Ashtanga Yoga – Bending the Body for Health

We were always taught that Yoga is all about the body parts and bending them and there is nothing much wrong with it. The classic form of Indian Yoga that is in existence now will make you realize the vitality of each body part and if you’re someone who loves to know more about the core Yoga; this Yoga form is stretching arms wide open for you. The Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, also known as the Ashtanga Yoga across the globe was popularised by the famous K. Pattabhi Jois in the 20th century which is now evolved into the modern day Yoga.

What does Ashtanga mean?

Ashtanga, as the name says, gets translated to ‘Eight limbs’ of the body with eight branches in which Yoga (Physical activity) is one branch. The rest of the branches include Pranayama, Meditation etc. After Pattabhi Jois, his grandson Sharath Jois also encouraged the practice of the Eight Limb Yoga. The first two out of the eight limbs are Yamas, Niyamas followed by the third and fourth limbs; Asana and Pranayama and all these four are always kept in conjunction with each other.

Origin of Ashtanga Yoga:

It is mentioned that Sri Pattabhi Jois started his studies on Ashtanga Yoga back then in 1927 when he was just a 12-year-old kid and after extensive research for 13 years; he has finally established the renowned Ashtanga Yoga Research Insititute in 1948 to teach Ashtanga for people followed the Yogic Sutras as mentioned in the Patanjali.

According to Pattabhi Jois, he has learned Ashtanga from Sri T.Krishnamacharya (The Father of Modern Yoga) who learned it from a text called “Yoga Kurunta” written by Vamana Rishi. This text was said to be imparted to Krishnamacharya in the 1900s by his teacher, Sri Yogeshwara Ramamohana Brahmachari and then was taught by him to Pattabhi Jois. The text had all the asanas as well as the vinyasas listed in it in a sequence to form the system of Ashtanga Yoga. The original text is said to be destroyed throughout the years by ants, and therefore, we can’t verify these assertions. The speculation arose as this text was not mentioned in the two books Yogasanagalu (1941) or the Yoga Makaranda (1934) written by the Krishnamacharya.

According to Manju Jois, another son of Pattabhi Jois; these sequences are believed to be created by Krishnamacharya himself and few pieces of evidence can be spotted if one goes through his books.

Ashtanga Yoga Vs. Power Yoga:

The term ‘Power Yoga’ is generically used to refer any vigorous Yoga that has been derived from the sequences of Ashtanga Yoga. There is historical evidence that the Ashtanga Yoga postures also contains various exercises by the British Gymnasts and the Indian wrestlers from the past denoting the power. As Power Yoga is a yoga form created by Bryan Kest in the 1980s; it was later spun by Baron Baptiste before the branding has been done. Ashtanga Yoga is almost like a synonym to the Power Yoga but the practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga including Pattabhi Jois were disappointed with the invention of Power Yoga, and he wrote a letter to the Magazine known as ‘Yoga Journal’, calling it an “ignorant bodybuilding” phenomena.

Principles of Ashtanga Yoga:

