Ashtanga yoga is one of the oldest forms of yoga. It was first recorded in ancient Indian manuscripts, but brought to life by K. Pattabhi Jois in 1948. After leading the yoga philosophy department at the Sanskrit College of Mysore from 1937-1973, Jois established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India which became training grounds for yoga teachers from the West.
Ashtanga, which literally translates to eight-limbed yoga, is influenced by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the principles and basic teachings of yoga outlined in 196 short versus called “sutras”. These eight limbs which make up the practice of yoga, or union of the soul with the divine, includes yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi.
Asana, Sanskrit for “posture”, is but one aspect of the path that most Westerners have come to know as yoga. Jois’s Ashtanga yoga is indeed bedded in tradition than trend, and it is known for its challenging nature. The Ashtanga technique is concerned with linking breath and movement, referred to as vinyasa. The advanced practice utilizes the dristi, the gaze, as a form of concentration and the bandhas, internal body locks, which assist in holding some of the more labored poses. There’s nothing fancy about the Ashtanga practice – no props, music, or extraneous instruction. The emphasis is in remaining present in the moment. Ashtanga yoga encourages the practice of all eight-limbs taught in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, however, leading to the ultimate “goal” of self-realization.