What is Ashtanga Vinyasa and How should we Practice?
Ashtanga (Asht: Eight, Anga: Limbs) refers to the eight limbs of the path of Yoga. The word Yoga itself means Union, a state of connection with the universe. Ashtanga refers to the eight levels of practice. The style of Yoga we practice is called Ashtanga Vinyasa. With time, it can come to incorporate all eight levels.
According to the Yoga Sutras, the classic Yoga text written by Patanjali, the eight levels are as follows:
Yama: Five ethical disciplines that lead to living in harmony with other beings (Ahimsa: non violence, Satya: being truthful, Asteya: not stealing, Brahmacarya: control of sexual energy, Aparigraha: non-attachment)
Niyama: Five precepts to observe in order to develop self-control (Sauca: purity, Santosa: positivity, Tapas: discipline, Svadhaya: study of sacred texts, Isvara-prandihana: surrendering to the divine)
Asana: Developing mastery of the body via beneficial postures.
Pranayama:Developing mastery of breath (and hence the mind).
Pratyahara: Sense withdrawal (bringing the awareness inwards)
Dharana: Absolute concentration on an object
Samadhi: A sensation of totality (impossible to describe in words). It may be passing or permanent
Vinyasa means the marraige of breath and movement. In Ashtanga Vinyasa the transitions from asana to asana are short full dynamic sequences that flow with the breath. One dynamic sequence linked with breath is one vinyasa. We transition from asana to asana vía vinyasa.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga refers to a dynamic style of yoga whereby long series of yoga asnas (postures) are performed in a fixed sequence in combination with focused breathing. These sequences aim to open and stimulate healing in all parts of the body. During the performance of the asanas the practitioner aims to maintain internal body awareness at all times, initially through focus on the breath, and later through the contraction and retention of internal muscles (known as bhandas or locks).
The series focuses primarily on the spinal cord. Through repeated practice it becomes strong and aligned, enabling us to sit still with a straight spine for long periods of time. It also increases our awareness of the subtle nerve currents that run through the spine, enabling us to tap deeper into the body´s natural intuition.
The modern Ashtanga Vinyasa Series was developed by Sri Pattabi Jois in Mysore, India, beginning in the 1950s. According to Jois, Ashtanga is 99% practice, 1% theory. Through the practice one discovers many new possibilities oneself, both physically and spiritually. "Practice and all is coming" was his favorite saying.
There are two basic types of Ashtanga practice – Led and Mysore Style. The Led Style is recommended for beginners. Here the teacher verbally guides the sequence and sometimes demonstrates the asanas. Once the sequence becomes familiar, students begin to practice the more meditative Mysore Style whereby the practitioner follows their own breathing rhythm and the teacher simply observes, largely in silence, adjusting asanas and instructing where necessary.
Recommendations for Practice
Learning the entire series usually takes years in the presence of a teacher. To best assimilate the teaching during your week long stay we have the following recommendations:
Do not drink alcohol during the entire retreat period
Reduce distractions - keep phone & internet usage to a minimum – only use them for necessary practical purposes. Don’t bring your phone into the shala.
Come to yoga session with your stomach empty – we will perform some intensive stretches that could severely impair digestion if the stomach is full
During the asanas always listen to your body – don't force them! Forcing can cause injury, or at least stress, which is contrary to the goals of yoga
Dress in light comfortable clothes which ten as possible, especially when in the yoga shala
Drink plenty of water throughout the day (but not during the practice itself)
Alysia Smeone is a Resident Teacher at Akasha Wellness Retreat. She also offers retreats within her own centre in Spain ( http://www.asturiasyoga.com )