A Look Into Ashtanga Yoga

If you prefer a structured work out routine then Ashtanga Yoga is the one for you.  The basis of this style of yoga is based on performing the same set of poses, in the same order, and in the same breath count.  Ashtanga Yoga does not have a specific discovery date but was made popular in the 1940s by K. Patthabi Jois and today is considered one of the hardest forms of yoga due to it’s repetitiveness. The full routine in Ashtanga is called the primary series, this series lasts around 90 minutes for a full session.  Similar to other forms of yoga every movement has a matching inhale or exhale, but the biggest difference is that a visual focus point is utilized named Drishti.  With each new pose an exhale is required as you bend into them with each pose being held for a full five breaths. 


The philosophy behind Ashtanga Yoga was created over 2,000 years ago by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.  In Sanskrit, “ashta” means eight and “anga” means limbs, referring to the eight limbs of yoga.  Below is a quick breakdown of these eight limbs.


  1. The Yamas
  • Ahimsa: non-violence
  • Satya: truthfulness
  • Asteya: non-theft
  • Brahmacharya: moderation
  • Aparigraha: non-hoarding

    2. The Niyamas
  • Saucha: cleanliness
  • Santosha: contentment
  • Tapas: discipline
  • Svadhyaya: self-study
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to the Divine

    3. Asana
  • The physical practice of yoga

    4. 
    Pranayama
  • Internal, external, and fixed movements of the breath

    5. 
    Pratyahara
  • Withdrawal of the senses

    6. 
    Dharana
  • Concentration

    7. 
    Dhyana
  • Meditation

    8. 
    Samadhi
  • Absorption


In all there are about 75 poses in a standard Ashtanga class.  Every class begins with sun salutations, they are named surya namaskara A and surya namaskara B.  From the sun salutations the class moves onto standing poses, seated poses, inversions, and backbends before the end of class which is relaxation. 


Below are five basic Ashtanga poses to try if you are new to this form, they can all be found in a full 90 minute session. 


Forward Bend  


How To: While standing, place your feet parallel and hip-width apart.  Bend from the hips.  Place your hands on the floor next to your feet.  Focus your eyes towards the tip of your nose.


Beginner Adjustment: If you aren't flexible enough to touch the floor yet, place your hands on yoga blocks or on your shins as you work toward reaching the floor in this challenging stretch.


Extended Triangle


How To: While standing, place your feet 3.5 to 4 feet apart, with your right foot turned out and left foot turned slightly inward. Extend your arms to the side in a T shape. Bend at your hips to the right, reaching towards your right toe. Focus on the fingertips of your raised hand.


Beginner Adjustment: Place your hand on your outer thigh, calf, or yoga block if reaching your toe is too challenging.


Extended Side Angle


How To: While standing, place your feet about 3.5 to 4 feet apart, with your right foot turned out and left foot turned slightly inward.  Bend your right knee to a 90 degree angle.  Bend to the right and place your right hand outside of your right foot, or gently on the right thigh.  Swing your left arm straight over your head, in line with your body.  Focus your eyes on the fingertips of your raised hand. 


Beginner Adjustment: Place a yoga block under your resting hand to support your lunge. 


Wide Legged Forward Fold


How To: While standing, place your feet parallel about four feet apart.  Bend forward at your hips.  Reach your hands behind your back with an option to lace your fingers together.  Keeping your back straight, continue to bend forward until your head is pointing toward the floor.  If your hands are clasped behind you let them hang over your head.  Focus your eyes on the tip of your nose. 


Beginner Adjustment: Rest your head on stacked yoga blocks or books to ease the stretch. 


Intense Side Stretch


How To: While standing, place your right foot 2.5 to 3 feet in front of your left and about hip-width apart.  Bend at your hips over your front leg.  Keeping your back straight as possible, reach towards the floor on either side of your right foot with both hands.  Focus your eyes on the toes of your front foot. 


Beginner Adjustment: Place a yoga block under each hand if reaching for the floor is difficult.