Ashtanga vinyasa yoga

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Ashtanga yoga
Founder K. Pattabhi Jois
Established 1948
Practice emphases
Employs Vinyāsa, or connecting asanas.
Related schools
Iyengar yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a style of yoga as exercise created by K. Pattabhi Jois during the 20th century, often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga.[1] He claimed to have learnt the system from his teacher, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. The style is energetic, synchronising breath with movements. The individual poses (asanas) are linked by flowing movements (vinyasas).[2]

Jois established his Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in 1948.[3] The current style of teaching is called Mysore style after the city in India where the practice was originally taught.[4] Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga has given rise to various spinoff styles of Power Yoga.


Ashtanga Yoga students are expected to memorize a sequence and to practice in the same room as others without being led by the teacher. The role of the teacher is to guide as well as provide adjustments or assist in postures. In other locations, led classes are taught twice per week in place of Mysore style classes, and the teacher will lead a group through the same series at the same time. The led classes were only introduced in Pattabhi Jois's senior years.[5][6]

Sequences and series[edit]

File:Eka-Pada Bakasana .jpg
Advanced (A) Series

Usually an Ashtanga practice begins with five repetitions of Surya Namaskara A and five repetitions of Surya Namaskara B, followed by a standing sequence.[7] Following this the practitioner progresses through one of six series, followed by a standard closing sequence.[7]

The six series are:

  1. The Primary series: Yoga Chikitsa, Yoga for Health or Yoga Therapy [8]
  2. The Intermediate series: Nadi Shodhana, The Nerve Purifier (also called the Second series)
  3. The Advanced series: Sthira Bhaga, Centering of Strength
  1. Advanced A, or Third series
  2. Advanced B, or Fourth series
  3. Advanced C, or Fifth series
  4. Advanced D, or Sixth series[7][9]

There were originally four series on the Ashtanga syllabus: Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, and Advanced B. A fifth series of sorts was the "Rishi series", which Pattabhi Jois said could be done once a practitioner had "mastered" these four.[10][11]

Method of instruction[edit]

According to Pattabhi Jois's grandson R. Sharath Jois, one must master poses before being given permission to attempt others that follow.[12] However, Manju Jois disagrees.[13][14] According to Jois's son Manju Jois, students were occasionally allowed to practice in a non linear format.[15]

In the 21st century, a "new generation" of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga teachers have adopted Sharath's new rules, teaching in a linear style without variations. Practice takes place in a strict Mysore environment under the guidance of a Sharath-approved teacher. How-to videos and workshops, detailed alignment instructions and strength-building exercises are not part of the method, neither for the practitioner nor for the teacher.[12] However, most teachers who claim to have been taught by Sharath teach the above methods, exercises, and postures.[12]


Ashtanga vinyasa yoga emphasizes certain main components, namely tristhana ("three places of action or attention", or the more physical aspects of poses) and vinyasa (which Sharath Jois defines as a system of breathing and movement).[16]


Tristhana means the three places of attention or action: breathing system (pranayama), posture (asana), and looking place (drishti). These are considered core concepts for ashtanga yoga practice, encompassing the three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and the mind; and are supposed to be "performed in conjunction with each other".[16]

The asanas in ashtanga yoga follow a set sequence as described above. Their stated purpose is to increase strength and flexibility of the body.[16] Officially, the style has very little alignment instruction.[17] Breathing is ideally even and steady in the length of the inhale and exhale.[16]

Drishti is the location where one focuses the eyes while practicing asana. In the ashtanga yoga method, there is a prescribed point of focus for every asana. There are nine dristhis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side.[18]


Vinyasas are flowing sequences of movements to connect each asana with the next.[19][20][21] Modern vinyasa yoga in addition coordinates the breath with the vinyasa transition movements between asanas.[22]

According to Sharath Jois, the purpose of vinyasas is to purify the blood, which is otherwise heated and supposedly contaminated by the practice of asanas.[18]


Although Ashtanga yoga keeps a general principle of steady and even inhales and exhales, the specifics of breath during the asanas are debated.