  1. Mysore Style: Related to the city Mysore, the style is named after the city as it is where Sri. Pattabhi Jois has been taught the Ashtanga Yoga. The practitioners are expected to memorize a routine and practice it every day in the same room without being led. The role of the teacher only includes providing assistance in the postures. However, two classes in a week are allowed to further improve the Yoga where the teacher will practice the same type of Yoga along with the students.
  2. Routine: The Ashtanga Yoga initially begins with a set of five repetitions of Sun Salutations (both the A-type and the B-type) each followed by the standing postures. The practitioner begins with one of the below-mentioned series and closes with the closing sequences.
    1. Primary: Yoga Chikitsa (Yoga Therapy) Series
    2. Intermediate: Nadi Shodana (Nerve Purifier) Series
    3. Advanced: Sthira Bhaga (Strengthening) Series. The Advanced Series contains a total of four type of series tagged as:
      1. Advanced A
      2. Advanced B
      3. Advanced C also was known as ‘Rishi Series’
      4. Advanced D
  1. Instructions: Before practicing the Ashtanga Yoga, Sharat Jois believes that one should master the poses. On the contrary, Manju Jois says that students can practice the poses in a non-linear way saying that his father has taught the students at Mysore in a similar way. This type of teaching involves variations in posture with the focus on breathing and alignment. While Sharath’s students don’t adopt any variations are restricted to the linear style and usually are against the digital form of teaching; Manju supports it. It is believed that most of the Ashtanga Yoga postures are taught by Sharath as they progress into the second generation few changes were made even by him.
  2. Alignment: The official style of Ashtanga Yoga has a very limited alignment. However, the earlier teachings of Pattabhi Jois reflected detailings of the alignment along with the instructions of breaking down the postures. Sharath has followed the same and therefore, alignment has a bigger role to play in the Ashtanga Yoga.
  3. Tradition: There’s a wide range of debate when we talk about the tradition of Ashtanga Yoga. Nancy Gilgoff, a famous practitioner, says that there has been a lot of difference between the Ashtanga Yoga that he has been taught and the Ashtanga Yoga that is being practiced now. She says that the vinyasa is now converted into ‘half vinyasa’ and that the seven different postures of the standing sequence are left out by Pattabhi Jois. Also, in the intermediate series, few asanas were left out like the Partivritta Parvakonasana, Virabhadrasana, Utkatasana and the Parivritta Trikonasana.
  4. Tristhana: Translated into three different places of action, posture (asanas), vision (drishti) and breath (pranayama); Tristhana is very important while you practice Ashtanga Yoga to keep everything in conjunction.
  5. Breath: Pattabhi Jois in his book, ‘Yoga Mala’ recommends that each pose should be held until a person completes at least five to eight breath cycles as long as possible. The instructions given for pranayama include ‘rechaka (exhale)’ and ‘puraka (inhale)’.
  6. Bandhas: The key principle alongside the breath and drishit are the bandhas; a term used to refer the body locks. There are three differnt type of Bandhas that are mostly used in Ashtanga Yoga:
    1. Mula Bandha: Root lock at the pelvic level
    2. Uddiyana Bandha: Abdomen lock by drawing the abdomen to two inches below and right at the navel.
    3. Jalandhara Bandha: Throat lock that is usually achieved by the chin lowering while you raise the sternum.
  7. Drishti: Drishti, the Sanskrit word for vision is where you keep your eye on. There should be a prescribed focus point in each asana of Ashtanga Yoga. There are total eight Drishti points in Ashtanga Yoga; nose, navel, between eyebrows, hands, thumbs, up right, up left and feet.
  8. Vinyasa and Mantra: Vinyasa, the breathing system is vital in any asana. Without vinyasa, it is almost a waste to perform asana. The entire purpose of vinyasa is to internally clean your body and to increase the heat in your blood. By boiling the blood, it gets thin and circulates freely through the body. Thick blood is usually considered as dirty and causes various diseases in the body. By making it thin, you’re removing the impurities and toxins from it. On the other hand, the Mantras are used to maintain the focus while performing both asanas and vinyasa.

Sharath’s Ashtanga Yoga Vs. Manju’s Ashtanga Yoga:

Salient Ashtanga Yoga Poses:

Primary Series:

The primary series contains asanas forming the basis of the following series. Known as the easiest of the six series, it is actually difficult regarding practice as it comes first and will continue to be the pain until unless you become familiar with the whole Vinyasa system. You should get used to the practice of this series before you proceed to the next stage. The asanas that should be practiced are:

  1. Utthita Hasta Padangushthasana
  2. Utthita Parshvasahita
  3. Utthita Hasta  Padangushthasana
  4. Ardha Baddha  Padmottanasana
  5. Utkatasana
  6. Virabhadrasana
  7. Dandasana
  8. Paschimottanasana
  9. Purvottanasana
  10. Ardha Baddha  Padma  Paschimottanasana
  11. Tiryam-Mukha Eka-Pada Paschimottanasana
  12. Janu Shirshasana
  13. Marichyasana
  14. Navasana
  15. Bhuja-Pidasana
  16. Kurmasana
  17. Supta-Kurmasana
  18. Garbha Pindasana
  19. Kukkutasana
  20. Baddha Konasana
  21. Upavishtha Konasana
  22. Supta Konasana
  23. Supta Padangushthasana
  24. Supta Parshvasahita
  25. Ubhaya Padangushthasana
  26. Urdhva-Mukha Paschimottanasana
  27. Setu Bandhasana
  28. Urdhva Dhanurasana
  29. Chakrasana
  30. Paschimottanasana


Intermediate Series:

The second of six also known as the Nadi Shodana; has a total of 40 asanas that help in the nerve purification and as well to create an energic dimension in your body. The asanas include:

