Astanga Yoga – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Yoga Styles Glossary

I. What is Astanga Yoga?

Astanga Yoga is a traditional form of yoga that focuses on the synchronization of breath with a series of postures. It is a dynamic and physically demanding practice that aims to purify the body and mind through a structured sequence of movements. Astanga Yoga is often referred to as “power yoga” due to its challenging nature and emphasis on strength, flexibility, and stamina.

II. History of Astanga Yoga

Astanga Yoga was developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the early 20th century in Mysore, India. Jois was a student of the renowned yoga teacher Krishnamacharya, who is often referred to as the “father of modern yoga.” Jois combined traditional yoga practices with his own innovative approach to create the Astanga Yoga system.

The Astanga Yoga system consists of six series of postures, each with a specific focus and purpose. The primary series, known as Yoga Chikitsa, focuses on detoxifying the body and aligning the spine. The intermediate series, known as Nadi Shodhana, focuses on purifying the nervous system and balancing the energy channels. The advanced series, known as Sthira Bhaga, focuses on strength, flexibility, and endurance.

III. Principles of Astanga Yoga

Astanga Yoga is based on eight principles outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These principles, known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga, provide a framework for living a balanced and harmonious life. The Eight Limbs of Yoga are:

1. Yama (ethical guidelines)
2. Niyama (self-discipline)
3. Asana (physical postures)
4. Pranayama (breath control)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (enlightenment)

By following these principles, practitioners of Astanga Yoga can cultivate self-awareness, discipline, and inner peace.

IV. Asanas in Astanga Yoga

The practice of Astanga Yoga consists of a specific sequence of postures that are performed in a flowing and dynamic manner. The primary series of Astanga Yoga includes a series of standing, seated, and finishing postures that are designed to build strength, flexibility, and endurance. Each posture is linked together with breath, creating a continuous flow of movement.

Some of the key postures in Astanga Yoga include Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations), Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose), Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), and Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (Half Bound Lotus Standing Forward Bend). These postures help to improve circulation, increase flexibility, and strengthen the muscles.

V. Benefits of Practicing Astanga Yoga

There are numerous benefits to practicing Astanga Yoga, both physically and mentally. Some of the key benefits include:

1. Improved strength and flexibility: Astanga Yoga helps to build strength in the muscles and increase flexibility in the joints, leading to improved overall physical fitness.
2. Stress relief: The synchronization of breath with movement in Astanga Yoga helps to calm the mind and reduce stress and anxiety.
3. Increased focus and concentration: The practice of Astanga Yoga requires concentration and mindfulness, which can improve focus and mental clarity.
4. Detoxification: The dynamic movements and deep breathing in Astanga Yoga help to detoxify the body and cleanse the internal organs.
5. Spiritual growth: Astanga Yoga is a spiritual practice that can help practitioners connect with their inner selves and cultivate a sense of peace and harmony.

VI. How to Practice Astanga Yoga

To practice Astanga Yoga, it is important to find a qualified teacher who can guide you through the practice safely and effectively. Astanga Yoga is typically practiced in a Mysore-style format, where students move through the series at their own pace with individualized instruction from the teacher.

It is recommended to start with the primary series of Astanga Yoga and gradually progress to the intermediate and advanced series as you build strength and flexibility. Consistency and dedication are key to progressing in Astanga Yoga, as the practice can be physically demanding and challenging.

In addition to attending regular classes, it is beneficial to establish a daily home practice to deepen your understanding of the postures and develop a consistent routine. Practicing Astanga Yoga regularly can help you experience the full benefits of this powerful and transformative practice.