The word Yoga means “union” which refers to the profound state of connectedness and peace that naturally arises within oneself when it is practiced.
As well as rebalancing the physical body Yoga also has a transformative effect upon every other aspect of your Being; with steady and committed practice manifesting less self-importance, more capacity for joy and more tolerance toward others. Balancing Mind, Body and Soul.
Astanga Yoga – is characterised by its focus on Vinyasa (synchronised breath and movement) that creates a constant flow between the more static,traditional yoga postures. It is a dynamic system that emphasises the connection between breath and movement through a series of postures specifically designed to balance strength and flexibility, whilst calming the mind.
Through its flowing style and use of the Ujjayi Breath and Bandhas (gateways that regulate the flow of energy around the body), Astanga creates heat in the body that stimulates the nervous system and burns through blocks in the body to release latent life force energy.
“Vinyasa” means breathing and movement system. The breath is the Heart of this discipline. For
each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namaskar there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together; the second vinyasa is exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas.
The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing. Breathing and moving together while performing
asanas makes the blood hot, or as Pattabhi Jois says, boils the blood. Thick blood is dirty and causes disease in the body. The heat created from Astanga yoga cleans the blood and makes it thin, so that it may circulate freely around all the joints, taking away body pains. When there is a lack of circulation, pain occurs. The heated blood also moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and disease, which are brought out of the body by the sweat that occurs during practice.
Sweat is an important by product of vinyasa, because it is through sweat that disease leaves the body and purification occurs. In the same way that gold is melted in a pot to remove its impurities, by the virtue of the dirt rising to the surface as the gold boils, and the dirt then being removed, Astanga yoga boils the blood and brings all our toxins to the surface, which is removed through sweat. If the method of vinyasa is followed, the body becomes healthy and strong, and pure like gold.
After the body is purified, it is possible to purify the nervous system, and then the sense organs.
These first steps are very difficult and require many years of practice.
The sense organs are always looking outside, and the body is always giving into laziness. However, through determination and diligent practice, these can be controlled. After this is accomplished, mind control comes automatically, Vinyasa creates the foundation for this to occur. These branches support each other.
HOW WE BREATHE
The breath is key to the Astanga Practice. It purifies and cleanses. It is the heart of the Astanga Practice. Superficially, the muscles carry us through the air but it is the breath which provides the necessary prana (energy).
In Astanga we use Ujjayi Breath, which means victorious. It is the breath that provides the strength required to master every asana.
Mouth closed nose breathing only, breathing deeply, the sound that comes sometimes takes a while but as long as you try breathe in and out nose only. Keeping the inhalation equal to the exhalation. Breathing in this way keeps breath moist and allows for greater absorption of oxygen and keeps the body warm.
Breathing correctly improves focus and concentration, eliminates harmful toxins, strengthens the immune system increases metabolism, aiding in digestion and weight loss, reduces stress, tension and anxiety, fuels energy production, revitalises organs, cells and tissues, stimulates the body’s natural ability to heal and lowers blood pressure.
Throughout the practice we maintain control of 2 key energetic “seals” or Bandhas in the body. A Bandha allows energy to flow.
MULA BANDHA – Root Lock
We engage Mula Bandha by contracting the pelvic floor muscles, Guruji (Sri.K.Pattahbhi Jois) says we activate Mula Bandha by squeezing the anus. Mula Bandha keeps energy (prana) in. It is linked to inhalation and is the principle of strength and contraction.
UDDIYANA BANDHA – Flying upwards
We engage Uddiyana Bandha by gently drawing the stomach inwards and upwards. Uddiyana Bandha is situated just below the navel and travelling up towards the solar plexus. It is linked to exhalation and is the principle of lightness and stretching.
Drishti’s gazing points, they keep us focused and present on the mat during our practice. The Drishti’s guide the body through the sequence. There are 9 Drishti’s.
VINYASA – is the union of the breath and movement and TRISTHANA is the union of the breath, bandhas and dristhi’s.
This means the three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place.
These three are very important for Astanga Yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind.
They are always performed in conjunction with each other.
Asanas purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body. Breathing is rechaka and puraka that means inhale and exhale. Both the inhale and exhale should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale. Breathing in this manner purifies the nervous system. Dristhi is the place where you look while in the asana. There are nine Dristhis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. Dristhi purifies and stabilizes the functioning of the mind.
For cleaning the body internally two factors are necessary, air and fire. The place of fire in our bodies is four inches below the navel. This is the standing place of our life force. In order for fire to burn, air is necessary, hence the necessity of the breath. If you stoke a fire with a blower, evenness is required so that the flame is not smothered out, or blown out of control.
The same method stands for the breath. Long even breaths will strengthen our internal fire, increasing heat in the body which in turn heats the blood for physical purification, and burns away impurities in the nervous system as well. Long even breathing increases the internal fire and strengthens the nervous system in a controlled manner and at an even pace. When this fire is strengthened, our digestion, health and life span all increase. Uneven inhalation and exhalation, or breathing too rapidly, will imbalance the beating of the heart, throwing off both the physical body and autonomic nervous system.
An important component of the breathing system is mula and uddiyana bandha. These are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal fire. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit. When mula bandha is perfect, mind control is automatic.
THE SIX POISONS
A vital aspect of internal purification that Pattabhi Jois teaches relates to the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart. These are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth. When Astanga Yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the heat generated from it burns away these poisons, and the light of our inner nature shines forth.
This forms the practical and philosophic basis of Astanga Yoga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
There are 3 groups of sequences in the Astanga system. The Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa) detoxifies and aligns the body. The Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhana) purifies the nervous system by opening and clearing the energy channels. The Advanced Series A, B, C and D (Sithira Bhaga) integrate the strength and grace of the practice, requiring higher levels of flexibility and humility.
One of Pattabhi Jois’ favorite slogans is “Astanga yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory.” As David Williams, an Astanga teacher on the Hawaiian island of Maui explains, “Before you’ve practiced, the theory is useless. After you’ve practiced, the theory is obvious.”