My Love Affair with Ashtanga Yoga

Yoga is a noble, desire less action, coupled with righteousness, which has been passed down, in an unbroken tradition, since time immemorial.

Yoga Mala, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Yoga is a philosophy. Translated from the Sanskrit (which is an ancient language originating in the South Asian region), Yoga means “to yok” or to find union with that which is already within us. It is a method of self discovery, to complete harmony with one’s true nature. This philosophy is divided in eight components, which takes the practitioner through a process of reflection and realization, allowing for the mind to steady and to achieve a communion with all that this embodied reality brings . Typically, for us westerners, we associate yoga with only one part of the eight components: the Asanas. The Asanas are the poses, the physical practice that allows for meditation through movement. All yoga classes we know are, in reality, asana classes. Modern yoga studios come up with different and alluring names for the different offerings they bring, like Hot Yoga, Power Yoga, or my favorite, Beer Yoga (who can complain about that one, really?). For those of us that are in a path of awareness and deep appreciation for the practice, all these modern offerings fall short. It might entertain us for a bit, but it will not bring a true satisfaction after the hour long practice is done. Ashtanga Yoga, on the other hand, is a completely different approach, rooted in true Indian tradition.

The literal translation of Ashtanga from Sanskrit is “eight limbs”. It is very common to find this depiction in many Indian gods and goddesses, suggesting many complexities within our psyche. But these eight limbs or, how I call them, components, are precisely the eight parts I mentioned earlier in which the yoga philosophy is built upon. Ashtanga Yoga therefore was thought and put together with the intention to give any seeker a good foundation to build a solid practice around the principles that started the whole movement of yoga to begin with. Sri K. Pattabi Jois is the father of Ashtanga Yoga, and his legacy is still standing in his hometown, Mysore, India.

I was introduced to Ashtanga Yoga about four years ago. It was around the time I started this blog, back when I had discovered a new yoga studio very close to where I was living then. The teacher I had, Cathy, was very knowledgeable about the poses and slowly but surely began to guide us towards regular Ashtanga Yoga workflows. At the end, before dismissing the group, she would have us sit in meditation, and she would read from the book Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras (the ancient sacred book that carries the yoga philosophy), and would leave us with good wisdom to carry through the rest of the day.

Ashtanga Yoga is comprised of seven series or seven workflows. Each have a specific set of movements, and they are never varied during the practice. So students already know what they are signing in for. We all start with the first series, but don’t be mistaken: the first one does not mean is the easiest one. It just means that’s where you start, and you stick to it until you master it. This is my practice still, and I have recently taken upon the task to master it.

Below is an example of the first series looks like. If you have practiced yoga at any given point, you will be able to recognize most of the asanas. Remember that all yoga classes are asana classes, and those asanas come from the same foundation.

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