If you are looking for a good workout, then Ashtanga yoga might be the yoga practice you need. Ashtanga yoga is a form of power yoga - it's extremely difficult and takes years of practice to master some of the poses.
However, Ashtanga classes can be incredibly beneficial as it's one of the more vigorous forms of yoga you can practice.
It requires discipline, focus, physical strength, great flexibility, and endurance, which is why it's not a good daily practice for beginners.
If you are starting out in yoga but need a challenge, you might want to pick up an intermediate class in Ashtanga yoga.
The word "Ashtanga" literally means "eight limbs". Ashtanga yoga is the union of the eight limbs of yoga (representing various branches of the yoga sutras that form the foundation of the school).
Students practicing Ashtanga yoga learn to integrate all eight limbs, including moral codes, self-discipline, asana (posture), breathing and mindfulness, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and oneness with the self.
Ashtanga yoga is a very austere and athletic form of hatha yoga, made up of six series and a set sequence of asanas.
There is a real focus on energy and breath during classes, and it's said to improve well-being and a sense of inner peace.
Ashtanga yoga was created for a student called K Pattabhi Jois, influenced by exercises designed for Indian wrestlers and gymnastic students.
K Pattabhi Jois's grandson would carry on the traditional method of Ashtanga yoga throughout his life, refining it even more. He is currently the head of the Ashtanga yoga research institute, in Mysore.
There are five principles of a successful Ashtanga yoga practice:
- The Ujjayi pranayama breathing technique:
This is a slow, audible breathing method that warms the body and increases focus.
- Focal points, or Drishti:
These points are used in every asana to promote focus and meditation.
This method lets students synchronize their breath according to the sequence of poses and postures in the series. (You may already have heard of Vinyasa yoga, which is more common in gyms and yoga studios.)
- Body locks, or the engagement of the bandhas:
This seals in the prana energy and improves the strength of the core muscles.
- Daily practice:
Ashtanga yoga is seen as a lifestyle as much as a practice. The teacher will encourage students to practice six days a week, with one rest day in between.
Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga combines philosophy with its practices, which can be of enormous benefit.
Students of Ashtanga yoga are taught how to calm themselves and remove themselves from events and distractions around them.
This can increase concentration, calm the nervous system, and improve your blood pressure.
Ashtanga yoga is said to improve physical and mental well-being, strengthening your muscles, promoting healthy eating, and easing physical pain.
Maintaining regular practice can improve your mood and stress levels considerably, whereas the more advanced series of the Ashtanga practice will build core strength considerably.
Ashtanga Yoga: Step-by-step instructions
There's no set Ashtanga yoga method to practice, but there are two forms of Ashtanga yoga classes, using the same poses.
Ashtanga-led yoga classes are taught by yoga teachers. Mysore-style classes are an open form of asana practice.
Your teacher will still guide you, but you need to memorize the asanas on your own. The Mysore Ashtanga yoga method is great if you need a little more personal attention from an instructor.
Students will begin the class with five repetitions of Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B, then a set of standing poses, and then seated poses. Then you will be guided through the advanced series.
The primary series of Ashtanga yoga practices is called the yoga chikitsa. It's usually the foundation practice for beginners and will help you build the strength and endurance you need.
Stand with your feet parallel. Lift and spread your toes and the balls of your feet, then lay them back on the floor.
Sway gently, and then start reducing the swaying to a standstill as you become balanced. Lift the top of your sternum towards the ceiling and widen your collarbones.
Relax your arms, with your palms facing forward. Balance your crown directly over your pelvis, and breathe deeply.
Here you will find step-by-step instructions on the Mountain Pose.
2. Sun Salutation
Slowly bend your elbows and bring the palms to your chest, keeping your body relaxed.
Inhale and hold while you stretch your arms above your head, keeping them shoulder-width apart. Bend your head and arms slightly backward.
Exhale and hold. Then bend forward, taking your fingers towards the floor next to your feet. Bring your head down to your knees, keeping them straight.
Inhale and place your hands flat next to the feet and stretch your right leg as far back as possible.
