What is Ashtanga or Ashtanga Yoga Mysore ?
Astanga Yoga is Rishi Patanjali’s recommended Yoga system in his 2000 year old Yoga Sutras. It simply means 8 Angas ( part ) – to reach the pre-defined Yoga goal. Asana, what is the most practiced in the name of Yoga around the world today, is the 3rd Anga of 8.
And then there is Ashtanga Yoga from Mysore, sometimes called Ashtanga Vinyasa. Yoga students often get confused between the two, questions like which one is better, which one carries the original meaning etc. This blog will be about clearing the air around “Astanga Yoga”, I will share my views on Astanga Yoga from Mysore here, will save another blog for Patanjali’s Astanga Yoga.
History of Astanga Yoga of Mysore :
Sri T Krishnamacharya was appointed to head the Yoga Shaala in Mysore by the King of Mysore Sri Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV in 1933. He had to differentiate the Yoga approach he will be teaching from Karma, Bakthi and Gnana Yoga of the Srimad Bagawath Geetha and so the most appropriate name would have been “ Astanga Yoga ”.
Krishnamacharya mostly taught Asanas, owing to the level of readiness of his young students at the Mysore Shaala, nevertheless the name “ Astanga Yoga “ came to be known as the practice of Asana with Vinyasa ( a particular way flow, a set way of doing things). The approach that Sri Krishnamacharya picked up from a lost Yoga text, “ Yoga Korunta”.
Sri K Pattabhi Jois, one of Sri Krishnamacharya’s early student continued the practice of calling it Astanga Yoga in his own teachings. He designed a 4 year Yoga diploma program to teach some of his foreign students in 1974. The syllabus was inspired by the teaching and had the approval of T Krishnamacharya. This early work has given rise to the present day “Astanga Yoga Series”, which are 6 in number.
Sri Sharath Rangaswamy and Srimati Saraswati Rangaswamy along with many certified Astanga Yoga teachers, from around the world, continue to teach these Vinyasa “Series”. Sri Srivatasa Ramaswamy teaches a similar approach to Asana and calls it “Vinyasa Krama”.
Lets Talk about the practice:
As mentioned earlier, there are 6 Series, each consisting of a long list of Asanas to be practiced as per a pre fixed sequence. As mentioned in the Yoga Korunta, the practice should carry the awareness of the following three aspects ( Trī stanam avalokayé āsanam prāņāyāma dristhihi )
- Asana ( with a set way of going in and coming out of Asana )
- Pranayama ( Ujjayi in particular )
- Dristi (Gaze)
The three combined is called “Tristanam” and forms the most differentiating feature of Astanga Yoga of Mysore.
Another reason for calling this Asana practice “Astanga Yoga” could be because it includes Asana, Pranayama (Ujjayi ), Pratyahara ( Dristi) practices that leaves a dedicated and disciplined practitioner in a state of Dharana / Dhyana and perhaps Samadhi, Covering all the 6 Angas, to be done on an Asani ( mat ), of Astanga Yoga of Patanjali.
The teaching methodology used by Astanga Yoga Mysore teachers are also quiet different from the other Styles of Yoga. Here the teacher simply calls out the name of the Asana that comes next in the series and then goes on to count the numbers to guide the student on their way into the Asana in a pre learnt Vinyasa, that includes the body, breath and eyes coordinated. Each asana is held for 5 or multiples of 5 Ujjayi breaths.
Progression: A student practices a certain number of doable asanas from a series. The teacher would constantly assess the readiness for the next asana in the series and teach it. In this manner a student learns all the Asanas of a particular series and then would carry out a self practice of this series for many months or years before going back to the teacher to learn the next series. The 6 series are
- Primary series (Yoga chikitsa )
- Intermediate series (Nadi Shodhana )
- Advanced Series A
- Advanced series B
- Advanced Series C and
- Advanced Series D
The Ashtanga Yoga Mysore school doesn’t offer a regular Yoga teacher training like most others. A common practice is that a teacher should be practicing two series ahead to teach any particular series. Example, someone who is practicing Advanced Series A is recognized as ready to teach the Primary series. It usually takes as many as 5 years of regular practice before one can teach this style of Yoga.
Who is this Yoga for ? going by the image that Astanga has of being very challenging, fast paced, dynamic, even obsessive and cultish (being an “ashtangi” ) this isn’t a practice for most beginners of Yoga. Injuries are quiet common, even amongst seasoned practitioners. Once bitten by an Ashtanga bug apparently there’s no going back.
As long as one looks at asana as a means to the higher stages of Astanga Yoga and not just mastery of the physical postures, there is lots to be gained through such a systematic, focused practice.