Astanga Yoga (pronounced, ashtanga) has a strong foundation of pranayama which builds heat in your body and loosens and stretches the muscles in a profound manner.
It is a system that was taught by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (pictured) which in the 1990s swept around the world, thanks in no small part to the participation of Madonna, Sting and other celebrities, but mostly because it fulfils the desire of those who enjoy a demanding and rewarding yoga practice.
It is composed of different levels. The Primary Series (known as Yoga Chikitsa) detoxifies and helps align the body. It is quite normal for a astanga practitioner to spend a number of years perfecting this, and this is the most accessible part.
The Intermediate Series (known as Nadi Shodhana) works on the physical level but more importantly is designed to cleanse and purify the subtle energy channels and centres in the body.
Finally, the Advanced Series of which there are four (known as Sthira Bhaga) take the preceding practice to a whole new level.
Watching an experienced and proficient exponent is at once an inspiring and humbling experience. The grace and latent power displayed can leave you speechless.
Astanga Yoga – Key Components Of Practice
The key components are the Ujjayi pranayama, the correct sequence of asanas, and the use of focal points and energy locks (bandhas). Together they create a powerful heat in the body. This produces a healthy detoxifying sweat.
The heat also helps with flexibility. When steel is cold, for example, it is inflexible. When it is heated it can be moulded and shaped. The heat in your body allows you to experience a greater depth in the asanas than would normally be the case.
The asanas are all linked together by the breath and the major emphasis is on the pranayama.
Astanga Yoga is now established in centres throughout the world and you should be able to find a teacher without much difficulty.
Astanga Yoga Recommended Resources:
Two dvd’s which are good starting points for those wishing to investigate and practice astanga yoga are John Scott’s Primary Series and Richard Freeman’s Ashtanga Yoga Introduction (links go to amazon.com).