Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:
Yama – ethical practice
Niyama – observances
Asana – posture
Pranayama – extension of the breath
Pratyahara – abstraction of the senses
Dharana – concentration
Dhyana – meditation
Samadhi – deep meditation in which all sense of subject and object dissolve
Ashtanga Yoga asana practice is an intensive Hatha Yoga practice with focus on strength, stamina and flexibility. The traditional system, as taught by Sri K. Patthabi Jois, is renowned for its Vinyasa (movement breathing system) style. This method of Yoga involves synchronizing the breath with movement and postures, a process producing internal heat and a purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.
A series of asanas (positions) are taught in a specified order which give the body a physical workout connected with rhythmic breathing, Bandhas (internal energy locks), and Dristi (precise gazing points) – helping one to attain a focused practice bringing about the union of body and mind, one of the ultimate goals of yoga.
The first series of Ashtanga asanas, called Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy, strengthens the body externally, cleanses the body internally and increases flexibility. For the beginner, it is a unique challenging fitness system. With further practice, it is a meditative flow, deeply effecting your energy level.