In his book Yoga Mala, Pattabhi Jois recommends staying five to eight breaths in a posture, or staying for as long as possible in a posture.[23] Breathing instructions given are to do rechaka and puraka, (exhale and inhale) as much as possible.[23] "It is sufficient, however, to breathe in and out five to eight times in each posture."[23] In an interview regarding the length of the breath, Pattabhi Jois instructs practitioners to (translated quote), "Inhale 10 to 15 seconds then exhale also 10 to 15 seconds".[24] He goes on to clarify, "(As) your breath strength is possibly 10 second inhalations and exhalations, you do 10, 15 seconds possible, you do 15. One hundred possible, you perform 100. 5 is possible, you do 5".[24] His son Manju Jois also recommends taking more breaths in difficult postures.[13]

Various influential figures have discussed the specific process of breathing in Ashtanga. Pattabhi Jois recommended breathing fully and deeply with the mouth closed, although he did not specifically name this as Ujjayi breathing.[23] However, Manju Jois does, and refers to breathing called "dirgha rechaka puraka, meaning long, deep, slow exhalations and inhalations. It should be dirgha... long, and like music. The sound is very important. You have to do the Ujjayi pranayama".[13] In late 2011, Sharath Jois stated that Ujjayi breathing as such was not done in the asana practice, but that asanas should be accompanied by deep breathing with sound.[25] He reiterated this notion in a conference in 2013 stating, "You do normal breath, inhalation and exhalation with sound. Ujjayi breath is a type of prāṇāyāma. This is just normal breath with free flow".[26]

As far as other types of pranayama in Ashtanga, the consensus seems to be they should be practiced after the asanas have been mastered. Pattabhi Jois originally taught pranayama to those practicing the second series, and later changed his mind, teaching pranayama after the third series.[27][28][29]

Sharath Jois recently produced a series of videos teaching alternate nostril breathing to beginners. This pranayama practice was never taught to beginners by his grandfather, and is one of the many changes Sharath has made to the Ashtanga Yoga method of instruction.[17]


Bandhas are one of the three key principles in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, alongside breath and drishti. There are three principal bandhas which are considered internal body locks:

Both Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Jois recommend practicing Mula and Uddiyana bandha even when not practicing asana. Pattabhi Jois has this to say: (translated quote) "You completely exhale, apply mulabandha and after inhaling you apply uddiyana bandha. Both bandhas are very important... After bandha practice, take (your attention) to the location where they are applied and maintain that attention at all times, while walking, talking, sleeping and when walk is finished. Always you control mulabandha".[30]

Sharath Jois says, "Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit".[18]


The Ashtanga practice is traditionally started with the following Sanskrit mantra and invocation to Patanjali:[31]

Sanskrit Translation
vande gurūṇāṁ caraṇāravinde saṁdarśita svātma sukhāvabodhe
niḥśreyase jāṅ̇galikāyamāne saṁsāra hālāhala mohaśāntyai
ābāhu puruṣākāraṁ śaṅ̇khacakrāsi dhāriṇam
sahasra śirasaṁ śvetam praṇamāmi patañjalim
I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus,
The awakening happiness of one's own-self revealed,
Beyond better, acting like the jungle physician,
Pacifying delusion, the poison of Samsara.

Taking the form of a man to the shoulders,
Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword,
One thousand heads white,
To Patanjali, I salute.

and closes with the mangala mantra:[31]

Sanskrit Translation
svastiprajābhyaḥ paripālayantāṁ nyāyena mārgeṇa mahīṁ mahīśāḥ
gobrāhmaṇebhyaḥ śubhamastu nityaṁ lokāḥ samastāḥ sukhinobhavantu
May all be well with mankind,
May the leaders of the Earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.
May there be goodness for those who know the Earth to be sacred.
May all the worlds be happy.


Pattabhi Jois claimed to have learned the system of Ashtanga from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who in turn claimed to have learned it from a supposed text called Yoga Kurunta by an otherwise unknown author, Vamama Rishi.[32] This text was imparted to Krishnamacharya in the early 1900s by his Guru, Yogeshwara Ramamohana Brahmachari. Jois insists that the text described all of the āsanas and vinyāsas of the sequences of the Ashtanga system. However, the Yoga Kurunta text is said to have been eaten by ants, so it is impossible to verify his assertions. Additionally, it is unusual that the text is not mentioned as a source in either of the books by Krishnamacharya, Yoga Makaranda (1934) and Yogāsanagalu (c. 1941).[33]

According to Manju Jois, the sequences of Ashtanga yoga were created by Krishnamcharya.[34] There is some evidence to support this in Yoga Makaranda, which lists nearly all the postures of the Pattabhi Jois Primary Series and several postures from the intermediate and advanced series, described with reference to vinyasa.[35]

There is also evidence that the Ashtanga Yoga series incorporates exercises used by Indian wrestlers and British gymnasts.[36] Recent academic research details documentary evidence that physical journals in the early 20th century were full of the postural shapes that were very similar to Krishnamacharya's asana system.[33] In particular, the flowing Surya Namaskar, which later became the basis of Krishnamacharya's Mysore style, was in the 1930s considered as exercise, not part of yoga; Surya Namaskar and Krishnamacharya's yoga were taught separately, in adjacent halls of the Mysore palace.[33]


