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Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a moving meditation resulting in calmness and clarity. It maximizes body tone, detoxifies and increases all-round health, flexibility, strength and balance. The term 'ashtanga' translates as eight limbs, 'vinyasa' means breath movement synchronization and 'yoga chikitsa' means yoga therapy. The four elements of yoga are:
* Asana - posture
* Pranayama - breath
* Bandha - internal core support
* Dristi - directed focus
The series comprises of about 60 postures, which begin with sun salutations, then continues through standing postures, sitting postures and then a closing sequence (followed in this order). The practitioner experiences asanas in a dynamic flowing sequence. Vinyasas thread all the asanas together, which gives the whole practise its flow, grace and momentum. By moving through the vinyasas the body is realigned in preparation for the next posture and the body's internal heat is increased.
The ashtanga vinyasa yoga system was discovered and systemised by Sri Krishnamacharya and his student Sri Pattabhi Jois in the early 1930s. Sri Pattabhi Jois later became the principal proponent and master of the system. The practice may be as old as 5000 years, but it must be looked on as a growing, living knowledge and art.
Asthanga yoga is arguably the most popular form of yoga in the world today. It is the forerunner for many other yoga practices which have appeared in the West in the last decade – dynamic flow, vinyasa flow, hot power yoga and Bikram among them. Ashtanga is taught in a warm (but not excessively hot) room at around 25 degrees C.
The system is designed to therapeutically realign and detoxify the body. Inner body heat is produced during the practice through special breathing (ujjayi). This, combined with two important internal body locks (bandhas), induces sweating. Toxins are eliminated and the nervous system is purified. Heat and energy is also maintained in the body throughout the practise. A deep focus (dristi) is maintained which directs the concentration and brings about a meditative state while you flow through the asanas. There is a dramatic increase of energy and sense of well-being and calm.
Excerpt from Gingi's yoga diary (1989)
Within the ashtanga system there are six series or levels of practices:
* Yoga Chikitsa (yoga therapy), the Primary Series, opens and realigns the body
* Nadi Shodana (nerve purification), the second or intermediate series, focuses on purifying the nervous system.
* Stira Bhaja, the third or advanced series, is now divided into four series and cultivates tremendous strength, flexibility, control and stamina.
Traditionally, ashtanga vinyasa yoga is practised 6 days a week, allowing one day of complete rest. Days of rest also include full and dark moon days, as well as the first few days of a woman's cycle. Women should not do any inverted postures during their cycle. During these times, a restorative practice is most beneficial and allows us to expand further into our ashtanga vinyasas.
The Eight Limbs
The ancient Indian guru Patanjali, considered as the first master and teacher of yoga, described yoga as consisting of eight limbs:
* yama (abstinence)
* niyama (observance)
* asana (postures)
* pranayama (breath control)
* pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
* dharana (concentration)
* dhyana (meditation)
* samadhi (contemplation)
All the limbs, like a tree, are interrelated and support one another. The asanas must first be established for the proper practice of pranyama which then leads to further development of the yamas and niyamas. When these four externally oriented limbs of the practice are rooted the last four internal limbs will grow automatically from the foundation over time.
We are forever indebted to the "Guruji" Sri Pattabhi Jois, who taught ceaselessly throughout his lifetime, sharing his priceless knowledge with so many of us. Guruji passed away in May 2009 but his legacy lives on all over the world.