Ashtanga Yoga – What is?

3. Philosophy: What is Yoga especially Ashtanga Yoga?

Asking any not practicing person or a beginner this question the most are connecting their mind with the physical practice of Yoga postures, the Asana, some more including the meditation or the breathing.

A physical practicing student understands Ashtanga Yoga mostly as Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, a system of postures connected by the breath. It combines sequential, flowing movements with focused internal awareness.

From a historical point of view Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of yoga popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois. Pattabhi Jois began his yoga studies in 1927 at the age of 12 with Sri T. Krisnamacharya, with whom he studied from 1927 to 1945, by 1948 he established an institute for teaching the specific yoga practice known as Ashtanga (Sanskrit for “eight-limbed”) Yoga. It is also named Raja Yoga and describes a path of systematic concentration, analysis and control of the mind, thus is concerned principally with the cultivation of the mind to further one’s acquaintance with reality and finally achieve liberation.

The practice to reach liberation can be divided into 8 limbs:
Yamas = Restraints, Niyama = Observances, Asana = Steady Pose; Pranayama = Control of the vital energy; Pratyahara = Withdrawal of the senses from objects; Dharana = Concentration; Dhyana = Meditation: Samadhi = Super-conscious state.

Translating this into the study path of a student Yoga can be described as the following studying way:
Through self practice after some month teacher-led class studies a student goes into the next step the self-observation and cultivates more and more a non-judgmental attitude. This peaceful quality is manifested by focusing on the flowing nature of the breath and a calmed mind that allows a steady posture in asanas as well as in daily life. The breath is the vehicle by which the body and mind are observed, purified and transcendent.
Meditation and Cleansing is supporting this path by liberating the body and the mind from any pollution and bringing it into a pure status.

To practice and train to control the brain (Raja) Yoga includes several techniques:

Raja Yoga: that is used to control the mind. The concept of it is described in the Sutras of Pantanjali Maharishi and dealing directly with the mind. By controlling the mind it also gains the control of the prana and the body.

Kundalini Yoga is targeting to purify the nadis (pranic channels) and chakras (energy centers) and to awake the Kundalini. It deals with the psychic system and includes techniques for gaining mastery of prana in order to control the mind.

Hatha Yoga supports to get control over the mind by means of controlling the prana. Hatha yoga focus on the kriyas, asnas, pranayama, mudras and bandas and is perfect for beginner students to discriminate the several practices and get aware of yoga.

Mantra Yoga is focusing on the use of found to control the mind

Yantra Yoga uses geometrical forms for meditation to get more-layered perspectives in mind and view

Nadja Yoga using music and mantras helps to liberate the mind

Laya Yoga concentrates on the inner (anahata) sound and light

In all above mentioned forms of yoga all 8 limbs are trained, the difference is only the emphasis.

By Martina Klenk