoga poses, which are done in a continuous, flowing, fast-paced manner. Ashtanga Yoga practitioners, or Ashtangis, move swiftly from one pose to another, timed with every inhale and exhale.

What's Special About Ashtanga Yoga

In Ashtanga Yoga the order of asanas is entirely predefined, which distinguishes it from most other types of yoga. A practice consists of four parts: Opening series, a main series, a back-bending sequence and a finishing sequence.

The opening series begins with 10 Sun Salutations and several standing asanas. There are six different kinds of main series that the yogi can choose from based on experience and skill. However, it's not really important do learn the most advanced series as quickly as possible. The real aim of Ashtanga Yoga is to maintain internal focus throughout the practice. That's why daily (or regular) practice is highly emphasized in Ashtanga Yoga.

What many people love about Ashtanga Yoga is that it's usually taught and practiced in Mysore style. This means that each student moves through the practice in his or her own level and pace. So during a class the instructor will supervise all students as they go through their sequences by themselves. Once the student masters the sequences, they can be practiced alone.

Who Can Do Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is typically recommended to those who prefer fast-paced and more rigorous styles of yogic practice. It's not that you really have to do the poses quickly after one another, but the flow of the poses is definitely more challenging than in regular yoga practices. The Primary Series alone involves a lot of contortion-esque poses and many of the poses require strong arm and core strength, which is built over time through the multiple vinyasas. If this is your first time to do yoga and you haven't quite been physically active for some time, Ashtanga may not be the style for you. Those who want to do yoga more for meditational and spiritual purposes may find better styles to try, such as Ananda Yoga. That said, anyone who is up for a challenge that requires good coordination as well as a bit more strength and knows their physical limits well enough can definitely do Ashtanga Yoga.

Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga

Aside from an increased focus and sense for your body, Ashtanga Yoga is also good for those who need a cardio workout because the movements can be done swiftly and the practice can effectively raise one's heart rate. Ashtangis also benefit from increased awareness of the flow and movement of their bodies and a better sense of rhythm. Ashtanga Yoga also works well for stress relief, and for burning fat. Of course, it also offers the physical benefits one gets from yoga such as toned and strengthened muscles and increased flexibility. Being able to move at one's own pace and level is another great advantage of Ashtanga Yoga.

What You Need to Know

It is not recommended to make Ashtanga the first style of yoga that you experience and practice. Why? Because many often have a hard time keeping up with the swift flow of movements and poses without prior knowledge and experience in doing yoga poses. We suggest taking an "easier" and slower-paced yoga class before going into Ashtanga especially if you're a yoga neophyte.