Ashtanga yoga translates to Eight-Limbed Yoga, which refers to the eight spiritual practices outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra. A dedicated ashtangi shows up to the mat six days a week, resting on Saturday, and refraining from practice on the days that the new and full moons fall during the month.
The repetition of the Primary Series allows the practitioner to memorize the postures—not to perfect them as in mastering a skill, but to build a flow that cleanses and prepares the body to make the other limbs of yoga accessible.
The commitment to walking the path towards enlightenment takes strength of body, mind, and spirit and is accessible to each and every one of us. Still not convinced? Below you will find out eight modern day reasons why the Ashtanga system of yoga will work for you!
You will fall a few times on your climb to the top of the yoga tree. Say what you will about Ashtanga, but nobody ever calls it easy. Even the most committed ashtangi has a love/hate relationship with the practice because it knows how to push your buttons and focus in on your vulnerabilities and weak spots.
In this way, you have no choice but to let the practice humble you and keep on guiding you as you carve your unique path through the eight limbs to the top of the tree.
2. The Sangha
Just when you think you’ve reached your limits, the Ashtanga yoga community, which is truly more like a family, supports you when you think you have nothing left.
The yama and niyama, which pertain to morals and personal observances, are the first two limbs of yoga in this system, and teach you that true awareness begins by loving each other and loving yourself.
3. Breathe Easy, Breathe Victoriously
In a time when most of us exist somewhere within the spectrum of anxiety and depression, we need the simple reminder to just breathe.
Ujjayi Pranayama, also called the Victorious Breath, has numerous benefits, including purifying the air breathed in through the nostrils, stoking one’s metabolic fires, and providing the prana and strength to enable one to successfully make it through the Primary Series and beyond.
4. Build Strength from Within
The bandhas, translated literally as “locks,” teach the ashtangi how to harness and direct the flow of prana.
Ashtanga yoga focuses on the pelvic floor, belly, and throat bandhas very early in the practice—despite the fact that these concepts may often elude beginners or those who may not feel very confident in comprehending the subtle cues of the body,ALL is revealed from day one.
The yogi must dig deep within, beyond ignorance and resistance, and tap right into the core of his or her existence starting from the very first practice.
5. Train Your Brain
It begins with the eyes. Your drishti or gaze is the bridge from the external world into the inner landscape of the subconscious, the realms of the dreamworld, and even into pure consciousness itself.
Dharana, or the ability to concentrate results from fine tuning your outer focus and learning how to navigate past distractions to ultimately leave the drama behind.
6. Shift Happens: Go with the Flow
Vinyasa, or a series of movements coordinated with the breath, has evolved from Ashtanga yoga into the free form styles of yoga we see today.
Vinyasa serves many functions such as keeping the body warm, helping to shake of any muscle fatigue from holding poses, and above all reinforces the truth of the transient nature of life and how we just have to keep on flowing!
7. Lose Your Ego to Find Your SELF
At some point, the repetition makes sense. When you innately execute the same postures day after day, you build a certain rapport with each movement, and even the familiarity can become an obstacle.
However, an ashtangi soon finds that every aspect—from the breath, to the bandhas, to the most “advanced” asana—is an aspect of dhyana or meditation. The more you meditate, the higher and higher you climb on the eight-limbed tree, eventually letting you transcend the ego.
Unity. The moment when you no longer resonate with feeling alone or separate from anything in the UNIverse. In fact, all nature comes from, radiates throughout its life, and returns back to the Divine Nature of Oneness.
The knowing that you are WHOLE, COMPLETE, and PERFECT in every way is one part of what yoga teaches. The second part, which takes some practice, is understanding that so is EVERYBODY else.
If you want to embark on a meaningful yoga journey rich with philosophy, physical movement, and the tools you need to learn how to relax and surrender into your highest nature, you have found your calling with Ashtanga yoga.
Set your intention, put it into motion, and make sure you show up not just for the sangha but for yourself. Simply put, Ashtanga works. Give it a try.