The Eight Limbs of Yoga which lead to enlightenment are:
- Asana or physical practice
- Dharana or concentration
- Dhyana or contemplation
- Niyama or ethical discipline
- Pranayama or breath/energy work
- Pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses
- Samadhi or enlightenment
- Yama or ethical behavior toward others
Ashtanga Yoga: Ujai, Bandha, Drishti
At the core of Ashtanga yoga is a particular breathing style called the “ujai breath,” also referred to as ‘free breathing with sound’ since when performed correctly, the breath will produce an ocean sound in the throat. The ujai breath is coordinated with yoga movements, which consist of linked poses that lead toward meditation.
Bandha, which means lock or seal, refers to muscle locking and contraction in Ashtanga yoga. Working on the bandhas unlocks blocked energy, improves circulation, and brings strength and healing to the body. There are three types of bandhas:
- Mūla Bandha – tightening the muscles around the pelvic and perineum area
- Uḍḍīyāna Bandha – contracting the muscles of the lower abdominal area; this is considered the most important bandha since it leads to strong core muscles and supports breathing
- Jālaṅdhara Bandha (or throat lock) – prevents pressure buildup and escape of pranic energy when holding the breath
Drishti, or specific gaze points, is yet another principle of Ashtanga yoga. Derived from the Sanskrit root “drs” meaning ‘to see,’ dristhi is a focused gaze used to develop concentrated intention. Each pose or asana is associated with one of nine drishtis used to stabilize the functioning of the mind.
The combination of ujai, bandha, and drishti is referred to as Tristana and works on three levels: the body, the mind, and the nervous system.
Typical Ashtanga Yoga Class
Since it is fast-paced with a lot of movement and has a focus on developing strength and stamina rather than on meditation, many athletes are attracted to Ashtanga. Classes begin with a warm-up of 10 Sun Salutations, followed by seated postures and mini-sun salutations (vinyasa) which fluidly link the postures and help the body go into deeper poses. The constant moving works not only the muscles but helps quiet the mind.
Although the yoga classes take place in an above-average heated room, a ‘no drinking’ policy is often in effect during Ashtanga, which works to ‘build a fire’ in you, whereas drinking water would put the fire out. To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of water before your Ashtanga yoga class.
Ashtanga Yoga Sequence
The primary series consists of the following sequence of poses:
- 5 Sun Salutation As
- 5 Sun Salutation Bs
- Standing Sequence
- Seated Postures
- Closing Sequence
Ashtanga Yoga Benefits
Ashtanga Yoga provides the following many benefits to the body, mind, and spirit:
- Improved circulation
- Release of muscle tension
- Strength and flexibility
- Internal organ massage
- Boosts immune system
- Balances the nervous system
- Lowers blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels
- Invites deep stillness
- Calms restless thoughts
- Improves mental clarity
- Increases self-awareness and self-acceptance
- Brings about inner peace