Bend your left knee and keep your weight distributed between your hands, left foot, right knee, and the toes of your right foot. Arch your back.
Exhale and take the left foot back to the right foot. Lower your head and keep your arms and legs straight.
If possible, keep your heels touching the floor while bringing your head down as close to the knees as possible.
Lower your knees, chest, and chin to the floor. Lower the glutes and hips towards the floor.
Straighten your arms and arch your back as you come into the cobra pose. Arch your head backward.
Exhale and move into the downward-facing dog position without moving your hands and feet.
Inhale and move into the equestrian pose. Exhale back into a standing forward bend. Inhale and come back to the raised arm pose. Exhale and come back to the mountain pose position.
Start in the mountain pose. Place your hands on your hips. Draw your left knee in towards your stomach and take a hold of your big toe.
Lengthen your spine and extend your foot. Hold for several breaths, release back to standing, and then repeat on the other side.
You can find step-by-step instructions on the Hand To Toe Pose here.
4. Standing Forward Bend Hands Under Feet Pose
Stand in the mountain pose and relax. Inhale and raise your arms above your head. As you exhale, go forward with the torso. Reach for the soles of your feet with your hands.
From the mountain pose, lightly jump your feet apart and raise your arms parallel to the floor. Reach them to the side, palms down. Turn your left foot slightly.
Turn your right foot 90 degrees. Rotate your right thigh outward. Bend from the hip joint towards the right and reach out over the right leg.
When you’ve reached as far as you feel able, hinge at the hip and bring the torso to the right so that your upper body is parallel to the floor.
Reach your right down to the floor and stretch the left to the ceiling so that your hands, arms, and shoulders form a straight line.
Open your torso left. Let the left hip come forward. Lengthen your tailbone towards the back heel of your foot.
Rest your right hand on your ankle or the floor outside your right foot. Keep your head in a neutral position.
Keep the pose for 30-60 seconds. Inhale to come up. Press your back heel into the floor and reach your top arm to the ceiling. Recenter and repeat, reversing your feet.
Our guide will walk you through the steps of Extended Triangle Pose. Check it out!
Keep your hands on your hips. Hinge your torso forward over your leg and keep your spine straight.
Exhale and place your right hand under your left shoulder, or inside your left foot. Inhale. Exhale.
Keep your left hand on your sacrum, twist your torso, opening your chest to the left. Lift your left hand towards the ceiling and stack your left shoulder over the right.
Gaze up at your fingertips. Hold the position for one minute. Exhale, untwist and release. Inhale and repeat on the other side.
Keep your legs far apart. Turn your right foot out and your left toes in. Bend your right knee, knee above the ankle. Firm up your lower abdomen and extend your body over the right leg.
Bring your right arm down, keeping your elbow on your right thigh or your hand on the floor next to the right foot. Reach your left arm over your head, turning the palm so that the little finger side of your hand faces the floor.
Extend through the left fingers and revolve your rib cage towards the ceiling. Hold the pose for 5-15 breaths.
To come out of the pose, press actively into your feet and extend through the left arm as you straighten up. Reverse the direction of your feet to repeat the pose for the other side of your body.
This guide will show you step-by-step instructions on Extended Side Angle Pose, read on!
Common Mistakes of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga is pretty advanced and it can take a long time to get everything right. Some of the biggest mistakes that beginners make are not breathing properly and not assuming the right posture for the basic poses.
Perfecting the simple mountain pose is a good place to start - you’ll improve your posture and center your body from the start.
It’s also important to know your limitations. If you feel pain or are out of balance, you need to come out of the pose correctly and try again.
Where to Buy
There are many good ashtanga yoga classes out there. Now it's time to decide! Let's see together? We can recommend a few online classes:
Yoga students that enjoy fast-paced, vigorous exercise and cardio workouts will love Ashtanga yoga.
You can really build muscles, challenge yourself and push your boundaries, but also enjoy its grounding and relaxing principles.
It can take many years of devotion and practice to become an Ashtanga practitioner, but it’s one of the most rewarding paths a yoga instructor can take.