Ashtanga Yoga

History of Ashtanga Yoga

The Ashtanga yoga has its roots in the ancient Hindu mythological text known as Yoga Korunta. Apparently, there is an element of Ashtanga Yoga in exercises of British gymnasts and Indian wrestlers. 

Ashtanga Yoga Introduction

Ashtanga refers to the Sanskrit word which means “eight limbs”.  This is a reference to the eight limbs of yoga which are described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The interpretation of this yoga form into the modern version was mainly done by Krishnamacharya and Sri K Pattabhi Jois. In the year 1958, Pattabhi Jois published his work on Ashtanga Yoga known as Yoga Mala. There are six stages of Ashtanga yoga mentioned in this treatise.

Stages of Ashtanga Yoga

Yoga Chikitsa: This is the first stage which is actually a therapeutic stage. During this initial stage, there is a realignment of the spine, detoxification of the body and building up of flexibility, stamina and strength. The full version contains around 75 poses and takes up to two hours to complete.

Nadi Shodana: This stager refers to purification of the nervous system. It involves cleansing and strengthening of the nervous system and the purification of the energy channels which exist throughout the body. This series of poses is taken up once the earlier stage is being performed well.

Sthira Bhaga: This is the advanced form which is divided into four distinct stages. Initially, there were two stages, but they got further subdivided into four stages, thereby making them available to more people. These exercises have some difficult arm poses, and are performed by very advanced students only. 

Form of Ashtanga Yoga classes

Several yoga studios offer the system of “led” Ashtanga classes which means that the teacher will lead the class and then instruct the students in the order of the poses which would be in the primary or secondary series. A typical Ashtanga studio is also known as a shala which will be closed twice a month for moon days. Once the students become familiar with the poses, they may choose the Mysore or self-led practice. This gives the students a considerable degree of independence. These students can be seen practicing alongside other students but will consult a teacher only as and when they require it. Ashtanga is also a good form of yoga to adopt if you are looking to practice yoga at home.

The Philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga: The Eight Limbs

Ashtanga Yoga is not just a set of physical exercises – it is an approach to life itself. The eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga are given below:

  1. Yamas: These are five which are also known as the universal vows or the Sarvabhauma maha vratas. The five yamas are:
    • Ahimsa (non-violence)
    • Satya (truthfulness)
    • Asteya (non-stealing)
    • Brahmacharya (celibacy)
    • Aparigraha (non-covetousness)
  2.  Niyamas: These elements basically give the guidance as to how to interact with one’s own internal world. There are five Niyamas:
    • Shaucha (purity)
    • Santosha (contentment)
    • Tapa (austerity)
    • Swadhyaya (self-education)
    • Ishwar-Pranidhan (meditation on the Divine)
  3. Yogasanas: Under this category, there are five functions:
    • Conative
    • Cognitive
    • Mental
    • Intellectual
    • Spiritual
  4. Pranayama: This category contains eight subdivisions:
    • Sahita Kumbhaka
    • Surya Bhedi
    • Ujjayi
    • Sitali
    • Bhastrika
    • Bhramari
    • Murchha
    • Kewali
  5. Pratyahara:  This is quite an abstract branch of Ashtanga yoga which involves management of the senses and transcending beyond, instead of suppressing and shutting them out. 
  6. Dharana: This involves a state of meditation wherein the powers of concentration get extended. 
  7. Dhyana: This technique involves development of the ability to magnify concentration levels such a point that distraction is impossible. It is a state of mind rather than a mere technique.
  8. Samadhi: This is the ultimate stage of yogic perfection. Samadhi embodies the absolute meaning of yoga – the perfect balance between the individual and the universal soul.


Ashtanga yoga shows the way to a well-balanced life. It integrates the physical with the emotional and spiritual aspects of an individual. If this form of yoga is performed properly it will lead to a better overall quality of life.