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Krishnamacharya taught all of the key figures in modern-day yoga, including T.K.V. Desikachar, Srivatsa Ramaswami , the late Indra Devi , Pattabhi Jois, and B.K.S. Iyengar. Each of these student have taken an aspect of the huge knowledge that Krishnamarchya had on yoga and developed systems they were most in resonance with.

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arrow The Yoga Korunta
arrow The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
arrow Patanjali's eight limbs
arrow Yamas and Niyamas
arrow Ashtanga Vinyasa and the Eight Limbs
arrow Ashtanga Vinyasa More Background
arrow Pattabhi Jois

 

Ashtanga yoga titleThe Origin of Ashtanga Vinyasa

The Ashtanga yoga system has its origins in the Yoga Korunta, a collection of verses on Hatha yoga. The Yoga Korunta was discovered in the 1930's by yoga master and Sanskrit scholar Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and his disciple K. Pattabhi Jois while researching Sanskrit texts at a Calcutta university library.

Patthabi Jois image

The manuscript, written on a bundle of palm leaves, was dated to be between 500 and 1,500 year old. Krishnamacharya and Patthabi Jois translated and reconstructed the Ashtanga yoga series.

Patthabi Jois took the instructions as the basis of his practice and popularised it's teaching. Many people call this system Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga in order to distinguish from Patanjali's eightfold system. Pattabhi Jois was still teaching this method in Mysore, India until his death in May 2010 at the age of 93.

Ashtanga yoga titleThe Eight Limbs of Yoga

"Ashtanga" literally means eight limbs. They are described by Patanjali in the yoga sutras as follows. The first four limbs are called external aids to Yoga :

  1. Yama refers to the five abstentions:
    • Ahimsa: non-violence; inflicting no injury or harm to others or to oneself, including nonviolence in thought, word and deed.
    • Satya: honesty in word & thought.
    • Asteya: non-covetousness; one should not desire something that is not one's own.
    • Brahmacharya: abstainance; this is prescibed traditionally as celebacy for unmarried people. In the modern western world this could be interpreted as an intention not to waste energy through excessive or uncompassionate and unloving sexual activity or thought.
    • Aparigraha: Non- attachment to possessions.
  2. Niyama refers to the five observances:
    • Shaucha: cleanliness of body & mind.
    • Santosha: contentment; content with what one has.
    • Tapas: austerity and associated observances for body discipline & thereby mental control.
    • Svadhyaya: introspection.
    • Ishvarapranidhana: surrender of the ego or self.
  3. Asana: discipline of the body; rules and postures to keep it healthy and preservation of vital energy. Correct postures are an aid to meditation, for they control the limbs and nervous system, creating a healthy bodily environment for stilling the mind.
  4. Pranayama: control of breath; steadies the body and is highly conducive to the concentration of the mind.
The last four limbs are called internal aids to Yoga;
  1. Pratyahara: withdrawal of senses from external objects.
  2. Dharana: concentration of the the mind on a single focus. Training of the mind so that it can be freed in meditation.
  3. Dhyana: steadfast meditation; a state where there is no distinct thought and no effort and pranic energy flows unfettered.
  4. Samadhi: The yogi leaves the material world and is merged with the Eternal. There is no distinction between act of meditation and the object of meditation. Samadhi is of two kinds:
    Sabija Samadhi- a temporary state where the seed (bija) is not completely free from it's tendancy to germinate in the material world.
    Nirbija Samadhi- a germless seed, a liberated being (jivanmukta).

These branches support each other. Asana practice must be established for proper practice of pranayama and is a key to the development of the yamas and niyamas. Once these four externally oriented limbs are firmly rooted, the last four internally oriented limbs will evolve over time.

According to Pattabhi Jois, it is not possible to practice the Eight Limbs of Yoga and the sub-limbs of the external aids, like the yama and niyama, when the body is weak and the sense organs are plagued by distractions. Thus the practice of Asanas is required in order to improve ones health and strength. In Ashtanga yoga, asanas are practiced with Vinyasa and Tristhana.

Vinyasa means breath/movement synchronization. This is one of the principles of Ashtanga yoga that make it distinct from other styles. The breath is the heart of this discipline and links asana to asana in a precise order. Each movement is accompanied by one breath. By synchronizing movement with breathing and practicing Bandhas (internal locks), an internal heat is produced. This heat purifies muscles and organs, expelling unwanted toxins. The breath regulates the vinyasa and ensures efficient circulation of blood. The result is a light, strong body. The mantra-like sound of the breath also stills the focuses and stills the mind.

Another Ashtanga principle is Tristana which is the union of three points of attention, namely, bandha, breath and point of gaze or Drishti. These three should be performed in union with each other. The postures with use of bandhas develop health and physical strength, and direct energy in a postitive direction, whilst the Ujjayi breath strengthens and purifies the nervous system calming the mind, and concentration on Drishti purifies and stabilizes the focus of the mind.

Ashtanga yoga titleIntroduction of Ashtanga to the West

Andre van Lysbeth, Norman Allen, David Williams, Nancy Gilgoff are just some of the people who have helped introduce Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga to the West.

In 1964 Andre van Lysbeth , a Belgian, found his way to Pattabhi Jois' small Yoga Shala in Mysore. Already into Yoga and knowing Sanskrit well, van Lysbeth became interested in this ancient system, and spent two months studying the primary and intermediate series with Patthabi Jois. Among the many books he wrote in later years, one "Pranayama", -included a photo of the guru along with his name and address. Thus the name Pattabhi Jois slowly spread in the western world, but mostly in Europe. Many of the first people that travelled to India to meet Jois came from there.

Norman Allen , David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff amongst others followed in the early 70's.

As time went by and Ashtanga Yoga became more known in the west, Pattabhi Jois was invited for workshops around the world. Nowadays Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga has grown to become one of the worlds most known Yoga systems. You can find Ashtanga Yoga classes all around the world. Stars like Madonna and Sting say that they follow this ancient practice, something which has increased the popularity of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga even more.