When people ask me ‘what type’ of yoga I teach, I’m often met with looks of befuddlement when I say Ashtanga – they were expecting ‘Hot’ or ‘Flow’ or similar.
Many of the types of yoga you have heard stem from the Ashtanga primary series; they just take someone to come along and codify the practice into a style or sequence that will work for them and how they like to practice, teach or live their lives.
For example, Iyengar and ashtanga yoga come from the same lineage – the teachers who developed these styles (BKS Iyengar and the late Pattabhi Jois) were both taught by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Many of the asanas (postures) are the same, but the approach is different. Iyengar yoga is great for learning the subtleties of correct alignment. Props – belts, blocks and pillow-like bolsters – helping beginners get into poses with correct alignment, even when they’re new to them, injured or simply stiff.
Ashtanga yoga is a style of yoga codified and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois during the 20th century which is often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. Ashtanga means eight limbs or branches, of which asana or physical yoga poses is only one!
You may also hear it referred to as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga; Vinyasa refers to a transition between the key postures in the sequence, which is similar to a Sun Salutation.
Class sequences are usually derived from the key postures of the Series set out in Ashtanga Yoga being the Primary Series, Intermediate Series (sometimes call the second series) and then the Advanced series A & B (or three & four). Which is why, once you are familiar with an ashtanga yoga practice, some of the same postures will come up again and again.
Originally though, and in a traditional Mysore style, you’d practice the Primary Series until you mastered each posture correctly, stopping at whichever posture you are currently least practiced in, and only after all have been well practiced would you be considered capable of moving onto the Intermediate and only once you’ve mastered that, the Advanced, and so on.
The other branches of Ashtanga are Yama [moral codes], Niyama [self-purification and study], Pranayama [breath control], Pratyahara [sense control], Dharana [concentration], Dhyana [meditation] all combined to attain that elusive Samadhi [absorption into the Universal] so for those who truly practice Ahstanga Yoga this is an entire way of life.