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What Is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga Yoga is a powerful and structured form of yoga known for its transformative effects on both body and mind. In this article, we delve into the essence of Ashtanga Yoga, its principles, and what makes it a unique and revered practice.

  • 02 Nov 2023
  • 3 min read
  • 354 views

Commonly known as the ‘eight limbs of yoga,’ Ashtanga yoga presents a holistic and all-encompassing method for achieving both spiritual and physical wellness. With its origins deeply intertwined with ancient Indian philosophy, this practice focuses on the connection between mind and body. It provides practitioners with a clear path toward self-discovery and balance. This traditional practice, popularised by K. Pattabhi Jois, has gained global recognition for its structured yet flexible approach to achieving balance, discipline, and inner peace. An energetic and dynamic form of yoga, it is a combination of breathing techniques and movement. In this article, we will understand what is Ashtanga yoga in detail.

 

Meaning of Ashtanga yoga

The term ‘Ashtanga’ translates to ‘eight limbs’ in Sanskrit, reflecting the eightfold path that forms the foundation of this practice. These limbs, outlined by the sage, Patanjali, in his classical text, the Yoga Sutras, serve as a comprehensive guide to leading a purposeful and meaningful life. The eight limbs are as follows:

 

  • Yamas: The first one is Yamas (i.e., ethical principles). These moral and ethical guidelines guide practitioners in their relationships with others and the world. They include principles such as non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), and non-attachment (aparigraha).

 

  • Niyamas: The second one is Niyamas (i.e., personal observances). Niyamas are self-disciplinary practices that cultivate inner growth and self-awareness. They encompass concepts like purity (saucha), contentment (santosha), and self-study (svadhyaya).

 

  • Asana: Next comes Asana (i.e., physical postures). Asanas are the physical or body postures in yoga. While often associated with the physical aspect of yoga, they serve as a means to prepare the body and mind for meditation and higher states of consciousness.

 

  • Pranayama: Pranayama (i.e., breath control) involves regulation. It is a crucial component of Ashtanga yoga, as it helps harness and direct the life force (prana) within the body, promoting vitality and mental clarity.

 

  • Pratyahara: Pratyahara (i.e., sense withdrawal) is the abandonment of the senses from external stimuli, allowing practitioners to turn their attention inward and detach from sensory distractions.

 

  • Dharana: Dharana (i.e., concentration) is the practice of focused concentration, training the mind to single-pointedness. This prepares the practitioner for deeper states of meditation.

 

  • Dhyana: Next comes Dhyana (i.e., meditation). It is the sustained state of meditation where the mind is fully absorbed in the object of focus, leading to profound insights and inner stillness.

 

  • Samadhi: Lastly comes Samadhi (i.e., self-realisation). In Ashtanga yoga, the ultimate aim is samadhi, a state marked by profound self-realisation and a sense of unity with the universe. It represents a transcendental experience where the practitioner discovers their authentic self and attains liberation, known as moksha.

So, now that you know what Ashtanga yoga is, let’s understand its origin.

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Origin of Ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga yoga finds its roots in ancient Indian philosophy and spirituality. The principles of Ashtanga yoga were mentioned in the Yoga Sutras by the sage, Patanjali, probably somewhere around 400 CE. In any case, the contemporary form of Ashtanga yoga practised today can be directly connected to the teachings of T. Krishnamacharya and his student, K. Pattabhi Jois. Krishnamacharya, a prominent figure known as the ‘father of modern yoga,’ skilfully amalgamated age-old teachings and sacred texts to establish a yoga system adaptable to diverse individual capacities.

 

Conclusion

Deeply rooted in the timeless teachings of the Yoga Sutras, Ashtanga yoga is a guiding path towards equilibrium and unity in life, fostering physical well-being, mental clarity, and spiritual growth for its practitioners. Its eight limbs offer a roadmap for navigating the challenges of modern life while maintaining a connection to our inner selves and the greater universe. Whether one seeks physical fitness, mental tranquillity, or spiritual enlightenment, the path of Ashtanga Yoga provides a profound framework for holistic well-being.

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