• Ashtanga Yoga: Everything You Need to Know

    “Yoga is the cessation of the movements of the mind. Then there is abiding in the Seer’s own form.”
    ― The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


    Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic form of yoga that combines breathwork, movement, and meditation. In this guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about Ashtanga Yoga and answer common questions like “What is Ashtanga?” and “How often should I practice?” We will also explore the benefits of starting an Ashtanga Yoga practice and offer tips for beginners who want to start practicing at home!

    What is Ashtanga Yoga?

    Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga that originates in India. The word Ashtanga means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit. It refers to the eight steps or principles of Yoga outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras about 2,000 years ago. The first four steps are moral guidelines for living a good life, while the last four are techniques for mastering the mind and body.

    The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are :

    1. Yama: Moral guidelines for living a good life. This includes ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (not stealing), and brahmacharya (sexual restraint).
    2. Niyama: Personal observances to help you live a good life, such as saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), tapas (austerity), and svadhyaya (self-study).
    3. Asana: The physical postures of yoga.
    4. Pranayama: Control of the breath.
    5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses.
    6. Dharana: Concentration or focus.
    7. Dhyana: Meditation.
    8. Samadhi: Liberation or enlightenment.

    This yoga method is based on a set sequence of poses referred to as a series that is repeated each time you practice. Think of it as a kind of moving meditation. Your movements are coordinated with your breath as a way to steady and calm the mind.

    There are six series in Ashtanga. The Primary Series, Second Series, Third Series, Fourth Series, and Fifth Series are all considered “mainstream” series. There is also a Sixth Series known as the Advanced A Series. This series is taught to advanced practitioners only.

    Most people start with the Primary Series and work their way up. “The Primary Series” or “Yoga Chikitsa” detoxifies and strengthens the body, improving flexibility and overall health. The sequence is designed to be learned gradually, over time, as students progress in their practice.

    How is Ashtanga different from vinyasa yoga?

    Ashtanga yoga is a disciplined form of vinyasa yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures. One of the major things that sets Ashtanga apart from vinyasa yoga is the emphasis on yoga as a lifestyle. Ashtanga yoga is more than physical exercise. It is a lifestyle meant to bring you inner peace by integrating the principles of the eight limbs into your life.

    Ashtanga uses a three-pronged approach to the practice called the Tristhana Method. This method teaches us how to concentrate our attention by using a combination of the breath, postures, and a single point of focus called the Drishti.

    Who invented Ashtanga Yoga?

    Sri K. Pattabhi Jois created the Ashtanga method based on what he learned from his teacher,Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya based his teachings on the teachings of Vamana Rishi.

    Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught Ashtanga for the first time in 1948 in Mysore, India.

    What is a Mysore style class?

    Mysore refers to the city in India where Sri K. Pattabhi Jois established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. In a Mysore yoga class, there is no teacher-led instruction. Instead, students work through a series of memorized yoga postures on their own while the teacher circulates around the classroom providing assistance and instruction to individuals as needed.

    What are the benefits of learning Ashtanga Yoga?

    There are many benefits to this practice. Some of the most notable include:

    • Improved flexibility
    • Improved strength and endurance
    • Detoxification of the body
    • Improved mental clarity and focus
    • Improved breathing
    • Increased energy
    • Better sleep
    • Improved concentration and focus
    • Reduced stress and anxiety
    • Improved cardiovascular health
    • Greater sense of well-being and contentment

    Who can practice Ashtanga yoga?

    Anyone can practice Ashtanga, regardless of age or fitness level. It is important to start slowly and build up your practice over time. The poses practiced in Ashtanga can all be modified to make the practice accessible to you no matter what your physical ability. If you are new to the practice, be sure to seek guidance from an experienced teacher.

    How Often should I practice?

    The traditional recommendation is to practice six days a week and to rest on the seventh day.

    When should I practice?

    Most people practice in the morning, but it can be practiced at any time of the day.

    Can I practice at home?

    Yes, you can! In fact, many people find it helpful to practice at home when they are first starting out. Omstars offers a number of resources including beginner Ashtanga yoga classes for people who are just starting out on their Ashtanga journey.

    Are there any risks associated with practicing Ashtanga Yoga?

    Like any physical activity, there are some risks associated with practicing Ashtanga yoga. It is important to listen to your body and take breaks when needed. If you have any health concerns, please consult a doctor before starting or continuing your practice. When you practice always listen to your body and avoid pushing it beyond its limit.

    Advice for starting an Ashtanga yoga practice …

    If you are new to Ashtanga yoga, be sure to seek guidance from an experienced teacher. Start slowly and build up your practice over time. The poses can all be modified to make the practice accessible to you no matter what your physical ability. Practice six days a week for best results. Try practicing in the morning for the most peaceful and energized experience. Be sure to listen to your body and take breaks when needed. If you have any health concerns, consult a doctor before starting or continuing your practice.

    You can watch this intro to Ashtanga class to get you started.

    If you’re ready to start your Ashtanga yoga journey sign up for a free trial with Omstars today. With regular practice, you will soon see and feel the many benefits of Ashtanga yoga in your own body and mind. Namaste!

  • Ashtanga Yoga IS Hard—A Beginner’s Guide to How to Practice

    There is no easy way to say this but the reality is that Ashtanga Yoga is in fact really hard. The longer you practice the more you forget what a marathon the Primary Series really is. For total yoga newbies this can seem utterly intimidating and defeating. While I’ve dedicated ample resources into making the Ashtanga Yoga method approachable, even the most basic and modified version of this traditional practice is still quite challenging.