File:Ashtanga Namaskara (cropped).JPG
Ashtanga yoga may owe its name to Ashtanga Namaskara, a pose in an early form of Surya Namaskar, rather than to any connection with Patanjali's eight-limbed yoga.[33]

Jois elided any distinction between his sequences of asanas and the eight-limbed Ashtanga Yoga (Sanskrit अष्टांग asht-anga, "eight limbs") of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. The eight limbs of Patanjali's scheme are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.[37] It was Jois's belief that asana, the third limb, must be practiced first, and only after that could one master the other seven limbs.[38] However, the name Ashtanga in Jois's usage may, suggests yoga scholar Mark Singleton, derive from the old name of Surya Namaskar in the system of dand gymnastic exercises, which was Ashtang dand, after one of the original postures in the sequence, Ashtanga Namaskara (now replaced by Chaturanga Dandasana), in which 8 body parts all touch the ground, rather than Patanjali's yoga.[33]


There is a lot of debate over the term "traditional" as applied to Ashtanga Yoga. The founder's students noted that Jois freely modified the sequence to suit the practitioner.[39] Some of the differences include the addition or subtraction of postures in the sequences,[7] changes to the vinyasa (full and half vinyasa),[27][40][41] and specific practice prescriptions to specific people.[39][42]

Several changes to the practice have been made since its conception. Nancy Gilgoff, an early student, describes many differences in the way she was taught ashtanga to the way it is taught now.[10] According to her experiences, some of the differences include: Pattabhi Jois originally left out seven postures in the standing sequence, but later assigned Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana and Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana before the Intermediate Series was given; Utkatasana, Virabhadrasana A and B, Parivritta Trikonasana, and Parivritta Parsvakonasana were not in the series at this point; and Jois did not give her vinyasa between sides of the body poses or between variations of a pose (e.g., Janu Sirsasana A, B, and C were done together, then a vinyasa. Likewise Baddha Koṇāsana, Upavishta Konasana, and Supta Konasana were also grouped together without vinyasa between them, as were Ubhaya Padangusthasana and Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana.[10]

According to Gilgoff, Pattabhi Jois prescribed practicing twice a day, primary and intermediate, with no vinyasa between sides in Krounchasana, Bharadvajasana, Ardha Matsyendrasana, Eka Pada Sirsasana, Parighasana, and Gomukhasana in the intermediate series. Shalabhasana to Parsva Dhanurasana were done in a group, with a vinyasa only at the end. Ushtrasana through Kapotasana also were done all together. The same went for Eka Pada Sirsasana through Yoganidrasana. The closing sequence included only Mudrasana, Padmasana, and Tolasana until the completion of the Intermediate sequence, when the remainder of the closing sequence was assigned. Urdhva Dhanurasana and "drop-backs" were taught after Intermediate Series. She states that the original Intermediate series included Vrishchikasana after Karandavasana and ended with Gomukhasana. She also notes that Pattabhi Jois added Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana as well as the seven headstands when another yogi asked for more; these eight postures were not part of the Intermediate Series prior to this.[10]

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on Aṣṭāṅga Yoga[edit]

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation program, held a different view of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga. According to Maharishi, Yoga in this context is the union of individual awareness with the infinite, unbounded inner self (Ātmā), and not a collection of postures and practices. In his view, Aṣṭāṅga Yoga describes the state of Yoga and not the path of Yoga — it is a philosophical description, not a “how-to manual.”[43]

Maharishi points out that Aṣṭāṅga literally means eight limbs, not eight steps as often represented. Each limb is a quality, or characteristic, of the experience of the state Yoga. (Even though several limbs have names often associated with Yoga practices — such as āsana and prānayāma — according to Maharishi these terms on their most fundamental level describe qualities of consciousness, qualities of the state of Yoga.)

For example, satya — one of the five yamas — means truth. Truth, in Maharishi’s definition, is that which does not change. In the context of the description of Yoga, it is the non-changing, stable, infinite, and immortal characteristic of the state of Yoga. It defines Yoga as a state of life that knows no change. Similarly, ahiṃsā refers to the non-violent, non-harmful quality of the inner state of Yoga, and not in this context to the practice of non-violence.[44]

In Maharishi’s view, practicing truth, or practicing non-violence, does not bring one to Yoga. Just the opposite: he taught that experiencing the state of Yoga directly allows these qualities to spontaneously grow. In this way, the eight limbs grow spontaneously as the state of Yoga (the body) grows in one’s life — as the infinite, unbounded, eternal self becomes increasingly experienced as the result of experiencing Yoga during meditation.[45]

Power Yoga[edit]

Power Yoga, taking from its Hatha Yoga roots, consists of both a standing and sitting sequences of movements linking the usage of physical movement, breath-work or pranayama (Sanskrit: प्राणायाम) and meditation. Power Yoga strikes a balance between the originating values of yoga (Sanskrit: योग) found in India and the North American societally driven demands for physical exercise.

