What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Want to be stronger, yet more flexible? Want to have more energy, yet become calmer? Want to find a way of coping with the stresses of modern life? Whatever the reason(s) you have for choosing to read this beginner’s introduction to Ashtanga yoga, there are likely to be even more benefits than you might at first think.

From building strength at your core (in mind as well as in body) to increasing your flexibility (do you have tight hamstrings? or maybe restricted shoulder-movement? can’t kneel down?).

Ashtanga yoga is both fun and challenging, and can even be life-changing when practised over time. An increasingly popular form of yoga, Ashtanga is based on a dynamic, sequential system of movements arranged into a number of different series (primary series, secondary series, etc.).

This class will be an introduction to the primary series – an incredibly powerful set of asanas (yoga postures) that will be challenging enough for most people for at least 10-20 years! (My own personal Ashtanga journey started 7 years ago and I find there is still so much more for me to learn and gain from it).

This introduction to Ashtanga yoga is designed to help the beginner understand the 4 key elements that form the foundation of the practice:

  • YOUR BREATH (UJJAYI BREATH – KNOWN AS VICTORIOUS BREATH)
  • DRISTI (OR GAZE POINT)
  • BANDHAS (INTERNAL LOCKS)
  • ASANAS (POSTURE)

All asanas (postures) are joined together by a series of movements that are linked to the breath (called “vinyasa”). The vinyasa works to create internal heat within the body, allowing your joints to open more and your muscles to lengthen. Without the other 3 key elements, the 4th element of asanas is just physical exercise.

Remember one thing: listen to your breath and always trust it to be your guide. This will create focus and will keep your mind calm, whilst strengthening your inner resolve and determination. Over time, your breath and focus help you to deepen your practice and approach a posture you might dislike – helping you find a new and deeper understanding of its subtleties. (Believe me, this comes up many times: from standing on one leg, to lengthening those tight hamstrings.)

Followed properly, this yoga practice should be very safe. All asanas will be taught with appropriate modifications, allowing you to practise within your physical capabilities. Over time your body and mind will gradually change to allow you move deeper in the asanas. But remember: patience and regular practice is the key to unwinding ourselves.

The primary series of Ashtanga yoga is known in Sanskrit as “Yoga Chikitisa” – meaning “yoga therapy”. It has within it an inherent healing process of detoxification, cleansing and toning for the body, mind and sense. Ashtanga yoga is both an art and a science, helping to heal many things in our lives. Each practice session is a great opportunity to explore the postures, focusing on your breath to let the healing happen.

The above is only a brief guide to the class. The class structure will change as your practice grows. Enjoy the journey! An Ashtanga community will spring from these classes, I’m sure, and I look forward to guiding you as we journey together. Remember: Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory!

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