    It takes on average 90 minutes to complete the Full Primary Series – longer than the most yoga or fitness classes. The traditional method also asks you to practice six days a week, which is an often daunting task. There are then lifestyle and diet changes that are recommended for more committed Ashtangis, including following a plant-based diet and practicing early in the morning. Ashtanga Yoga isn’t for everyone. And yet, perhaps it is.

    Not only have I practiced and taught this traditional method for over 20 years, but I believe that it can be made accessible to all. I’ve created this Beginner’s Guide to Ashtanga Yoga for exactly this purpose. It is my hope that students of yoga who are keen to try the Ashtanga Yoga method read this first and follow these guidelines. Ideally, every student leaves the practice with a feeling of inspiration and faith. Consider this a map passed on by a trekker who has been on the mountain for many years.

    Join Kino’s 5-Day Ashtanga Immersion Virtual Retreat on Omstars

     

    1. Expect to Fail— In the Ashtanga Yoga method nothing is meant to be easy on your first try. This is part of the lesson of the practice. Instead of making the practice easy, the method asks you to make your mind strong. If you accept your failure and learn to love yourself anyway, you’re practicing a valuable life skill. You should feel somewhat overwhelmed in the midst of your first Ashtanga Yoga practice. It gets better after many years!

    2. Start Small and Build Up Incrementally— Don’t bite off more than you can chew. While it may be tempting to jump into the Full Primary Series, as a newbie to Ashtanga Yoga, I’d recommend that you start off with just the Sun Salutations. If you’re watching a video of the Full Primary Series to inspire you to practice, just follow along for the first bit and then watch as much as you want. Then when you’re ready to close, skip ahead to the final closing poses to complete your practice. Once you get established in the basics of the Sun Salutations you can move on to include the Standing Poses and then the Seated Poses, until you’ve built up the whole Primary Series.

    3. Focus on the Breath, Not the Pose—The real magic of the practice happens through the channel of the breath. Deep breathing with sound is the link that ties the conscious and the subconscious mind together. When you delve into the Ashtanga Yoga method, the poses are merely an opportunity for you to breathe. Once you re-calibrate your attention towards the breath, it no longer matters what poses you’re doing or not doing.

    4. Watch the Tutorials—If you ever feel overwhelmed by a pose, you’re not alone. Watch tutorials from a qualified teacher that you respect to guide you into healthy anatomical and alignment principles. Learning how to think through the technique of the asana helps you understand how to work. It can change a feeling of helplessness to a feeling of hopefulness.

    5. Feel Your Body—The real purpose of yoga is to feel your body. The poses are never meant to be goals in an of themselves. In fact you never really master a pose. Instead, when you practice, the real intention is to bring awareness into every cell of your whole body. Once the body is literally filled with the infinite light of your own consciousness you will wake up to the truth of who you are. This transcendental body awareness can happen in any pose, so no need to try and do all the advanced poses.

    6. Don’t Play the Comparison Game— More poses don’t make you a better yogi. Having more poses isn’t like accumulating chips on your shoulder. The inner work is what it’s all about. While almost all yogis struggle with the poses, the struggle is meant to be a teacher. Wherever you meet your challenge is where your yoga begins. If someone needs a more “advanced” pose to find their edge, then that’s their edge. If you find your edge in the first breath of the practice consider yourself lucky. You don’t need to go in search of more extreme poses in order to generate one of the deepest benefits of yoga—compassion, which means suffering with. It is not success in yoga that connects us, but our struggle. The more you find yourself caught in a difficult pose, the more your heart will open.

    7. Study—Supplement your daily asana practice with some reading. Pick up the key texts of the Ashtanga Yoga method and learn more about how the practice works. Once you understand the deeper elements and intentions of the practice, it will be easier to understand how it works.

    8.  Surrender to the Process— While you might feel like you want to have more poses than just the Sun Salutations and do something interesting and more fun, if you learn to accept where you are and surrender to the journey you will get a benefit that’s better than any pose—peace. Inner peace happens as a shift in your heart that happens when you realize you don’t have anything to prove and you’re happy to work and be exactly where you are.

    9. Don’t Push or Force, Just Be—While it may be tempting to grab your limbs and force them into the shapes of the asana, your body will suffer. Cultivate a peaceful attitude towards your body and never force or push yourself. Practice being with your body in a space of loving-kindness. When you feel the urge to force or push, let it go.

    10. Never Give Up—If you feel overwhelmed by doubt, watch an inspirational video to motivate yourself. Get on your mat even for five minutes a day six days a week. Congratulate yourself for every small step forward you take. Decide that you will not give up, especially when it feels daunting and overwhelming.

    By Kino MacGregor

    International yoga teacher, Kino MacGregor has over 20 years of experience in Ashtanga yoga & 18 years of experience in Vipassana Meditation. She is one of a select group of people to receive the certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga & practice into the Fifth Series of Ashtanga Yoga. With over 1 million followers on Instagram & over 500,000 subscribers on YouTube & Facebook, she spreads the message of yoga around the world. To Kino, yoga is more than making shapes. It is a daily ritual where people tune deeply into their spiritual center & experience the peace of the Eternal Divine. Her goal is to make the tools of traditional yoga accessible for all different sizes, shapes, ethnicities, & ages. She believes yoga is truly for everyone. Learn more from and connect with Kino on Instagram!