Everything You Need to Know About Ashtanga Yoga
This form of yoga uses a set order of poses for a full-body and mind workout.
Finding an exercise routine that makes you both calm and physically strong is easier than you might think, especially when you consider Ashtanga yoga. Similar to Vinyasa yoga and power yoga, Ashtanga takes a more structured approach to a yoga flow—it focuses on specific poses, in a particular order. According to Heather Peterson, chief yoga officer for CorePower Yoga, Ashtanga lineage was taught originally by Sri Krishnamacharya, who then passed the teaching to Patthabi Jois, who taught the practice in the beginning of the 20th century.
Here, yoga instructors and experts share what you need to know about Ashtanga yoga before you begin your first class.
What Is Ashtanga Yoga?
Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic approach to practicing postures, or asanas, explains Eddie Stern, a yoga instructor and author from New York City. "It is energetic, vigorous, and can create great levels of focus, endurance, and mobility in those who practice it."
Peterson says that Ashtanga yoga is a system of poses based on Sun Salutations A and B, but even more than that, it's a set system of poses each time you practice. "You can move quickly through poses at times and then hold more advanced poses," she says. "Poses can be held from five to 45 seconds depending on the part of the series you are in and the difficulty of the pose." You might've heard that Ashtanga yoga is more difficult than other practices, which is due, in part, to the type's rigorous nature. "The progression to more advanced poses and the discipline of the routine married with the timing of the movements creates the challenge in Ashtanga yoga," says Peterson.
How Is Ashtanga Yoga Different Than Vinyasa?
Ashtanga yoga is based on the principle of vinyasa. "The distinction between Ashtanga yoga and Vinyasa yoga is that Ashtanga yoga's sequences are for the most part fixed like you might find in martial arts, and Vinyasa yoga is more free form," says Stern. "You also will not find the same level of complicated asanas in Vinyasa yoga, so it is a little more accessible on a general scale." If you're wondering how far back Ashtanga yoga goes, Stern says it's a relatively recent creation, "and though the technical term Vinyasa is from the Hindu tradition, Vinyasa yoga, as it is being taught in the West, is not from India, but uses poses from yoga in its own, unique, hybrid practice."
Peterson says that many Ashtanga yoga poses are very similar to Vinyasa yoga, like Sun Salutations, "but Vinyasa tends to be more intuitive and creative with adapting current bio-mechanical and physical therapy understandings for training the body. In a Vinyasa class you might find poses that your instructor has created or a flow that is based on new training concepts and Ashtanga will be the same system of poses taught by Patthabi Jois," she says.
What Are the Health Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga?
Anyone who does yoga knows that the benefits can be vast, no matter the type of yoga you practice. "The benefits of all yogas are generally the same: reduced stress, increased focus, deeper levels of insight and connection to our sense of self, improved levels of patience and a lowering of emotional flare-ups, improvements in physical and physiological health, greater levels of happiness and enthusiasm, and reduced anxiety," says Stern. "Ashtanga yoga has added benefits of increased strength, mobility, and endurance because of its vigorous nature, but you can find this in other systems of yoga, too."