Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927. This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a strong body, and a calm mind. This theory of eight different limbs, or components, is also known as “Eight-Limb Yoga”. It doesn’t imply that the practitioner has a double set of limbs, but Sri K. Pattabhi Jois showed that the optimum path of purification is made up of eight spiritual practices.
The basic idea is that these limbs only can be kept in balance by the appropriate application of the Ashtanga Yoga method.
The first four limbs that symbolize Ashtanga Yoga, and are considered externally correctable are (original names within double quotes):
– Moral codes or “yama”
– Self-purification or “niyama”
– Posture or “asana”
– Breath control or “pranayama”
Followed by the other set of limbs which are the internal practices:
– Sense control or “pratyahara”
– Meditation or “dhyana”
– Concentration or “dharana”
– Contemplation or “samadhi”
K. Pattabhi Jois stated that practicing these Eight Limbs, the body will become strong so that it can perform these methods well. If the body is weak, and the sense organs are not functioning well, practicing will not be productive. This is a primary philosophy that K. Pattabhi Jois applied and it is important that the Asthanga practitioner understand this.
Vinsaya and Tristhana in Ashtanga Yoga
Vinsaya is a style that makes Ashtanga and its fundamental principles different from other styles of yoga. Vinsaya basically means the movement and breathing is used effectively together in order to cleanse the body. Each movement is accompanied by only one breath. Sweat is an important product of Vinsaya. When you produce sweat, it indicates that you are successfully applying the method. When you perform the Asanas, or postures, the body produces heat which causes your blood to “boil” and excrete toxins from the body. These toxins are found in your sweat. So the more sweat you produce, the more toxins are released. This is the natural way for the body to rid unwanted substances.
The poses are used to fully develop the physical strength and health of the body. It is the sequence of practice that make this possible. There are three postures used in Ashtanga Yoga.
The three are grouped on different levels:
– The first is the Primary Series which aims on aligning the body and also detoxifying it.
– The second is the Intermediate Series opening and cleansing the energy channels which comes to the process of purifying the Nervous System.
– The last series would be the Advanced Series from A to D. In this set, the grace and strength are assessed.
Tristhana is another yoga principle which symbolizes the close union of the three places of action and attention. First is the posture, second is the breathing technique, and last is the Dristhi (view or gaze/focal point). All these three should work together to perform a function.
The breathing is always controlled and synchronized with the movements in such a way that each movement is accompanied by breath. Ujjayi breathing, a yoga breathing technique; is used in the implementation of Ashtanga Yoga. Applying this ancient technique is something that one must work on gradually in daily practice. This is an amazing breathing exercise that will intensify the internal fire and help the nervous system.
Both Ashtanga and Tristhana deal with the series of Dristhi. This allows your mind to be purified and stabilized clearly. Clearing your mind (sometimes compared to an active monkey) and cleansing it is the ultimate goal in the Eight-Limb Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga.
If you’ve ever practiced any type of Vinyasa yoga such as Ashtanga, then chances are you’ve heard the word ujjayi breathing. What is ujjayi breathing and why is there such emphasis placed on moving with the breath in yoga practice? Ujjayi (translated from Sanskrit as victorious), is an ancient yogic breathing technique that helps calm the mind and body. Since the breath is our life energy (prana), the in- and out-breath is what nourishes and cleanses the body and mind. The quality of the breath tells us something about our physical and emotional state – whether we are relaxed, tense, stressed or balanced.
How to Practice Ujjayi Breathing
1. Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale out your mouth. When you breathe out of your mouth, imagine you are trying to fog up a mirror. Use the whisper muscles in the back of your throat to make a deep “haaa” sound.
2. Continue Step 1 but now when you exhale, close your mouth half way through the exhale. The first half of the exhale will leave through your mouth and the second half of the exhale will leave through your nose. As the exhale transitions to your nose, try to keep the whisper muscles in your throat activated. Imagine you’re fogging up a mirror with the breath from your nose.
3. Keep your mouth closed the entire time as you continue to breathe in and out through your nose with the throat muscles constricted. Usually, it is easier to make the “Darth Vader” sound on the exhale, but overtime you will be able to make the sound with equal volume on the inhale. When first learning Ujjayi, don’t worry if your breath sounds forced or even silent. With practice, your Ujjayi breath will start to sound like the waves in the ocean.
“If you are running at a certain pace, there is a tendency to open your mouth because breathing through your nostrils may not be sufficient. But you never ever breathe through your mouth during asanas. This is not an aerobic exercise – asanas are about building internal strength of the organs and the whole system”. ~ Sadhguru
Once Ujjayi breathing is learned in a seated position (such as easy pose), the next step is to retain the same quality of breathing throughout your asana practice. During your practice, try to keep the same length and evenness of the breath in and out (through the nose) as much as possible. Once you find your Ujjayi breath in a pose you feel comfortable with, try to maintain that same quality of breathing throughout your yoga practice. While controlling the breath we can control the mind and this is a very important part of yoga practice. Overall peace in the body can come only when the mind is calm and stable.
Caution: When practicing Ujjayi breathing, be careful not to tighten your throat. Do not attempt this breathing exercise if you have a respiratory condition, like asthma or emphysema. Stop if you become faint or dizzy. Remember to always work within your own range and abilities. If you have any medical conditions, talk with your doctor first before beginning any yoga practice.
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