One of yoga’s more intense forms, Ashtanga Yoga, developed out of Hatha Yoga. However, by matching breathing with a series of athletically progressive postures, the Ashtanga method of yoga produces great internal heat, causing purifying perspiration that releases toxins from the muscles and organs.
This method results in better circulation and body strength, along with relieving mental stress. Despite its physical challenge, Ashtanga Yoga has become increasingly popular, especially in the West.
Ashtanga Yoga is taught in two ways. One form adheres to the approach pioneered by Pattabhi Jois in India. The other is a form based on Jois’ Primary Series that was developed by Western instructors. Unlike Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga is a form that is not easily learned on one’s own; it requires a teacher.
Ashtanga’s founder, Pattabhi Jois, studied throughout his life with the great Indian yogi Krishnamacharya, considered one of the 20th century’s greatest yoga teachers. Krishnamacharya originated the Ashtanga method, but his student Jois perfected it and brought it to the attention of yoga practitioners in both India and Western countries.
Originally, instructors traveled to Jois’ school in Mysore, India, to learn what was called the Primary Series. All practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga start with this basic series of asanas.
Beginners rarely learn all of the Primary Series in one session because this method is so physically demanding. At the most Jois typically would teach only one or two poses at a time. After a student had mastered the first poses, Jois would teach another. Gradually, students would learn the entire Primary Series.
Not surprisingly, fast-paced Westerners found Jois’ approach too slow, even in comparison to other styles of yoga. So many American instructors began to leave out some of the most difficult poses while retaining the essence of the Primary Series.
Later they developed adaptations of certain asanas so that beginners could perform them. Even with these adaptations, the Ashtanga poses continued to be linked together by vinyasa, or vinyasa flow, the practice of synchronizing breath with movement.
In other words, certain poses are performed on an inhaled breath, while others on exhalation. Great concentration is needed to focus on matching breathing with physical movement, not least because some Ashtanga poses are so challenging that they’re almost acrobatic.
Many American instructors of Ashtanga, and some of their Indian counterparts, think the Western adaptations may be more in line with the methods of Jois’ master, Krishnamacharya.
Yogi Krishnamacharya believed profoundly that yoga should be tailored to people’s respective circumstances. In fact, Krishnamacharya devised Ashtanga Yoga specifically for high-energy teen-aged boys who were too easily distracted to maintain the introspection of Hatha Yoga.
A yoga student who wishes to try Ashtanga is strongly advised to find a qualified teacher. Working with a teacher, rather than watching a DVD or video, will help assure that a student of Ashtanga Yoga not only learns the physical poses but the proper vinyasa sequence that goes with them. Otherwise, the attempt at Ashtanga may prove discouraging and disappointing.