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Ashtanga Yoga titleAshtanga Vinyasa Asanas

There are three groups of Asana sequence in the Ashtanga yoga tradition:

Each level is to be fully developed before proceeding to the next, and the sequential order of asanas is to be meticulously followed. Each posture is a preparation for the next, developing the strength and balance required to move further. Without an earnest effort and reverence towards the practice of yama and niyama, however, the practice of asana is of little benefit.

There are some fundamental techniques in Ashtanga Yoga which transform a physical exercise into a spiritual practice. The term Ashtanga Vinyasa refers to the synchronisation of breath and movement and the linking of postures (or asanas) that allow one pose to flow into the next, creating a continuous movement. Through the practice of correct breathing (Ujjayi Pranayama), internal locks (Bandhas), postures (Asanas) and gazing point (Drishti), we gain control of the senses and a deep awareness of ourselves.

Ashtanga yoga titleUjjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi Pranayama is a special breathing technique which gives inner energy to master the strenuous postures. The more demanding Yoga positions can only be achieved through muscular stamina with the aid of the breath.

Ujjayi (meaning Victorious) breathing is described as sounding like the ocean because the sound made by contracting the glottis with each inhalation and exhalation sound like waves on a beach. This Pranayama is done through the nose, but it is helpful to begin practicing breathing through the mouth. To make the ocean sound, whisper the syllable "h," feeling the contraction in your throat. Keep this contraction engaged on the inhalation and exhalation. After a couple of breaths try to close the mouth, breathing through the nose while still making the ocean sound in your throat.

The continuity of deep, even breathing cannot be overemphasized in the Ashtanga Yoga system. The breath feeds action, and action feeds posture, each movement becomes gentle, precise, and perfectly steady. The Ujjayi Pranayama will become a guide to tell you about the quality of your practice. A too forceful breath may point you to a too forceful practice - whilst too sleepy and unfocused may point to a sleepy and unfocused practice. Keeping the right balance between hard and soft, fast and slow creates a moving meditation.

Ashtanga yoga titleBandhas

Bandhas are a technique that work like a valve for Prana (life energy). The two most important bandhas in Ashtanga yoga are: Mula bandha and Uddiyana bandha. Both these locks can be held throughout the Ashtanga practice.

Mulabandha

Mulabandha meaning "root lock" is a lifting of the pelvic floor. It gives you firmness and steadiness.

To practice Mulabandha, inhale, and as you exhale, gently lift up through your pelvic floor. Connect this subtle lifting movement all the way up through your inner body. Once you are comfortable with this, release any superfluous tensions (shoulders, ribcage, anus etc) and practice the lift on the inhale aswell as the exhale.

Uddiyana Bandha

Literally translated Uddiyana Bandha means "upward flying lock ". It concentrates the Prana upward in the Spine. Uddiyana bandha continues the upward flow of energy that Mula Bandha initiates.

To create a strong Uddiyana Bandha practise, empty the lungs by a strong and forcible exhalation. Now (with the lungs empty) contract and draw up the belly towards the back, so that the abdomen draws back and up towards the thoracic cavity.

Uddiyana Bandha during the practise of asanas is engaged during a flowing breath and is a more subtle upward rising of the core of the body, taking over from Mula bandha just above the pubic bone. Though they are seperate practises they can been seen as one when there is an understanding and acceptance of the intergration of the body.The bandhas give lightness and help overcome the force of gravity. Uddiyana bandha also protects your lower back, keeping the spine long and preventing injury.

Ashtanga yoga titleDrishti

Drishti is a point of gaze or focus. It means not looking to an external object but drawing your consciousness to one point and away from the distractions around you in order to listen more closely within . Each yoga pose has a specific drishti, which also aids in alignment .

Classically there are nine Drishtis:

Nasagrai Drishti = tip of the nose
Broomadya Drishti = third eye
Nabi Chakra Drishti = navel
Angusta Ma Dya Drishti = thumb
Hastagrai Drishti = hand
Padahayoragrai Drishti = big toe
Parsva Drishti = far to the right
Parsva Drishti = far to the left
Urdhva Drishti = up to the sky  

It is the union of asana, breath and point of gaze that develops physical strength, whilst strengthening and purifying the nervous system and stabilizing the mind. This results in a light, strong body and calm mind.