In the past, I have tried Ashtanga Yoga several times, but I was never really into it. As much as I would like to think I’m prone to spirituality, I couldn’t get in the zone, meditate or find any inner balance.
Instead, I was becoming increasingly competitive and frustrated, when I could’t get into a pose.
Consequently, I would walk out of class, feeling even worse than before my Yoga session. Obviously, my approach was wrong…
Then, I found my Yogi in the face of my good friend, Zoe Karamanis; I might not have, yet, found my inner peace or remain ufanzed by life’s curveballs, but I can tell you this: I have learned to listen to my body, respect it and, what’s more, I now admire its capacity to change. Each Asthanga lesson makes me feel physicaly stronger and this, in turn, gives me a mental strength as well, which is always welcome! I feel grounded. It is not about being competitive with the rest of the class (although there are certain Yogi prodigies – you know who you are – that still get into my nerves!). It is about challenging yourself in every lesson. There are days, when I do better and there are days, when I do worse, but I always leave class with a feeling of empowerment.
In constant search of answers and explanations, I asked my Ashtanga teacher Zoe Karamanis, who has been to numerous trainings and seminars in India and around the world, to elaborate further on Ashtanga Yoga.
What is Asthanga Yoga?
Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga that involves synchronizing the breath with a progressively more challenging series of movements and postures. The postures are practised in a specific manner and in the same sequence each and every time. Some poses take years to be achieved, it takes patience, calmness and perseverance to do so. Through this process, intense internal heat and purifying sweat that detoxify muscles and organs, are produced. The emotions one undergoes through practice are totally interconnected with their personal feelings and experience. It is a vigorous, moving meditation that helps develop a strong, light body and a quiet, steady mind.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga allows:
- The right body formation-shaping and harmonization of blood circulation, as the body temperature rises.
- The enhancement of the immune system.
- The toning of heart palpitation thanks to perspiration, toxin rejection and in-depth body purification.
- Enhancement of mental concentration during and after practice.
- Awareness of the respiration rate (70% of the energy we receive daily comes from respiration, rather than from food-intake)
- Relaxation, deep mental elaboration and self-confidence (faith in our abilities)
Ashtanga Yoga was born under the surveillance of Sri Pattabhi Jois and is still being taught nowadays, in the same way, in Mysore, South India.
According to Pattabhi Jois, the elements characterising the practice are:
- Vinyasa, in other words the system of movement sychronised with breathing.
- For each movement there is a breath. For instance, in Suryanamaskar there are 9 Vinyasas. Consequently, all the Asanas (positions) correspond to a specific number of breaths and movements (Vinyasas). The objective of Vinyasa is to strengthen the “inner fire”, facilitating the process of purification on all levels (blood, joints, feelings, thoughts). As soon as the body has been purified, the nervous system and sense organs purification follows.
- Tristhana refers to the 3 points of attention at the time of action (any kind of action): position (Asana), the breathing system (Vinyasa) and focus of the look (Drishi), which respond to 3 levels of purification, accordingly: The body, the nervous system and the mind, which always interact when exercising.
- Other important elements of exercising are the energy lockings Mula Banda and Udiyana Banda, which “seal energy”, give strength, as well as health to the Body.
According to Pattabhi Jois, there are 6 poisons surrounding a man’s spiritual heart. These are lust, rage, illusion, greed, envy and laziness. When practice is maintained with devotion and dilligence for a long time, then the “temperature” generated burns the poisons and, as a result, the light of our inner nature is emitted.