What is Astanga Vinyasa Yoga?
Astanga Vinyasa yoga stems from an ancient tradition of practises designed to develop the mind, body and spirit, through controlling breath and movement and through concentration. It has been made popular throughout the world by yogi and Sanskrit scholar Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, still teaching in his late 80’s, assisted by his grandson Sharath Rangaswamy.
The central element of Astanga is breath control (pranayama) combined with flowing movement (vinyasa).
Students work through different levels or series, slowly expanding their physical capabilities and awareness of self. The series incorporate many traditional yoga postures (asanas), and also use the focus of the gaze (drishti) and engagement of energy locks (bandhas). This combination warms and stretches the body, focuses the mind and helps to develop an internal strength and confidence. Physical benefits can include increased cardio-vascular fitness, strengthened internal organs, improved concentration, increased general strength and flexibility, as well as a reduction of stress.
The word Astanga literally means eight limbs, and incorporates other practises such as yamas (self-restraint), niyamas (observances), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (contemplation), as well as the pranayama (breath control), asana (postures) already mentioned. Pattabhi Jois teaches that mastering asana is essential for preparing the individual for pranayma (breath control), and is also the key to developing an awareness of yama and niyama (loosely self-discipline and right-living). It is felt that when these four aspects of yoga are established, then the last four, more internal elements, will spontaneously develop.
As with almost anything in life, with no effort there is no benefit. What the individual puts into the yoga practise reflects what they gain from it and while rewards can be enormous, yoga is always a challenge. Astanga can be a demanding practise, working deeply into the nervous system, challenging our perceptions of our own capabilities and expanding our personal expectations. Through a deeper knowledge of self, comes freedom from limitations.