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Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of yoga that was taught by Vaman Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by Guru Rama Brahmachari ( a teacher living in a cave in Tibet) and was later passed to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927. ( Sri K. Pattabhi Jois died in 2009  at the age of 94).
Pattabhi Jois visited the United States from his home at Mysore, India in the mid-70‘s. He taught a small group in the beginning including: Tim Miller and David Swenson.  These are two teachers I enjoy practicing with as often as I can. Tim Miller lives and teaches in Encinitas, CA. I study with him almost yearly in Columbus, OH. David lives in Austin, TX and travels around the country and the world giving workshops. In spring of 2005 I had the pleasure of being with Pattabhi Jois for a week in Encinitas, CA. He was always smiling and encouraging you to practice, practice. “Practice and all will come."

Ashtanga yoga: Ashta - eight and anga - limb and yoga - union

Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, described the eight aspects of yoga as limbs of a tree. Many times it is imagined as a wheel. The eight points are always the same:

Yama - ethical discipline
Niyama - self observation
Asana - posture
Pranayama- breath control
Pratyahara - sense withdrawal
Dharana - concentration
Dhyana - meditation
Samadhi - state of joy and peace

The first main component of the practice of Ashtanga yoga is Vinyasa. This is breathing and movement  simultaneously. There is no movement or stillness without pranayama moving through you. Vinyasa is a combination of movements held together with the breath. Another way to think of this is that the Vinyasa is the movement in the practice and the  pause in the practice is the postures...which are held steady for five full breaths.
Vinyasa is moving through plank and down to a steady pose, from head to toes, about a forearm’s length from the floor. It is reaching the heart to the sky and then reaching the hips high in the air to settle the heels back toward the floor. All of this happens with the in and out movement of your life force. You are heating your are burning your flame brighter. The blood becomes hot. Thick blood is dirty and causes disease in the body. The heat created from this yoga cleans the blood and makes it run smoothly. It circulates freely around the joints and takes away body pains. The blood moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and disease. Ease is returned to the body.
After the body is purified it is possible to purify the nervous system and then the sense organs. You begin to discern the way you eat...move...think...react.
Besides practicing the asanas you find you are practicing at the same time pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, and finally dhyana. I haven’t experienced Samadhi yet...but I feel if gratitude is on the same path then I am on my way. Remember, “Practice and all will come.” So simple.

So as we work with the body we hold our attention in three places: Breathing with Bandhas, Dristhi, and Asana.
The asana is the pose or posture the body is moving into and staying for five breaths. They strengthen and give flexibility to the body. They open all the joints in the body slowly. How you felt in the posture yesterday might be different than today or tomorrow. This teaches you to check on the edges, release expectations and dispel any negativity.

As you are in the postures you look and see a point: the dristhi. This point steadies your mind. Without distractions you can feel and look inside.

As the breath flows you reach deep and find small muscles at the base of your being. You reach in with the exhalation and gently lift your mula bandha. This lifts your pelvic floor and tethers you to the earth. Along with this you find the spot above the pubic bone and feel this tunneling in toward the back. You lower back is safe. With uddiyana bandha your energy reaches higher. It seems almost magically things begin to occur. You begin to feel the lightness of being. All things can be possible.

Another vital aspect of internal purification that Pattabhi Jois taught relates to the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart. It is said that God dwells in our heart as light, but this light is covered by six poisons.

Kama - desire
Drodha - anger
Moha - delusion
Lobha - greed
Matsarya - envy
Mada - sloth.

When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over long periods of time. The heat generated from it burns away these poisons and the light of our inner nature shines forth. 

Ashtanga yoga is a self-empowering process which instills within its practitioners a deep internal knowledge and confidence of the subtle workings of our being. The asanas are arranged in a time-tested sequence to specifically align the body and strengthen the nervous system. You begin by feeling the knots of tension and then unraveling all the knots. Old injuries and weak muscles are found. Old emotions stored within come out as emotional releases. Yes, this is your work to find a new way of being.

With any healing process we must be patient and determined. We feel gratitude at standing on the mat and beginning for the sake of beginning. Patience is a quality that will allow time for your practice to mature for all the fruits to present themselves to you. and