Ashtanga vinyasa yoga consists of many different asana (posture) sequences and each sequence leeds to the next. The practice was handed down to K. Pattabhi Jois by his teacher Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Pattabhi Jois tirelessly worked through his life popularising this system of yoga until it became the foundation for most modern day yoga practices, power yoga, dynamic yoga, samgata vinyasa yoga to name a few. Simalarities can be drawn between hatha yoga and ashtanga vinyasa yoga in that both practices begin with the physical body. When the practitioner has embarked on this journey then simalarities can be drawn between ashtanga yoga as taught by Patanjali the compiler of the yoga sutras, which begin with the mind.
Ashtanga vinyasa Yoga is a time tested method for balancing all of the dimensions of a human being. Lets have a basic look at the fundamental aspects of the practise.
Drishti - This is a point of focus and is incorporated into every posture. When we find our drishti, then we get to see the internal workings of our mind and our external expression. Click here for more information on drishti. Read more about Drishti
Bandha's - The Bandha's are internal locks used during every posture to give good stability, protection from injury and bring many other benefits. The Bandha's can be very elusive for many years but when you find them, then the practise evolves into a different experience. We have a whole class dedicated to the bandha's, giving you all the tools you will need to engage them with out a tight ass or jaw and scrunched up face.
In ashtanga vinyasa yoga we think of vinyasa as being the sequence of postures placed inbetween each asana, but vinyasa is a little more than that. Each breath in the practice is accompanied by a movement into, or out of a posture and this is the real vinyasa, action with the movement of breath. Combining this with drishti, bandhas, and the sound of the quality of our breath will draw the mind into the practise and give you an insite into subtleties of ashtanga vinyasa yoga.
Ujjayi pranayama is a practise probably much older than ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Originally according to some texts prana is moved around the subtle body at will. This breathing technique has also been used as a therapy to help calm the gross nervous system as well as being an object for meditation. Read more about ujjayi breathing here.
Hatha is also translated as ha meaning sun and tha meaning moon. This is the most popular practice that most of us are doing today and was brought about by Yogi Svāmi Swatmarama through the hatha yoga Pradipika (Pradipika meaninf self illuminating) as well as many other texts that evolved around the same time and are continuing to do so to this day. This form of practice was developed for those who cannot begin by controling the mind, like in ashtanga yoga and buddhism which start with control of mind. The practice begins by cleansing the physical body through what are called the Shatkarmas, Netī, Dhautī, Naulī, Basti, Kapālabhātī, Trāṭaka. This is mental and physical purification which will then lead onto experiencing the remaining limbs of asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi as in ashtanga yoga. this method brings about yama and niyama spontaneously and is a much better approach in that it does not bring about mental illness or unnecessary suffering for the practitioner.
Ashtanga yoga as instructed by Patañjali through the yoga sūtras was a practice dating back many years, and although the dates are a point of discusion as well as the 196 sūtras, we can clearly see that this was not the starting point of yoga but another path for the practisioner to try out for themselves. This practise begins by observing your own interactions both personally and socially. this path is known as the eight limb path as below.
Yamas: self-control and discipline
Ahimsa: Non-violence to self and others in action, thought and words
Satya: Truthfulness in words and our thoughts and actions.
Asteya: Non-covetousness. not desiring anything for yourself, even if it is already yours.
Brahmacharya: Abstinence from many things that one is drawn towards that could hinder your spiritual growth.
Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness. understanding that we do not own anything really, and thus loosing our attachment.
Niyama - Social observation of self
Shaucha: Purification of body and mind. Includes detoxing emotions.
Santosha: Being content with self and others.
Tapas: meditationAusterity - Self imposed hardship, bringing us closer to source
Svadhyaya: self study in the scriptures also known as jnana yoga. the yoga of knowledge.
Ishvarapranidhana: Surrender to the universe or god, allowing that force to work through yourself.
Asana: Purifying and balancing the energy of the body and mind for spiritual growth
Pranayama: Expanding the dimensions of vital energy.
Pratyahara: withdrawal of senses from their external objects
Dharana: Concentration of the mind leading to the next limb
Dhyana: Meditation can be experienced when the mind becomes focussed.
These limbs are all open to your own interpretation and the only way to find out more about any practise is to spend time on the mat actually doing it.