Ashtanga, which means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit, is an intense style of yoga. A set series of poses is performed, always in the same order. Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927.
Ashtanga Yoga is first and foremost a breathing practice.
While practicing ashtanga yoga we connect each movement to one breath. This connection of breath and movement is called Vinyasa. Each asana is thus assigned a set number of vinyasas, for example the Sun Salutation A is comprised of nine vinyasas, first one (ekam) is inhaling while raising your hands above the head, second (dve) exhaling while bending forward into utanasana and placing hand onto the floor etc.
This connection of breath and movement generates heat within the body supporting internal cleansing with toxins being eliminated through our skin as we sweat during practice. Through the purification of our body, the purification of the nervous system can take place. In this way vinyasa creates the foundation for achieving a focused and calm mind.
1. Asana / posture
2. Breathing / ujjay pranayama
3. Dristhi / point of focus for the eyes while performing a posture
When performed together these elements brings upon the purification of the body, nervous system and mind.
Asanas purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body.
Long even breaths will strengthen our internal fire and strengthens the nervous system in a controlled manner and at an even pace. Uneven inhalation and exhalation, or breathing too rapidly, will imbalance the beating of the heart, throwing off both the physical body and autonomic nervous system.
An integral component of the ujjayi breathing technique is the use of energy locks – bandhas.
Though the literal translation of bandha does mean ‘lock’ or ‘seal’, applying the bandhas during practice actually activates the life force – ‘prana’ directing it into the energy channels – ‘nadis’ of our subtle body. An easy way of ascertaining if the application of banshas during practice was successful is the feeling of lightness and floating during practice as well as an increase of energy levels after practice.
There are three bandhas controlling the sealing of prana: mula bandha, uddiyana bandha and jalandhara bandha.
Mula Bandha is the root lock or root foundation. It is activated at the end of the exhalation as a slight contraction and drawing of the center of the perineum inward and upwards. Mula Bandha sends the energy up into the central energy channel ‘Sushumna’ running in line with our spine. Through the practice of mula bandha the direction of the downward-moving energies – ‘apana’ located in the root chakra and the upward-moving energies – ‘prana’ located at the heart chakra are said to be reversed and the energies united. This internal union leads to the expansion of awareness.
Uddiyana bandha is achieved by gently drawing in the lover abdomen at the end of an exhalation (the area around four fingers bellow the navel). This abdominal control provides a foundation for the new breath, allowing the lungs to inflate to their maximum capacity. The name can be translated as ‘upward flying’. The combined effects of mula and uddiyana bandha are evident in the Jump Through vinyasa where rooting of mula bandha through the hands supports the flight of uddiyana bandha as the legs are floated through the space between the arms.
Jalandhara bandha – throat lock, is the third bandha that occurs spontaneously in many asanas due to the gazing point – dristhi recommended in the position. For example by tucking the chin in towards the collar bones to look at the navel in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) jalandhara nandha is activated preventing the pranic energy escaping. It regulates the circulatory and respiratory systems, stimulates the thyroid to balance metabolism, and is said to cure all diseases of the throat. Jalandhara Bandha is contraindicated in high blood pressure and heart disease and is best practiced under the supervision of an experienced teacher.