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What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) developed the Ashtanga Vinyasa system of yoga based on sequences he learned from his own guru, Krishnamacharya. A man of radiant love and boundless energy, Guruji devoted his long life to teaching this method of yoga. I am blessed to have been able to study under him, beginning in 2003, to have experienced directly his powerful adjustments, his vast knowledge, his beaming smile.

In Ashtanga, the postures follow a set sequence, with each pose linked to the next in a continuous flow of movement and sustained by a special form of deep rhythmic breathing called the ujjayi breath. The breath is the heart of the practice. It not only links the postures, but develops an intense internal heat which expels toxins, purifies tissues and ignites the fire of transformation. The practice of Ashtanga Yoga is vigorous and challenging, developing stamina along with strength and flexibility. With the right intention, it is profound spiritual practice, channelling energy and preparing the physical body for the subtler forms of advanced yoga.

Right intention focuses the mind. In the practice, it involves total attention upon the ujjayi breath, the bandhas ( internal locks) and the dristi (gaze). Bandhas are deep muscular contractions which direct prana (life-force energy) in the energetic body. Dristi involves a focus of the eyes, and whether it is on the thumb or tip of the nose or the third eye, it holds the awareness on (and then “through”) this point, which--as every point--is a portal to the infinite.

Ashtanga” means eight limbs. It refers to the eight stages of practice which the Indian sage Patanjali codified from ancient oral tradition. “Vinyasa” means breath harmonised with movement. It aligns internal and external experience with the core vibration of life. The Astanga-Vinyasa method works directly with the third, fourth and fifth limbs (asana, pranayama and pratyahara). Through asana, it stretches, twists, kneads, strengthens, opens, realigns and purifies the body. Through ujjayi breathing, a form of pranayama, it extends the breath, leading the awareness to ever subtler levels of experience.  And through dristi, it initiates pratyahara, a steadiness of mind unperturbed by distractions and turned towards its source in pure, undifferentiated consciousness. In this way, the practice of ashtanga-vinyasa becomes a gateway towards the higher limbs of meditation and samadhi. At the same time, it provides strength for practising the first two limbs, which concern ethical living.

Astanga-Vinyasa Yoga practice begins with the Primary Series (which in itself is extremely challenging!). Known as “Yoga Chikitsa”, the Primary Series works to detoxify the body and heal the muscular-skeletal system. The Second or Intermediate Series, known as “Nadi Sodhana”, purifies the nervous system, opening and clearing the channels of the energetic body. The remaining two or four series (depending on how they are listed), deepen and intensify this energetic balancing. They require an extraordinarily advanced level of practice.

Astanga-Vinyasa Yoga involves much more than attending class once a week. It is actually a discipline of daily self-practice (5 – 6 times per week). Seven Winds Yoga classes will give you what you need to develop a personal practice that you can do anywhere. Class instruction provides the initial teaching of the postures and sequence. Mysore style self-practice classes will give you individual guidance, tips and corrections as well as physical adjustments to take you deeper into poses. They create a space where the energy and discipline of practice are fostered, where I can help you develop a practice best suited to your unique constitution.

Om Shanti

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