A brief intro to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

I recently came back from my Ashtanga Vinyasa training in Dharmasala, India at the Shree Hari Yoga School. The experience was beautiful and very intense, like an Ashtanga Vinyasa class. 

What Is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga?

Ashtanga Vinyasa is a set sequence of yoga postures that emphasizes the breath and flow between movements. There are six sequences in total which increase in difficulty, so much so that most people only practice the first 2 sequences. The practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga is rooted in the concept of tristhana, encouraging practitioners to focus on introspection- thus making the flow a moving meditation. 

The three pillars of tristhana are

  1. Pranayama- the breath. In Ashtanga vinyasa yoga we use ujjayi pranayama- “ocean breath” which increases the body temperature and improves oxygen levels. 
  2. Asana- the postures. There is a set sequence of standing and seated postures which are performed is a strict, unchanging sequence. 
  3. Drishti-focus point. This is where you fix your gaze during the practice. This form of concentration, or Dharana, helps to bring your mind into the practice. 

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga History

Ashtanga Vinyasa was created by Sri T Krishnamacharya in the 1920s and was taught to royal people who were warriors in Mysore, India. Krishnamacharya was a student of Rama Mohana Brahmachari and together studied the Yoga Korunta which is said to contain many postures and movements that would later form the Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga sequence. 

Even though the sequence is set, for me personally no practice is ever the same. Even though each time I practice the Ashtanga sequence I am doing the same poses, my experience of them changes. No two days are ever the same and my experience of the same posture each day will change. This is because our bodies are not linear and how my body feels each day depends on the sleep I have had, what activities I have done and where my mind is. It’s amazing, some days a pose with have a strong energetic shift in me, or will prompt a certain thought or emotion. It’s by paying attention to how we experience our time on the mat that we can begin to bring profound shifts into our practice, on and off the mat. 

There are many reasons why I love this practice so much. It serves a different purpose for me than vinyasa. Personally, I find that I have a lot more discipline when I practice Ashtanga vinyasa as opposed to my self-practice of a vinyasa flow. This is because the practice really calls you to stay present with your experience. Yes, all yoga asks that, but honestly, my mind does wander a lot in vinyasa and my ego can come into play more because I’ll suddenly want to jump straight to an “advanced” pose or because I want to explore my creativity by doing a new sequence. But Ashtanga requires that I stick to a sequence, and get into each pose properly before I can come out of it.

The Ashtanga training was physically and mentally demanding and it was unbelievably fun. I can’t wait to share this practice with my students in London and clients in MexicoClick here to get in contact with us to book your private surf and yoga retreat.