“Astau” means “eight” and “anga” means “limb”. The name “ashtanga” literally means eight limbs of yoga: “yama” (ethical principles of interacting with others), “niyama” (commitments towards myself), “asana” (yoga postures), “pranayama” (breath control), “pratyahara” (sense withdrawal), “dharana” (focus of consciousness), “dhyana” (meditative concentration), “samadhi” (bliss of the Absolute). Even if some limbs seem to be simple at first glance, each of them is a deep ocean and it takes a lifetime to truly understand and be able to live by them. Traditionally, we start this journey from asana practice as our own bodies are something with which we can instantly relate.
Asana practice in ashtanga yoga is very different from other yoga methods, and most likely unlike anything you have experienced before. There is nothing random. Each asana has its place and direction, all asanas are composed in set sequences. The more you practice, the more you start noticing an inner intelligence in the sequences from therapeutical effects of individual asanas to the way they are arranged in order to complement and enhance each other, preparing you for the next step. Any yoga method uses more or less similar asanas, but the way they are applied is totally different. In ashtanga yoga, practitioners do not do any action without “vinyasa” – synchronization of every move and every breath. There is nothing random about these vinyasas, each of them has own number in Sanskrit counting system, similar to the music notes in a song. The breath itself is quite special, Ashtangis produce sound breathing which deepens every inhalation and exhalation, generates detoxifying heat, and ultimately makes body lighter. In addition to this, in every asana we hold “bandhas” (energy locks) and focus on “dristi” (gazing point). Together vinyasa, sound breath, bandhas and dristi create something magical and deeply personal known as a “moving meditation”. Ashtanga may look like a vigorous, challenging and purely physical practice, but its essence is a spiritual practice which takes you as deep as you are ready to go.
As a method Ashtanga is unique. Mysore-style Ashtanga practice is the only type of yoga where practitioners are allowed to go through a sequence at their own pace and receive personal instructions from a teacher, while joining the energy flow of a group practice. This practice is very structural. It makes a student independant from a teacher and at the same time creates a very special bond between the two known as “parampara”. This is the only yoga method which takes into consideration the moon’s impact on the practice. Humans mainly consist of water and are influenced by the moon’s phases. And finally, it is a powerful tool for self-transformation and it mainly attracts people who are honestly seeking these transformations.