Step into an Ashtanga yoga class and you’ll find students moving through series of postures, many of them quite challenging, in a predetermined sequence designed to achieve both overall and specific benefits.
Every breath and every gesture is deliberately and consciously executed, including the transitional movements between postures. Rather than simply doing a list of poses, Ashtanga yoga practitioners create a sense of continuity, rhythm and flow by connecting them through movement and breath.
This flow is the essence of vinyasa styles of yoga and stands in contrast to asana styles where individual postures are performed independently without flowing from one to the next.
Ashtanga yoga has been widely disseminated thanks to the Indian yogi K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India and his students.
Ashtanga literally means “eight-limbed” and refers to the eight components of Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras,” a comprehensive system of yoga written in aphoristic form roughly two thousand years ago.
The physical practice of yoga is the third component and training the breath is the fourth. Taken together, the eight steps lead from a foundation in moral living and vitality to inner mastery and freedom.
Ashtanga yoga classes as taught in studios across the globe focus on the third, physical aspect of yoga, but this is within the context of the other steps which become more accessible to the student with dedicated practice.
Along with choreographed breathing, Ashtanga series of postures incorporate other yogic practices concerned with visual focus, drawing the internal organs upward and inward and regulating how breath flows in and out, through the throat area.
Classes where all students perform the series in unison are often recommended for beginners so they can get systematic instruction and practice.
If you read that a class is “Mysore style,” this means that students, usually those with more experience and a well-established personal yoga practice, go through series at their own pace with an instructor present to provide guidance.