Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy

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An Indian legend tells us that, thousands of years ago, some people managed to get behind the external appearance of our physical world. These Rishis, a term that literally translates into "seers", experienced an eternal, divine truth. Inspired by this new perspective on the world which changed everything, they searched for ways to share their experiences with other people. However, the essence is beyond the intellect and therefore cannot be described with words. The Rishis began to pass on the rhythms of the world condensed into chants to a new generation of people. In this way, the roots of the yoga tradition began to form.

Over time, some rhythms and chants turned into the texts of the Vedas, but many others have never been laid down in writing. They were exclusively passed on orally from generation to generation — as was the mystical experience of yoga.

Some rhythms and chants did not even use language since the real experience cannot be expressed with words. Those who immerge themselves in the practice of Ashtanga Yoga become part of this vivid tradition.


The dynamic practice of Ashtanga Yoga is a chant expressed by body and breaths which mirrors the rhythm of the world. By way of continuous practice, the key to this immediate experience is passed on. Over time, thousands of yogis have experienced the wisdom behind this dance of the breath with the body. We are in an Ashtanga Yoga class.

Ashtanga Yoga for Beginners - Half Primary Series

The traditional teaching form is called Mysore Style. It is named after the town of Mysore, located in the South of India. From here, Ashtanga Yoga spread all over the world. Mysore Style means that each participant practices within the framework of the Ashtanga Yoga system but, depending on personal abilities and needs, adapts it accordingly. To do so, the student is individually taught exercise by exercise by their teacher.

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In the very first classes, students are shown only a short series of motions, which they afterwards repeat until they are more and more familiar with them. Over the course of time, the teacher assists students in recognizing certain details; others will become obvious during the practice. When the student is ready, the teacher extends the practice series by adding new movements to those already known. Thus, step by step, a comprehensive and more complex yoga practice develops. In this way, the practitioner can gradually develop a deeper and deeper understanding of Ashtanga Yoga.

The European Fitness Movement Basically, yoga is inseparably connected to the Fitness Movement which started in Europe at the end of the 19th century and promoted the ideals of a healthy body and mind. At this time, physical training became part of holistic personal development in Europe. Within the framework of this movement, several types of gymnastics developed as well as sports associations and a veritable fitness cult. Starting in England, organizations such as the YMCA and the CVJM began to spread the "new" conception of the human being, especially that of the physical body until it finally also reached the colonies.

In India, there were soon first attempts not only to emulate the West but to counter developments there with an authentic Indian type of gymnastics.

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The time was right for a holistic Indian practice system affirming the body which was both spiritually and physically oriented. The lost tradition of Hatha Yoga This development was reason enough for Krishnamacharya to search for the lost line of tradition in India. As early as in the 6th century, a spiritual practice system which also integrated the body began to form in India.

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It was based on tantric philosophy and soon known under the name Hatha Yoga. From the Indian Middle Ages onwards, though, this practiced was mostly subdued. In India, the tradition was therefore considered lost. It is said that only nine masters practiced and taught in it before it fell into oblivion without any students.

Tibetan lines of tradition However, in Tibet, we find proof of a continuation of the line of tradition dating back to approximately the 8th century. The texts of this Tibetan yoga complement the mostly static Indian exercises — motion, breath and concentration are combined to form a comprehensive practice. At the foot of Mt. Kailash For Krishnamacharya, it was therefore a matter of course to go to the Himalaya to search for the vivid tradition of a practice system which also integrated the physical body.

It is said that, in , he spent three months erring through the mountains until, at the foot of Mt. Kailash in Tibet, he found his teacher Ramamohan Brahmachari and spent the following seven and a half years with him in order to learn more and to thus become part of an ancient but still vivid tradition. During these years, Krishnamacharya learned the dynamic practice series, strictly guarded techniques and profound philosophy from his teacher.

Mysore from onwards Having returned from the solitude of the mountains, Krishnamacharya lived in Mysore from onwards.

Ashtanga Yoga: Practice And Philosophy

It is there that the began to pass on the dynamic practice system we today know under the name Ashtanga Yoga. Pattabhi Jois and B. Iyengar are among the students who spent years with him. When Krishnamacharya left Mysore in Mysore, both stayed in the city and continued both his teaching and the tradition. Ultimately, their students in turn brought Ashtanga Yoga to the West. This was the starting point for the era of dynamic yoga in the West.

Ashtanga Yoga was passed on, practiced, experienced. The raw form from India was complemented by details and became more sophisticated.

The Philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga

Techniques for adjustments and anatomical alignment were perfected. Different teacher set different foci within the practice system. Multi-layered and opalescent, like a multi-dimensional web, Ashtanga Yoga today spans the entire globe and connects yogis from all over the world with each other. Maybe, Ashtanga Yoga is like yoghurt ferment.

If a little ferment is added to the milk, the bacteria in the milk will turn it into yoghurt. No matter in which country the ferment is added to the milk, the outcome will always be the same.


Still, the yoghurt will always taste a little different. The ferment stays the same, but the milk changes. Likewise, Ashtanga Yoga also always has a slightly different flavor, but in the end, it stays Ashtanga Yoga. If you attempt something out of sequence, the teacher will have a harder time helping you in the appropriate way. If you have trouble with a particular posture, the teacher can offer you a modification that is consistent with the intention of the practice. One by one also means that once you are given a new posture, you practice the sequence through until you get to that posture, then wind down your practice with backbends if appropriate and the finishing sequence.

The teacher will give you the next posture in the sequence when she feels it is appropriate for you. When you practice yoga in the Mysore-style setting, it is important to wait for the teacher to give you each new posture. The act of waiting gives your teacher the opportunity to teach you the posture correctly or adjust you in it.

Waiting also is an opportunity to express respect for your teacher and the practice. The longer you do this practice, the more you will realize that yoga knowledge is a gift from your teacher—the way that yoga is a gift to humankind from the sage Patanjali. In India, a student has only one teacher or guru, so there is no issue of which teacher is in charge. A visiting teacher may allow you to progress farther in the series than you have in your daily practice. However, your regular teacher is usually the more accurate judge of the dedication and intention of your practice, so it is better to follow their instruction when you return to your daily practice.

Likewise, when you travel and attend Mysore-style classes taught in other yoga studios, the protocol is to stop and wait for the teacher to give you postures beyond the Primary Series or whatever is your posture in your daily practice. If you get confused about the correct sequence of postures or need help with a particular posture, you should let your teacher know at any point during the practice.

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It will not take long, and you will memorize your practice easily provided you are consistent, methodical, and disciplined. If you are new to Ashtanga or accustomed to led classes, the Mysore-style setting can seem strange at first.

Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy
Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy
Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy
Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy
Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy
Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy
Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy
Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy
Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy

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