Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga, is a science an art and a meditative daily practice. The term Ashtanga, means “Eight Limbs” and was developed around the 3rd century by the Indian sage Patanjalim. Who for the first time systematized the practice of Yoga, defined in the Yoga Sutras, based on the teachings of early texts such as the Vedas.
Ashtanga Yoga combines a powerful sequence of Yoga poses with a specific breathing technique along with other technical aspects of the Vinyasa system (linking breath and movement) as Bandhas (Energetic locks) and Drsti ( Gazing points).
Ashtanga Yoga, strengthens, detoxifies and purifies the body as well as calms the mind and increases concentration.
It is important for the students to practice the asana, in the correct order, following the exact vinyasa method, under the guidance of an experienced teacher, as that will develop one´s psychological and spiritual health, intelligence and peace.
Eight Limbed Path
Astau means eight and Anga means limb. The eight limbs are the philosophical and moral principles that Patanjali sets up in his mythical treatise The Yoga Sutras.
According to the sage Patanjali, the one who follows those principles, will be liberated from the state of Ignorance and guided to Kaivalya (Freedom, the goal of Yoga).
Yama is concerned with ethical thinking and positive behavior. It teaches to the students to interact in a harmonious way with himself and towards all beings. It consists in five parts.
· Ahimsa: Not to harm others, non violence.
· Satya: Being truthful in thought, word and action. In practice be truthful with yourself.
· Asteya: Not to steal. Not to take advantage of other people, not to envy.
· Brahmacharya: Refrainment from indiscriminate use of our sexual energy.
· Aparigraha: Letting go, moderation in thought, word and action.
Niyama is concerned with developing one´s inner power and insight. It consists in five parts.
· Sauca: Inner and outer purity. Refers to the literal cleansing of the physical body, and Antah sauca means inner purity, the cleansing of the mental impurities.
· Santosa: The state of contentment.
· Tapas: Process of purification. Through the practice we generate heat, this heat burns away the impurities of body and mind. Eat a simple vegetarian food is also part of the purification process.
· Svadhyaya: Studies towards realizing the Self through reading sacred texts.
· Isvara-Pranidhana: Full surrender of oneself to a higher power, without any expectation.
Practicing Asana daily, develops a strong and pure body, which is required for spiritual development. Removes ailments that distract the mind as well as the body, while detoxifying the inner organs and nervous system.
Prana is the life force, there is Prana in all elements. During the practice we become able to breath into all parts of the body, which is equivalent to spreading the prana throughout.
Ayama means the extension of the breath.
Sense of withdrawal. It occurs from observing and incorporating the first four limbs. Pratyahara is concerned with enhancing a more profound level of control over the mind.
It is one of the foremost goals of Yoga practice
Concentration. Is the ability to sustain the unwavering focus of the mind while remaining connected with the divine.
Meditation. It is a process that eliminates identification with the ego.
Ashtanga Yoga is meditation in movement.
It is the highest form of Yoga. Samadhi is a state of pure ecstatic being, a state in which there is total freedom and independence from any external stimulation.
Initial and Final Prayer
Ashtanga Yoga traditionally has both an opening chant and a closing chant. Chanting acts to shift the consciousness of the individual practicing the chant to a higher level of vibration. This in turn brings us closer to our Source or Higher Self – the aspect of ourselves that remains eternal. Studies have shown that when a person chants it can stabilise their heart rate, lower blood pressure, produce beneficial endorphins in the body and boost metabolic processes, so it perfectly complements the physical practice of asana.
Ashtanga Yoga Opening Chant:
The Opening Prayer is a blessing of gratitude offered to the lineage of teachers and their students who have enabled this ancient practice to survive through thousands of years so that we can experience its benefits today. The recitation of this mantra cleanses the energy of the space we have chosen to practice yoga, as well as preparing the mind, body and emotions for the forthcoming Ashtanga sequence.
Om Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai Abahu Purushakaram Shankhacakrsi Dharinam Sahasra Sirasam Svetam Pranamami Patanjalim Om.
I bow to the lotus feet of the Supreme Guru which awaken insight into the happiness of pure Being, which are the refuge, the jungle physician, which eliminate the delusion caused by the poisonous herb of Samsara (conditioned existence). I prostrate before the sage Patanjali who has thousands of radiant, white heads (as the divine serpent, Ananta) and who has, as far as his arms, assumed the form of a man holding a conch shell (divine sound), a wheel (discus of light or infinite time) and a sword (discrimination).
Ashtanga Yoga Closing Chant brings the practice to a peaceful end; sealing in the work done and offering the efforts of our practice to improve the state of the world.
Om Svasthi Praja Bhyaha Pari Pala Yantam Nya Yena Margena Mahim Mahishaha Go Brahmanebhyaha Shubamastu Nityam Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi
May the rulers of the earth keep to the path of virtue for protecting the welfare of all generations. May the religious, and all peoples be forever blessed, May all beings everywhere be happy and free Om peace, peace, perfect peace
Mula bandha is the force or energy created by lifting the pelvic floor and controlling the breath. It is the root lock and calls the fire within that causes everything to come alive, to move. Mula bandha increases flexibility and stimulates heat. By contracting the perineum and drawing the energy up from the base of the spine, one can intensify and direct the life energy, cultivating a sense of heightened awareness and increasing vitality
By contracting the lower abdomen and pulling it inward and upward, toward the spine, a powerful toning effect and internal strengthening occurs. This lifting helps push up the diaphragm and expel the breath. Uddiyana bandha, the abdominal lock, also eliminates strain by helping to control the breath. Control of the breath controls consciousness. Bandhas are a means of extending control over the breath and thus are a means to extend our access to consciousness.
By pressing the chin to the chest, prana is captured, pre-venting it from escaping the upper body. Many major nerve fibers pass through the neck; when Jalandharabandha is performed it exerts pressure on them and the flow of nervous impulses to the brain is restricted. These impulses collect in the cervical plexus, and when the bandha is released they flood into the brain. The force of these impulses helps to activate higher centers in the brain, those that function with creativity and intellect.
The Mind develops desires, the source of suffering. The withdrawal or turning in the visual sense is practiced through dristhi. Following Dristhi, the practice becomes deeply internal and meditative.
Dristhi is the practice of Dharana ( Concentration ) and Dhyana ( Meditation).
The aim of Yoga is to concentrate the Prana in the body.
These focal points are:
- Hastagra: Look towards the hand
- Bhrumadhya: Look towards the Third eye ( Ajna Chakra)
- Padhayor-agra or Padhangusthta: Look towards the toes
- Parsva: look towards the side ( right and left)
- Nasagra: Look towards the nose
- Urdhva or Antara: Look upwards
- Angustha Madhya or Angushtha: Look towards the thumb
- Nabi Chakra: Look towards the navel
- Adho: Look towards the floor
The Victorious breath
Ujjayi Pranayama is a process of stretching the breath. By half closing the epiglottis we stretch the breath and create a gentle hissing sound.
The sound comes from the center of the chest and not from the throat. The vocal cords are not engaged.
Listening to the sounds of your own breath is “withdrawing the senses from the outer world” Pratyahara. Listening to your own breath draws your attention inwards, this is Dhyana, Meditation.
The sound of our breath can teach us everything about our attitude in the posture.