What is Ashtanga Yoga?

In Sanskrit, Ashta means ‘Eight’ and Anga means ‘Limb’, so Ashtanga means ‘Eight Limb Path’. Ashtanga yoga is based on the philosophy of Patanjali. It is also known as Raja Yoga, the ‘Royal Path’.

The science and philosophy of yoga was first codified circa 2000 years ago by Sage Patanjali who wrote the Yoga Sutras. Sutra is Sanskrit & means ‘a list of guidelines or a formula strung together in the form of a manual’.

The eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga are:

1. Yama (The social principles of) non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual self-restraint, non-hoarding/non-possessiveness

2. Niyama (The personal principles of) honesty/integrity, contentment, endurance, self study, dedication

3. Asana (Yoga postures/positions) steady comfortable postures which strengthen & regulate the body & its systems & help attain mental equilibrium

4. Pranayama (Yogic breathing) extension, awareness & control of breath, beneficial in treating a range of stress related disorders, developing a steady mind & stamina. It improves autonomic functions by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Regular & continued practice has been reported to extend life and enhance perception.

5. Pratyahara (Withdrawal of senses) a mental preparation to focus awareness internally & increase the power of the mind

6. Dharana (Concentration) of mind on an object & its field or on cultivating a specific feeling or inner state such as compassion

7. Dhyan (Meditation) withdrawal of mind from external objects & focusing it on one point

8. Samadhi (State of bliss) or state of being, where the mind is no longer used to discriminate/perceive itself in the usual way. Those in this state are no longer trapped by the outward world and have found bliss and joy in the Divine Self within. Also described as a state of oneness/merging of individual consciousness with universal consciousness/realization of pure consciousness

How this is incorporated into class:

My classes combine a range of hatha yoga asana (steady comfortable physical postures) & pranayama (breathing techniques). Using the breath as a tool, promoting awareness of self & helping align body & mind, pratyahara (sensory withdrawal from external distractions) &  dharana (focus) is fostered. The asana practice is a moving vinyasa meditation which promotes inner & outer strength, stamina, balance & the slowing of incessant ‘mind chatter’ preparing the path to meditation. The last 30 minutes of class are dedicated to yoga nidra practice.

Bringing yoga to everyday life:

Yoga is a holistic philosophy acknowledging the interconnectedness of life. Whether you prefer to view it as a form of physical workout & restrict it to the mat is up to you. Though once a greater awareness of the body-mind-emotion connection is experienced in practice rather than pondered intellectually, this awareness naturally becomes integrated into other aspects of daily life.

The practices of Yama & Niyama may seem to some like unnecessary rules & restraints. Though they are interesting to contemplate if we want to understand & become more aware of ourselves & our interactions with others. There are levels of meaning in each of them, for example non-violence is a basic form of compassion to others, but could also include compassion to oneself. Feeling guilty or bad for not being good enough at something does not promote contentment, calmness or balance & could be considered an act of self violence.

Truthfulness is of course not always the best policy, though lying to yourself & others due to fear of facing problems is not conductive to a peaceful mind. A stressed mind will reflect itself in the body, from tensed & painful muscles, bad posture, problems with the digestive system, to more serious disease.

Some would view contentment as laziness or unwillingness to change things for the better, but could be a pointer to focus more on positive rather than negative elements of day to day life. Taking time to be more aware of ourselves & the beauty present in each moment, and less focused on worries, we are able to notice & wake up to the great things in our lives which results in more joy, laughter & playfulness.

Non-hoarding could outline the disharmony or discord of greediness which is a form of a grasping & discontent with what one already has. Also the obsession of collecting material objects, something that brings only surrogate ‘happiness’. It could also underline the importance of sharing with others & the joy that brings. A simple smile for example is a shared gesture, a form of communication, a connection, an acknowledgment & appreciation of the other.

We don’t discuss these things in class due to limited time & I also don’t want to force my opinions on anyone, but if you would like to discuss these or other elements of yoga, I’m more than happy to share, speculate, listen & learn.

 

“The soul-mate is really the Self within. He will find his true
soul-mate when he finds his inner Self, when he yields himself
completely and lovingly up to it.” -Paul Brunton


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