Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a dynamic, flowing form of yoga. But let’s dive a little deeper into the terminology and idea behind the system. The word ashtanga stems from the ancient Yoga Sutra (a foundational text of yoga) of Patanjali, in which the classical yoga's eight (ashta)-limb (anga) path is described. The eight limbs are restraint, observance, posture, breath control, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and ‘enstasy’ or integration (referring to a state of harmonization with with our true Self).
This eight-limbed practice has influenced many ‘modern’ yoga schools, such as the ashtanga vinyasa yoga of Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois (student of T.K.V. Krishnamacharya) *, which is the method I’ve been taught and which teach in my classes. The system as taught by Pattabhi Jois encompasses all the eight limbs of Patanjali, with, however, an emphasis on the limbs of posture (asana), breath control (pranayama) and sense withdrawal (pratyahara). You start by practising asana, and the other limbs will come naturally: all the limbs can be realized in asana.
And then there’s this term called vinyasa, an essential element of the Krishnamacharya-Pattabhi Jois system describing both the weaving of the breath to fluid movement, as well as the linking of one posture to another. It generates internal heat that helps us to open and detoxify the body (burning physical toxins as well as mental and emotional toxins).
Patthabi Jois describes the ashtanga vinyasa system as a mala (Sanskrit for a “garland”, used to count mantras in mantra meditation), in which the postures form the beads while the breath is the thread holding them together. With this mala of postures, the practice becomes a meditation in movement, re-connecting body, mind and heart.
“The core idea of Vinyasa Yoga is to shift emphasis from posture to breath and therefore to realize that postures, like all forms, are impermanent. The formed — asanas, bodies of life-forms, structures, nations, planets, and so on — come and go. The quest of yoga is for the formless (consciousness) — for what was here before form arose and what will be here after form has subsided. For this reason it was necessary to organize the practice in such a way that nothing impermanent is held on to. Vinyasa Yoga is a meditation on impermanence. The only thing permanent in the practice is the constant focus on the breath.” **
Besides the physical benefit we get from practising asana, on a deeper level asana can be an invitation to release the attachment to what we think we should become in the future, and say goodbye to the old stuff (past emotions, thoughts and impressions stored inside the physical body) that comes up during practice. By observing and letting go of emotional, mental and physical patterns that arise during practice, asana becomes a tool to arrive at the truth of the present moment, allowing us to let go of limiting concepts we apply on our perception of ourselves and the world around us.
Vinyasa also brings us into a meditative state, calming the mind and the nervous system. The literal translation of vinyasa is “to place or arrange in a certain way”, referring to the order in which the postures are performed. Gregor Maehle describes the concept of vinyasa beautifully, so here’s (part of his) his explanation:
* This system is said to be based on yet another text, called the Yoga Kurunta by Vamana Rishi.
** Maehle, G., (2006), Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy, Novato, New World Library.