The best way to practise Ashtanga Yoga is by following Mysore classes with an experienced teacher. Initially Mysore is the name of the city in South India, where modern tradition of Ashtanga yoga comes from. In Mysore class all students practise in their own rhythm, following their own breath and performing part of the sequence according to their experience and abilities. Teacher’s function here is to give explanations on movements, breathing and concentration points to each student individually. This approach gives better understanding of the practice, including all the subtle details which can easily slip away during conventional group class.
The very first thing that your teacher explains to you is the correct breathing, which is essential for any type of yoga practice, as well as for life in general. Then you are introduced to the concept of internal locks applied in practice of Ashtanga Yoga.
Next step is dedicated to connecting breath and movement together in small series of movements called Surya Namascara or Sun Salutations. Series might look impressive and sometimes even scary for newcomers, but in reality performance of each position differs from person to person, your teacher will give you modifications if needed, according to your body composition and current limitations. There is no need to be flexible to do yoga. Sun Salutations make the foundation of the practice.
When the student feels comfortable with Sun Salutations, the teacher shows him or her next position of the sequence, and then the next one, and the next one, and so on. Little by little student memorises the sequence and eventually is able to practice on his/her own in the Mysore room with minor corrections from the teacher, as well as at home, performing self practice.
Ashtanga Yoga is said to be practised 5-6 days a week. And that is what your Ashtanga teacher is doing if he/she comes from traditional background. The concept of discipline and regularity is very important in yoga practice, similarly to any other skill you would like to master. The choice is always student’s, but to optimise learning process one should come to practise at least three times a week, otherwise it would be hardly possible to memorise the sequence and go deeper into the practice. If this kind of commitment is not something you are looking for at the moment, please consider taking guided classes (Healthy Back, Soft Yoga or Ashtanga for Beginners).
Beautiful and very practical thing about Mysore practice is that the student is free to come at any time (during opening hours) and practise as much time as s/he wants or can afford according to her or his social responsibilities and workload. If one has 30 min a day and wants to practice, that will do.
Ashtanga yoga is a traditional form of yoga, which emphasises the synchronisation of breath and movement. There are no physical requirements to the practice, everyone is welcome.
Different postures (called āsana in Sanskrit ) and dynamical movements are performed following sequences that are designed to bring strength and flexibility, as well as to clean and detoxify the body. Depending on one’s abilities and needs, simpler or more difficult asanas are performed.
A particular attention is paid to breath, which has to stay deep and calm during the practice. Inhale and exhale are synchronised with the movements, a method known as vinyasa. Combined with internal muscular contraction (bandhas) and gazing point (dristi) in every position, it turns the mind toward inner focus and develop concentration.
Ashtanga yoga is one of the most efficient hatha yoga systems known these days. It was formed by a disciple of Krishnamacharya’s (one of the greatest yogis of 20th century): Sri. K.P. Jois based on an ancient text called Yoga Korunta and on common experience of Pattabhi Jois and his teacher. Ashtanga yoga is one of the most complete yoga systems which includes work on all aspects of a disciple’s life starting from the physical body and continuing with more subtle structures. What is interesting in the Ashtanga system is that the practitioner himself can chose to go deeper in morality and philosophy of yoga or to stay with physical aspect.
BEST WAY TO STUDY
The classical way to start Ashtanga practice is by following Mysore class with a qualified teacher. There you learn the sequence posture by posture, learning to synchronise movement with breath, mastering vinyasa. This way of studying allows your body to get used to the new physical activity and lets all the body structures get adapted to it.
BENEFITS OF THE SEQUENCE
The sequence is designed to gradually stretch and strengthen muscles, to gain flexibility in joints and to get rid of toxins with the sweat coming out during practice. We start from sun salutations to warm the body up, we continue with standing positions working hard on our foundation, we proceed with sitting postures stretching nicely our spine and gaining mobility in hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow and wrist’s joints, we work on back bend for a flexible spine and to energize all structures, and at the end we perform some inversions to change the blood circulation patterns for a while and to calm the body after active practice. All that is performed with great attentiveness to each breath.
WHAT IS VINYASA
Vinyasa is a structural element of the practice which represents synchronisation of breath and movement, going along with particular count for each element of each position (asana) in the sequence. Vinyasa method is said to be based on an ancient text called the Yoga Korunta, which copies have all been lost. This method was taught to Pattabhi Jois by his professor and guru, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989), which he got from his own guru Yogeshwara Ramamohana Brahmachari. Krishnamacharya has been a pioneer in the rebirth of yoga and its spreading to the west, mostly through his worldly famous students Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, Indra Devi and Desikachar.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE PROCESS
With practice you both cultivate discipline and improve your mood and general state. Ashtanga if practised properly develops body structures gradually in the safest way possible for a dynamic practice. You become stronger physically and with time emotionally. Practice affects your character, it changes your relationship with yourself and with the outer world: you become more determined if you were indecisive and softer if you were too strict, in other words practice brings you balance.
HOW DOES IT WORK
Yoga gives us uncountable tools to make life better, one could simply say that it raises the quality of life and there is no doubt in that, but also there can be a deeper understanding of this statement. We start with simple movement, from movement connected with the breath; this is already a powerful tool in understanding your own body, seeing connections between it’s different parts; then we add focal points to help our concentration; than we add energy locks first to understand that there are some muscles inside and then to find the energy motion inside the body.
BEYOND THE PHYSICAL PRACTICE
The teaching of Yoga includes some behaviour rules: yamas and niyamas, comprising of truthfulness, non-harming, cleanliness, and contentment. According to the ancient texts following these rules serves for saving energy inside the body, which helps in achieving higher levels of consciousness. Looking at the subject from modern point of view we could say that following these rules makes you a nicer and more aware person.