What is Ashtanga Yoga?
We all know that “Ashtanga” is the 8 limbs of Yoga and that the first 4 limbs- Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama, are the external limbs. Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi are the internal limbs. I like to think of the first 4 limbs as the yoga of doing and the other four as the yoga of non-doing. It is essential that we start our yoga practice with the yoga of doing and this is why I so like the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga method as taught to me by Sri K Pattabhi Jois in Mysore in Sth. India.
In Ashtanga yoga we start with a strong asana practice centred around the 3 Tristhana, breathing, posture, and gazing point. We also follow a set sequence of asana and practice Vinyasa or breathing and movement combined. It is through this method of ashtanga vinyasa yoga that we slowly develop strength and discipline. That we slowly learn to focus the mind. That we develop humility and compassion.
These are all essential attributes that allow us to be able to practice Yama and Niyama and prepare the ground for a Pranayama practice. It is these practices that mean that we lead a good life full of contentment.
When you practice Ashtanga Yoga is important to remember that there are 4 stages to our lives and that we should embrace each stage as we are in it. The majority of us are in the second stage, the “Householder” stage. This is from the age of around 25 to around 60 and is when one fulfils ones material obligations. That is ones obligations to family and to society. It is when you earn your living, raise your children if you have them, and secure their futures, be a good husband/wife, mother/father, daughter/son, sibling etc.
The daily practice of Ashtanga Yoga is of great benefit during this stage in our lives. This is a time of “doing” in our lives and the lessons we learn through a physical practice can be directly applied to our every day lives. I often meet people who struggle to embrace this stage of their lives and seem to be in a huge hurry to proceed to the “non-doing” practices that are properly appropriate later on. This creates a tension in their lives because they create a desire in themselves to withdraw from life at time which requires them to participate fully in their lives.
Instead they should perhaps recognise that in the “Householder” stage of their lives they should make everything they do a part of their “Practice”. The tools Ashtanga Yoga give us, the ability to breathe calmly while under pressure, the ability to hold our focus steady, the strength we develop in the core all assist us in our everyday lives. Our daily Ashtanga Yoga practice shows us that there is contentment and infinite learning to be found in repeated action. In this way we will find that we do not need to “retreat” from life, but can instead participate fully in the beauty and splendour of our lives.
Always approach your Ashtanga Yoga practice with the feeling that you have time on your side. This is the practice for a life time. There is no hurry to move to the next stage, whether that be Pranayama or one of the 4 internal limbs or even the next asana. Practice consistently. Enjoy your practice at every stage and enjoy the balance and strength it brings to you and to your life. Try to practice without thought of reaping huge reward or benefit from the practice but rather for the joy of the practice itself. Just practice, practice, practice and all is coming…….