Ashtanga Yoga is a living tradition that has existed for thousands of years. This system of yoga has become popular in Western countries thanks to the lifelong work of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India (1915-2009). An early student of Sri T. Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois taught daily yoga classes in his home in Mysore for more than 70 years. Affectionally called “Guruji” by his students, Pattabhi Jois was as strict has he was loving, as serious as he was funny, and he is missed by many students worldwide. Since Pattabhi Jois passed away in 2009, the Ashtanga yoga tradition and parampara (passing of knowledge directly from teacher to student) is alive and well in the hands of his grandson R. Sharath Jois and his daughter Sarawathi Jois. Thousands of Ashtanga yoga practitioners travel to Mysore each year and our community of practitioners encircles the globe.
The potential reach of a deeply transformative yoga practice like Ashtanga Yoga goes far beyond the physical. However, the starting emphasis of this method is our physical health. We learn the basic components of practice, which are vinyasa and yoga tristhana. They purify the body, the mind and the nervous system and thus create the potential for steadiness and good health. With steadiness and good health we are able to better carry out our life’s work and responsibilities. We also create the space for higher spiritual realisation to evolve.
Simply stated, vinyasa is breathing in and out along a prescribed series of movements. By moving and breathing in time, the body grows warmer, circulation improves, and we begin to sweat, which is one way that the body releases toxins.
Yoga tristhana is attention to three things:
- Asanas or yoga postures said to purify the body
- Drishti, which is focusing the eyes in a particular direction and is said to purify the mind
Attention to our health through this practice is ongoing work. We are always taking in foods and experiences that build up inside us so we practice to digest and release whatever is sticking around. Whilst beginners start with the basics and adept practitioners slowly move through advanced series, the practice is the same for us all. No matter what pose or vinyasa we are practicing, we attend to correct vinyasa and yoga tristhana.
A Mysore-style class is one where students are taught individually in a group setting. A typical class contains a range of practitioners from absolute beginners to adept practitioners. The class is mostly silent. You will hear only the breathing of other practitioners and the occasional voice of the teacher, who uses both words and hands on instruction. The class is both guided and supported in the hands of an experienced Mysore-style teacher.
Traditional Practice Schedule
Traditionally, we practice this method daily, resting one day weekly (usually Saturday or Sunday), Full and New Moon days. In Mysore (South India), all classes are taught Mysore-style with the exception of the first and last classes of the week, which are led classes. These led classes are not ideal for beginners and are instead a useful weekly opportunity for established practitioners to clarify their understanding of vinyasa and other practice details.
Copyright Amanda Ferris 2014
More detail about Ashtanga yoga can be found at www.kpjayi.org.