The term Ashtanga Vinyasa refers to a style of physical yoga, codified in the 20th century by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois who is considered the founder of this style. The addition of the term « vinyasa » differentiates it from Ashtanga yoga as the eightfold path.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois established in 1948 the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India, dedicated to the teaching of this practice.
Pattabhi Jois organized the asanas taught to him by his own teacher T. Krishnamacharya, in six series. Each series comprises a fixed order of postures and one series leads to the next.
The six series are the following:
- Primary series (Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy)
- Intermediate series (Nadi Shodhana or purification of the nervous system)
- