Why Practising Ashtanga Yoga?

photo 2absMany people practising yoga to build their muscles into flexibility and strength, and many people practising yoga to keep fit and healthy by doing easy pose and breathing technique.  Many people do self-reflection to be a better person by doing no-harm to any life form, and many people still looking for contentment in life within their consciousness.  Is there anyway to combine all the practices above into one united practice?

Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga recorded by the sage Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient manuscript said to contain lists of many different groupings of asanas, as well as highly original teachings on vinyasa, drishti, bandhas, mudras, and philosophy.

The text of the Yoga Koruntawas imparted to Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to his disciples such as Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar, BNS Iyengar and his son Desikachar in 1920’s.

In Sanskrit, Ashtanga is Ashta (means Eight) + Anga (means Limbs) thus it means Eight Limbs Path or Eight Limbs Yoga as outlined by sage Patanjali who composed this path into Darshan (philosophy) in his book Yoga Sutra.

Patanjali also wrote Sanskrit Grammar and Ayurveda – the ancient Indian system of medicine. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:

1.  YAMA (Principles or moral code)

  • Ahimsa – A principle of non-violence
  • Satya – A principle of Truthfulness
  • Asteya – A principle of non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya – Continence or self-control / Celibacy
  • Aparigraha – A principle of non-hoarding or non-possessiveness

2.  NIYAMA  (Personal Disciplines)

  • Shoucha – Purity
  • Santosha – Contentment
  • Tapas – Endurance
  • Swadhyaya – Self study
  • Ishwara Pranidha – Dedication

3.  ASANA (Steady and comfortable yoga pose)
With a steady, stable and motionless posture helps to attain mental equilibrium.
4.  PRANAYAMA (Yogic Breathing)
The expansion of vital energy, Prana.
5.  PRATYAHARA (Withdrawal of Senses)
A mental preparation to increase the power of mind by moving consciousness inward.
6.  DHARANA (Concentration on Object)
Concentration of mind on one object and its field in consciousness.
7.   DHYANA (Meditation)
Withdrawing mind from all external objects and focusing on one point and meditating on it.
8.  SAMADHI (Salvation / Super-conscious state)

In state of Super bliss, joy and merging individual consciousness in to universal consciousness.  Union between Jivatman (individual soul) and Paramatman (supreme self). The union of Shiva and Shakti in Sahasrara Chakra (the top of the head). Realizing the Brahman (pure consciousness) or Realization of God is the ultimate achievement of Human Birth.

The first four limbs (yama, niyama, asana and pranayama) are considered external cleansing practices and the last four limbs (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi) are internal cleansing practice.
Yogas = Yoga   Chitta = of the mind-stuff       Vritti = modifications    Nirodah = restraint
Meaning: The restraint of modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga or controlling the mind.

The first two limbs and its sub limbs of yama and niyama is the way to reach mind controlling.  It is not possible to practice these limbs if the physical body internally (sense & organs) and externally are weak or covered by various obstacles/difficulties. Thus, daily asana practice with firm endurance is required to be able to have strong and healthy body, stabilized mind in controlled.

Ashtanga Vinyasa is a method of performing asana in the union of breathing and movement/flow systems. Meaning, one movement is one breath.  The essence of vinyasa is for internal cleaning by synchronizing breathing and movement thus boiling the blood, cleaning and thinning to freely circulate within the body acting as joint pain relievers, removes toxins and disease internally.  The internal heat will generate body-sweat that carries impurity then body will become light, strong and healthy.

To perform Ashtanga Yoga, requires Vinyasa (movement/flow) and Tristhana (posture, breathing technique and looking place) – covering three levels of purification: body, nervous system and mind.

1.  Posture/Asana
Asana can be defined as a physical Yoga posture or position that is designed to help master the body and enhance the body’s functions.
Ashtanga Yoga has six (6) set of series, as follows:
1.  Primary Series / Yoga Chikitsa
Detoxifies and aligns the body
2.  Intermediate Series / Nadi Shodana
Purifies the nervous system by opening and cleaning the energy channels
3. to 6. The Advanced Series A, B, C and D / Sthira Bhaga
Integrate the strength and grace of the practice, requiring higher levels of flexibility and humility.

Each level has to be fully developed in sequential order before proceeding to the next level and each asana in the sequence is the preparation for the following asana that has to be systematically followed to be able to develop strength and balance.

2.  Breathing Technique

Ujayyi breathing technique is performed during ashtanga vinyasa practice.  Ujjayi is translated as victorious, many people call it ocean breath, which consist of puraka (inhalation) and rechaka (exhalation) that should be performed as dirga (long) and suksma (smooth), meaning steady and even with the same length, energizing and relaxing.  Intensity and the length of breathing should be increased along with the practice that will initiate the stretch of the body by increasing the internal fire to purify the nervous systems.

Bandha is the component of the Ujayyi breathing, means lock or seal. The purpose of bandha is to lock (by performing muscle contraction) and prevents pranic energy from escaping and stop any build-up pressure when holding the breath and also to direct pranic energy into the 72,000 nadi (energy channels) of the subtle body.  Bandha control is essential in ashtanga yoga practice as it will correct the breathing and asana simultaneously.

Banda techniques:
1.  Mula Bandha – Root Lock
2.  Uddiyana Bandha – Abdominal Lock
3.  Jalandhara Bandha – Chin/Throat Lock    
3.  Looking Place/Drishti
Drishti is the gazing point on which one focuses while performing  the asanas.
The Nine Drishti:
1.  Tip of the nose – Nasagra Drishti
2. Up to the space – Urdva Drishti
3. Third Eye – Brumadya Drishti
4. Tip of the middle finger – Hastagra Drishti
5. Tip of the thumb – Angushta Dristhi
6. Right side – Parshva Drishti
7. Left side – Parsva Drishti
8. Navel – Nabi Drishti
9. Tip of big toe – Padagra Drishti

Pranayama is the extension of the prana of breath or extension of the life force thru rechaka (exhalation), puraka (inhalation) and kumbhaka (breath retention). Thru these kriya practice, pranayama can be achieve in conjunction with three rules of bandha – as explained above, starting with Mula Bandha (root lock) then Uddiyana Bandha then Jalandhara Bandha. If Mula Bandha is perfect, automatically set the mind control thus it will be easier to absorb any knowledge and any practice of yoga.

Overtime, practising the first four limbs regularly with self-discipline will lead to steadiness of body, clarity of mind and purification of the nervous systems with pranayama as the foundation to practice the last four of the limbs – internal cleansing practice.

In the Yoga Shastra, it is said the God dwells in our heart in the form of light, the light that is covered by six poisons of life;
Kama (desire), Krodha (anger), Moha (delusion), Lobha (greed), Matsarya (envy) and Mada (sloth/laziness).
When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the heat generated from it burns away these poisons, and the light of our inner nature will shine – eventually leads one to full realization of Eight Limbs of Yoga by Patanjali.  Have a faith on the practice, sooner or later it will come.
Om Shanti – Peace, Love & Light.
Rhea Beedie
200hrTTC Ashtanga – Weekday 2015

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