Power Yoga is often practiced in a hot room held at a temperature approximate to 105 °F or 40.6 °C (László & Smith, 2009).

Power Yoga has been argued to be the fundamental style of Hatha yoga that allowed for cultural acceptance of yoga in North America. According to the North American Studio Alliance, 30 million people are practicing yoga in the United States of America.[citation needed] This includes practitioners not just of Power Yoga, but the entire practice of Hatha Yoga. Its popularity has led the sharing of sequences and movement across all of the following forms of Hatha Yoga.

Power Yoga sequences can vary dependent on the other Hatha Yoga knowledge held by the teacher, sometimes adhering to the Ashtanga Primary Series or working into variations thereof. Power Yoga was founded by the following people, (which except for Baptiste were all once students of K. Pattabhi Jois):

Jois disagreed with providing access to all poses to all students and referred to Larry Schultz as "The bad man of Ashtanga Yoga."[52][53][54] Jois criticized Power Yoga for "degrading the depth, purpose and method of the yoga system", thereby turning the practice of asana into what Jois considered was "ignorant bodybuilding".[55] Jois sought to distance himself from the new Power Yoga and said in a letter he wrote in 1995 to Yoga Journal Magazine: "Power is the property of God. It is not something to be collected for one's ego...The Ashtanga yoga system should never be confused with 'power yoga' or any whimsical creation which goes against the tradition of the many types of yoga shastras (scriptures). It would be a shame to lose the precious jewel of liberation in the mud of ignorant body building."[55]

Power Yoga spinoffs[edit]

Power Yoga began in the 1990s with "nearly simultaneous invention" by two students of K. Pattabhi Jois, and similar forms led by other yoga teachers.[56]

Beryl Bender Birch created what Yoga Journal calls "the original Power Yoga"[57] in 1995.[58][59]

Bryan Kest, who studied Ashtanga Yoga under K. Pattabhi Jois, and Baron Baptiste, a Bikram Yoga enthusiast, separately put their own spins on the style, and branded it. Neither Baptiste's Power Yoga nor Kest's Power Yoga are synonymous with Ashtanga Yoga. In 1995, Pattabhi Jois wrote a letter to Yoga Journal expressing his disappointment at the association between his Ashtanga Yoga, and the newly coined style "power yoga", referring to it as "ignorant bodybuilding".[55]

Risk of injury[edit]

In an article published by The Economist, it was reported that "a good number of Mr Jois's students seemed constantly to be limping around with injured knees or backs because they had received his "adjustments", yanking them into Lotus, the splits or a backbend".[60] Tim Miller, one of Jois's students, indicates that "the adjustments were fairly ferocious".[61] Injuries related to Jois's Ashtanga Yoga have been the subject of discussion in a Huffington Post article.[62]

In 2008, yoga researchers in Europe published a survey of practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga, indicating that 62 percent of the respondents had suffered at least one injury that lasted longer than one month. However, the survey lacked a control group (of similar people not subject to the treatment, such as people who had practised a different form of yoga), limiting its validity.[63][64]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Jois, Sri K. Pattabhi (2005). Sūryanamaskāra. New York: Ashtanga Yoga.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Jois, R. Sharath (2013). Aṣṭāṅga yoga anuṣṭhana. Mysore, India: KPJAYI Mysore. ISBN 978-93-5126-302-9. OCLC 883428674 [archive].<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Maehle, Gregor (2006). Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy. Doubleview, Western Australia: Kaivalya Publications. ISBN 978-0-9775126-0-7. OCLC 71245040 [archive].<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Miele, Lino (1994). Astanga Yoga: Including the Benefits of Yoga Chikitsa; I & II Series. Rome, Italy: Lino Miele.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Scott, John (2000). Ashtanga Yoga: The Definitive Step-By-Step Guide to Dynamic Yoga. Stroud: Gaia Books. ISBN 978-1-85675-181-0. OCLC 44693722 [archive].<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Swenson, David (1999). Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual. Austin, Texas: Ashtanga Yoga Productions. ISBN 978-1-891252-08-2. OCLC 65221561 [archive].<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links[edit]