How can Ashtanga yoga nourish your soul?
Ashtanga is a variety of Vinyasa yoga popularised by Sri K Pattabhi Jois in the mid-20th century. The word ‘Vinyasa’ refers to the way breathing is synchronised with the poses, especially through the fluid transitions from one asana to the next.
The word ‘Ashtanga’ means ‘eight limbs’ and refers to the eight key practices of traditional Ashtanga yoga as described in ancient Indian philosophical texts. This style is sometimes called Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, and includes six prescribed sets of poses, or asanas, which follow a specific sequence.
Benefits of Ashtanga yoga
As with other forms of yoga, one of the chief benefits of Ashtanga yoga is improved flexibility. This is one of the reasons why yoga is practised by many athletes as part of their exercise routines. It also enhances your physical strength, and Ashtanga yoga has also been reported to improve muscle tone and reduce body fat.
The benefits are not only physical, but also mental and emotional. Since Ashtanga yoga requires a lot of focus, this can help you practise taking control of your concentration, and learning to keep your attention on the present moment. The Ashtanga style is reported to support a highly concentrated and effective frame of mind known as the ‘flow state’. Ashtanga has also been instrumental in studies which suggest it can meaningfully support treatment for psychological conditions including anxiety and depression.
Ashtanga yoga may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Back pain
- Balance, stability and coordination
- Blood pressure
- Brain fog and clarity
- Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
- Concentration, focus and problem solving
- Confidence and self-esteem
- Digestive and gastrointestinal issues
- Energy and vitality
- Flexibility, endurance and strength
- IBS and bowel disorders
- Immunity issues
- Insomnia and sleep disorders
- Memory and cognitive function
- Mental health
- Mobility and movement
- Muscle spasm, tightness and cramps
- Nervous system and neurological conditions
- Pain relief
- Posture and spine issues
- Respiratory and breathing issues
- Stress and tension
- Weight control and obesity
What to expect from an Ashtanga yoga session
You can learn Ashtanga yoga in a class setting or book an instructor for a one-on-one session. Practitioners are encouraged to memorise each series, which means that once you become proficient in the style, you can choose to practise Ashtanga yoga at home. It is widely regarded as a vigorous and athletic style, but many instructors offer Ashtanga yoga for beginners which focuses on the first series of poses (known as the ‘primary series’).
The strenuous nature of Ashtanga Vinyasa is associated with a risk of muscular injuries, however this risk is estimated to be very low, averaging a reported 1.8 injuries per 1,000 hours of yoga practice.
To reduce that risk further, ask your yoga instructor about their qualifications and experience, and if you haven’t done yoga before, don’t be shy to ask them about their approach to Ashtanga yoga for beginners. Your instructor will be happy to talk to you about your concerns, and explore the implications of any pre-existing injuries or other health conditions that might affect you.
An Ashtanga session will usually take about 60-90 minutes, and practising at least three times a week is recommended for best results. An instructor will guide you through the different poses and correct your form to help you perfect the routine if you consent to this.
As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing Ashtanga yoga. If you have an injury or other health issue, or any concerns at all, also speak to your yoga instructor, who will be happy to address these and advise you on how to approach your practise of Ashtanga yoga.