• Ryesgade 106 2nd
What is ashtanga yoga?
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a dynamic form of yoga where breath and movement is connected so that posture (asana) follows posture in a flow from start to end. Vinyasa means movement/breathing system. When to inhale and exhale and how to get in and out of each posture is well defined. In addition, postures are done in a certain sequence.
Actually, six series of postures exist: primary, intermediate and advanced A, B, C, and D. As the names suggest the series get more and more advanced, and the postures also work deeper and deeper. The primary series is also called Yoga Chikitsa, which means yoga therapy. The purpose of this series is to strengthen, adjust and clean the body. The intermediate series (Nadi Shodhana) strengthens and cleans the nervous system by opening and cleansing the energy channels of the body, i.e. the nadies, while the advanced series (Sthira Bhaga) are said to develop and reinforce life energy (prana).
For most people it takes a couple of years to establish a steady practice of the primary series before they are ready to move on (obviously depending on the starting point). But there is also no hurry, because yoga is a lifelong practice – and a solid foundation is very important for the practice to develop.
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga affects both the physical and the mental levels in the body. The three key elements are the ujjayi breath, the three body locks mula bandha (root lock), uddiyana bandha (stomach lock) and jalandhara bandha (chin lock) and the visual focus points dristi. When all of these form a synthesis, called tristana, you may experience the yoga practice as meditation in movement.
The purpose of the body locks is to restrain and redirect the energy in the body (prana). From the navel down the natural movement of energy (called apana in this area) is downwards in accordance with the excretion of urine, faeces, blood, and semen. Mula bandha ensures that the energy doesn’t just flow out of the body and is lost, while uddiyana bandha brings the energy upwards anew, towards the navel. Uddiyana means "flying upwards". On the other hand, in the chest the natural movement of energy (called prana in this area) is upwards. At the throat jalandhara bandha conserves the energy and sends it back towards the navel. If and when prana and apana are united at the navel the Kundalini force is said to awaken.
At the physical level the root lock is a contraction and lifting of the perineum, a muscle between the anus and the genitals. You can feel it after a full exhalation when there is a natural soft contraction in the sphincter lifting the whole area around the genitals inwards and upwards. The challenge is to maintain the root lock through both inhalation and exhalation – and through a full yoga practice! But through the practice you gradually get more and more aware of and sensitive in that area.
Drawing the stomach just above the pubic bone inwards and upwards holds the stomach lock. This is also maintained through the full yoga practice. In addition to conserving energy, the stomach lock is also very important for the ujjayi breath as it supports the muscles used in this breathing technique (see below).
The chin lock is mainly used in pranayama, which are various breathing exercises done to strengthen the breath control. However, it often occurs naturally in a softer variant in many postures because of dristi. Full jalandhara bandha should only be practiced under the guidance of a teacher.
Ujjayi is a powerful breathing technique, known by the deep 'roaring' sound from the throat. In ujjayi breathing you mainly use the diaphragm but also the intercostals between the ribs to breathe. With the mouth closed you breathe in and out through the nose but it is the work of these muscles that creates alternating pressure below and above the atmosphere, pulling and pushing the air in and out of the lungs. Ujjayi breathing ensures an even and enhanced supply of oxygen, which is necessary for the powerful yoga practice – and at the same time the calm rhythm of the breath can be preserved.
The sound of ujjayi breathing comes from a soft contraction in the back of the throat. The purpose of the sound is primarily to concentrate the thoughts in the yoga practice, to make you stay present in the moment.
In addition to the sound of the breath, visual focus points help ensure mental focus. Thus, dristi, i.e. visual focus points where the eyes rest during the practice, are defined for every posture. Most often it is the nose but it can also be e.g. the navel, thumbs, big toes or the distance.
In Ashtanga vinyasa yoga there is one series of postures for every day of the week except Saturday, which traditionally is a day of rest from asana practice (but not other yoga practices such as pranayama and meditation). But of course that implies that you are capable of performing all six series, which is only for the very few! So until then it is the same series you practice – and develop – every day. However, the practice varies from day to day and so does the experience of it so it never becomes boring.
In the beginning it is necessary to get instructions from a teacher. But the idea is gradually to learn the postures and the sequence by heart so you can practice independently (called "Mysore style"). When a group practice together Mysore style the teacher will give instructions and guide the students one-to-one, and you will gradually be introduced to new and more advanced postures when you are physically and mentally ready.
If you practice in the morning you benefit from the effects of the practice (e.g. physical well-being and mental balance) for the rest of the day. On the other hand many feel more flexible later during the day.
The yoga practice begins and ends with a non-religious mantra. In the beginning you thank the teacher for the guidance you receive and you acknowledge Patanjali as the "father of yoga". In the end you wish for peace, prosperity, and happiness for all creations of the world. Thus, it is a nice and polite way to round off the practice. Many also feel that the opening mantra helps to focus the attention on the yoga practice.
In addition to Saturday, traditionally days with full or new moon are days of rest. Women can also take "ladies holidays" when menstruating. As a minimum it is recommended to practice lightly on the first day of menstruation but naturally it is individual what you feel like doing (or not doing) during this period. It is also recommended to omit inverted postures during menstruation (e.g. shoulder and head stands).
A "sticky mat" and some comfortable clothes with stretch is all you need. If you practice in a warm place a cotton mat to put on top of the sticky mat is recommended, and it is nice to bring a blanket or towel for cover when you rest in Savasana at the end.
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga originates in India. In the 1930ies Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) and his guru Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya deciphered an old writing, Yoga Korunta, by the sage Vamana Rishi. The work accentuates the importance of vinyasa, describes sequences of postures (asanas) and other aspects of yoga philosophy and practice (e.g. bandhas, dristi and mudras). Together with other classical yoga writings such as Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, Bhagavad Gita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika the interpretation of Yoga Korunta constitutes the foundation of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Because Guruji thought that this practice was the most original form of yoga – the Ashtanga yoga explained by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra – he gave it the name Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.