What is Ashtānga Yoga? What does it mean? What kind of Yoga is it? Is it an ancient or a modern style of Yoga practice? Is there more than one type of Ashtānga Yoga? If you’ve had any of these questions and want to understand better before you can decide what kind of Yoga you wish to learn, maybe I can help you out a bit!
What does Ashtānga mean?
Ashtānga is a Sanskrit word. It is made up of two Sanskrit words joined together:
- Ashta means eight
- Anga means part
When combined into one word, ‘a’ at the end of Ashta and beginning of Anga combine to become ‘aa’. The combined word is then pronounced Ashtaanga. Ashtānga Yoga, as follows from the meaning of the words, simply means the eight-part or the eight-step or the eight-fold path of Yoga.
Is there more than one type of Ashtānga? Is Ashtānga an ancient or a modern style of Yoga?
The answer to the first question is yes. There is Classical Ashtānga Yoga and there is Ashtānga Vinyasa Yoga.
Classical Ashtānga Yoga is an ancient eight-fold path to Samadhi and liberation given by Sage Patanjali in his text, the Yoga Sutra. Yoga Sutra is the oldest scripture entirely dedicated to Yoga philosophy and practice and forms the basis of most of the Yoga practised today.
Ashtānga Vinyasa is a modern Yoga school established by K Pattabhi Jois in 1948, borrowing concepts from Classical Ashtānga Yoga as well as a number of ancient Hatha Yoga practices. He created a style of his own based on these concepts and focused mainly on the body and breath in his practices.
What is Ashtānga Yoga? What kind of Yoga is it?
Here, I will discuss Classical Ashtānga Yoga as that is the style I have studied for over 15 years and practice on an everyday basis. To me, the learning and incorporation of these concepts is a lifelong endeavour and I only share with you what I have learnt or experienced during this process.
Ashtānga Yoga is an ancient style of practice that is a combination of physical, psychological, and spiritual practices to reach the ultimate goal of self-realisation. Sage Patanjali suggests this path of practice for the beginner student – someone who is just starting off their spiritual journey. It is an eight-step path that outlines various concepts and practices to be included in everyday living to improve overall quality of life.
The eight steps outlined by Sage Patanjali in Ashtānga Yoga:
- Yama or restraints for body and mind
- Niyama or observances for body and mind
- Āsana or physical postures to bring stillness
- Prānāyāma or breath awareness and management
- Pratyāhāra or withdrawing of sensory perception
- Dhārana or intense focus and concentration
- Dhyāna or meditative state of mind
- Samādhi or thoughtlessness and absolute focus
Each step leads to the next and we can and do work on multiple steps or levels at the same time. Āsana and prānāyāma are possibly the most popular and widely known practices of this path, although they need to be practised along with other concepts for maximum benefits.
I will get into a bit more detail on each of these steps in future blog pieces, so keep an eye out for them if you want to know more!