The Ashtanga yoga system is designed to purify the body, promote the proper functioning of the digestive system, build strength, and restore range of motion to the body. The method of practice taught in Ashtanga relies on linking postures with deep, even breathing and steady gazing with the eyes. The system of linking the breath with movement is known as vinyasa and encourages the blood to circulate properly in the body, while the deep breathing supplies a rich source of pure air, oxygenated blood and allows the removal of unwanted toxins. The gazing point helps to facilitate a state of meditation, having a profound effect on the steadiness of the mind.
Vinyasa means movement linked with the breath. For each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namaskara A there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head; the second is exhaling while bending forward, placing the hands on the floor. In this way, all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas. Proper vinyasa count helps to stay focused on the present moment and is important for internal cleansing. The combination of breath and movement helps to produce internal heat that cleanses the blood and the resulting sweat further detoxifies the body.
Tristhana means the three places of attention that should be practiced simultaneously in asana practice. They include posture (asana), gazing place (dristhi), and breathing technique. When practiced simultaneously, the tristhana method allows the physical practice to be transformed into a moving meditation.Asanas should be performed with proper alignment and under the guidance of a qualified teacher. The postures help to purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body. 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 helps to focus the mind. Through dristhi, we are able to improve concentration and awareness.Breathing ‐ Proper breathing technique is done through the nose. The inhale and exhale are steady and even, with the length of the inhale matching the length as the exhale. Long, even breaths strengthen the internal fire and nervous system, increasing heat to burn away impurities. Another important component of the breathing system includes mula and uddiyana bandha. These are energetic locks that give lightness, strength, and health to the body.
Parampara is the knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student. It is a Sanskrit word that denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most valuable form; knowledge based on direct and practical experience. It is the basis of any lineage; the teacher and student form the links in the chain of instruction that has been passed down for thousands of years. In order for yoga instruction to be effective, true and complete, it should come from within parampara. Knowledge can be transferred only after the student has spent many years with an experienced guru, a teacher to whom he has completely surrendered in body, mind, and spirit. Only then is he fit to receive knowledge. This transfer from teacher to student is known as parampara. In the Ashtanga lineage, the ancient system was originally transmitted through Pattabhi Jois and is now passed down through Pattabhi’s grandson, Sharath Jois, at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India.
Content adapted from the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute website.