  1. Pashasana
  2. Krounchasana
  3. Shalabhasana
  4. Bhekasana
  5. Dhanurasana
  6. Parshva Dhanurasana
  7. Ushtrasana
  8. Laghu-Vajrasana
  9. Kapotasana
  10. Supta Vajrasana
  11. Bakasana
  12. Bharadvajasana
  13. Ardha Matsyendrasana
  14. Eka-Pada Shirshasana
  15. Dvi-Pada Shirshasana
  16. Yoga-Nidrasana
  17. Tittibhasana
  18. Pincha Mayurasana
  19. Karandavasana
  20. Mayurasana
  21. Nakrasana
  22. Vatayanasana
  23. Parighasana
  24. Gomukhasana
  25. Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana
  26. Mukta Hasta Shirshasana
  27. Baddha Hasta Shirshasana
  28. Urdhva Dhanurasana
  29. Paschimottanasana

Advanced Series:

This set of asanas play with gravity to obtain the sublime serenity in a person.

  1. Vasishthasana
  2. Vishvamitrasana
  3. Kasyapasana
  4. Chakorasana
  5. Bhairavasana
  6. Skandasana
  7. Durvasana
  8. Urdhva Kukkutasana
  9. Galavasana
  10. Eka-Pada Bakasana
  11. Kaundinyasana
  12. Ashtavakrasana
  13. Purna Matsyendrasana
  14. Viranchyasana
  15. Dvi-Pada Viparita Dandasana
  16. Eka-Pada Viparita Dandasana
  17. Viparita Shalabhasana
  18. Ganda Bherundasana
  19. Hanumanasana
  20. Supta Trivikramasana
  21. Digasana
  22. Utthita Trivikrimasana
  23. Nata Rajasana
  24. Raja Kapotasana
  25. Eka-Pada Raja  Kapotasana
  26. Urdhva Dhanurasana
  27. Paschimottanasana

Pros and Cons of Ashtanga Yoga:

Ashtanga Yoga has benefits that extend beyond the fitness that most of us crave. The combination of stretching along with the heat generated inside the body allows the body muscles to soften and therefore bend in order to change the sculpture of the body. By stretching deeper, you can cleanse the entire body as you produce immense heat inside that also enhances the metabolism rate, increase the circulation, improves the coordination as well as concentration.


  1. A typical of the system of Yoga as it is; it involves progressive series of poses that synchronize the breathing with the physical activity. This process induces the heat inside the body, causing sweating which leads to the detoxification of all the body organs.
  2. The primary series of the Ashtanga Yoga has poses that are known for the therapeutical healing. Therefore, by practicing Ashtanga Yoga, one can work on the alignment by realigning the spine, detoxifying the body and thus can build stamina, strength and elevate the body’s flexibility.
  3. The second and the intermediate series of the Ashtanga Yoga, also known as Nadi Shodana gets translated as the purification process of nerves. Therefore, by practicing these poses; you can both strengthen and clean your nervous system by strengthening the subtle nerve energy channels inside the body.
  4. Ashtanga Yoga is in existence for a few years now, and many popular Yoga forms have emerged from this form during the years. However, it is one of the ancient healing practices and has many secretive techniques indulged in it that are being passed down to the instructors. Therefore, the benefits that one can seek from this yoga type are relatively higher than any other modern day yoga form.
  5. A good workout for the human without any doubt, it also raises the heart rate to the healthiest level, burns calories from your body at an adequate rate and will help in keeping you physically active and fit. Especially women who want to lose weight intensively can practice this Yoga form for better results and by practicing it for few weeks, one can witness dramatic results in the body.


Every good thing has few drawbacks and Ashtanga Yoga also has few. One of the most reluctant things about the Yoga is that it doesn’t allow you to proceed to the succeeding series of poses until unless you have mastered the preceding series and therefore it will take usually longer time for an individual to go to the last series of the Ashtanga Yoga.

Even though it is not as powerful as Hot Yoga or Power Yoga, it indeed is tedious and therefore is not usually recommended for light-hearted people or pregnant women. Therefore, people who are looking for slower and relaxed yoga styles should keep a distance from this Yoga type.


Wrapping up; Ashtanga Yoga also has many emotional and psychological benefits that make the practitioners get hold of the non-reactive state of mood where relaxation is the main ingredient. By practicing the Ashtanga Yoga, people tend to suffer less from the conditioned existence. They eventually start transforming the emotions rather than completely letting them go through which they develop a sense of space in their lifestyle. The whole process replicates a different level of intellect in people who practice Ashtanga Yoga by developing an openness to oneself and also to the surroundings by reducing the chaos inside the body. Therefore, if you think you can deal with an arduous yoga routine, Ashtanga Yoga is the best of the bests. Get set, already.


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