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A Beginner's Guide to Ashtanga Yoga

A Beginner's Guide to Ashtanga Yoga

This week we highlight the incredible practice of Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga is a modern rigorous, disciplined, and traditional style of yoga. It is comprised of 8 limbs, with asana (the physical yoga pose limb), being a set sequence of standing and seated postures, that create inner heat, refine your focus, and challenge you physically, while keeping a single pointed focus. Basic Ashtanga sequences are well-rounded, and also feature many forward bends, the most inward facing family of yoga poses, where we meet ourselves.

If you're feeling stagnant in your practice and want to take it to the next level, or feel you're craving some consistency in your yoga practice (and maybe life), give Ashtanga a try. You might find these practices are ones you can return to over and over again, as no matter how many times you practice the Ashtanga sequence, there is benefit, power, and progress. Enjoy the challenge and power of Ashtanga yoga this week, with four unique takes and versions of this transformative and powerfully simple style of yoga.

What is Ashtanga?

Ashtanga yoga is a more disciplined and traditional style of yoga than you may be used to. The phrase Ashtanga yoga is translated as ‘eight limbed yoga’, which refers to the eight limbs of yoga, the guidelines for yogis to follow to live a more disciplined life. Ashtanga yoga focuses on the third limb of yoga, which is the asana. By practicing the asana sequence, the other seven limbs of yoga can be realised.

The Ashtanga set of postures are linked together with vinyasa to create heat in the body. Combining this with conscious breathing, Ashtanga can lead you to a place of meditation through movement. The consistent movement flow of Ashtanga will stretch and strengthen you and allow energy to flow throughout your body. There are six sequences, depending on your abilities and experience with Ashtanga yoga.

Ashtanga uses heavily sun salutations and vinyasa flow to move from one pose to another in time with your breathing. Ashtanga yoga is strongly based upon the flow of sun salutations, with vinyasa taking you between poses. It can be very hard to keep your strength and alignment while moving in i the flow. Another important aspect of Ashtanga is being connected with your breath, and moving with your breath. With lots of different things to focus on, Ashtanga can be a hard practice especially for those with more experience with slower types of yoga. The best thing about Ashtanga though, is that it never changes. So with plenty of practice you can get the hang of it in no time!

If you’re looking to start practicing Ashtanga yoga, here’s some tips for first timers.

1. Don't expect to be perfect straight away

Just like with anything else, you can’t be perfect on your first try. Part of the process of Ashtanga is learning and keeping your mind strong as you correct yourself, or get things wrong. A big lesson in Ashtanga is to accept your failures and be kind to yourself anyway, and stay strong. It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed on your first try - but keeping at it will improve your practice over the weeks, months and even years.

2. Don't try more than you’re able to

Don’t go for the more advanced series if you’re a first timer. Even the Primary Series can be tough if you’ve never practiced before. By practicing the Sun Salutations that are a kickstarter to Ashtanga practice, you can get used to the nature of the flow. Feel free to watch along with the rest of the series to get yourself acquainted with the poses and movements, and join in with the opening and closing poses. Once you know the sun salutations it’s easier to get started with the Ashtanga series.

3. Focus on the Breath

A major part of Ashtanga practice is moving with your breath. This deep method of breathing helps to tie your conscious and subconscious minds together. Think about the movement and poses in your Ashtanga Sequence as just a chance for you to breathe deeply, in and out. Once you focus on your breath, it becomes easier to get into the flow of the poses.

4. Expect to adjust

Proper alignment is important in yoga, so expect to adjust your body to the correct alignments at time. Watch the proper way to settle into a pose with correct alignment, and make sure you check in and move yourself accordingly.

5. Feel your body

The goal of practicing yoga is to feel aware of your body and movements. Mastering a pose is actually not the end goal! Instead try to become aware of how every cell in your body is feeling, and connect to it.

6. Study study study

The more you understand the Ashtanga sequences, the easier they will become. Read up on the principles of the practice, watch yoga videos and online classes, and get your head around the intentions of the practice. You’re already there by reading this blog!

Benefits of Ashtanga

There are many benefits to a regular Ashtanga practice. Once you have tried your first sequence, and have decided that Ashtanga is for you, you will benefit from:

Increase in strength

A lot of the poses in the Ashtanga Sequence will require you to bear your weight, and combining these poses with chaturanga is a great way to build up your strength and improve your muscles.

Increase in flexibility

Flexibility helps to protect our bodies from injury and recover from workouts faster. Ashtanga works to stretch your muscles and joints, releasing lactic acid from your muscles and increasing your flexibility.

Boosts your mood

We could talk for days about the ways yoga can improve your mood - it’s one of the widely recognised benefits of the practice. The way you focus on breath in Ashtanga allows you to feel calm and quiet your mind.

Increases your fitness

As Ashtanga is more active than other forms of yoga, it can count towards a cardio workout. Ashtanga increases your heart rate and breaks you out in a sweat!

By Amy Cavill

Practice Ashtanga yoga now!

Everyday Ashtanga with Blair Bradley

Ashtanga Standing Postures with Jack Cuneo

Ashtanga Primary Series with Jack Cuneo

Pranyama, Dristi, & Bandhas in Ashtanga Yoga with Alik Brundett

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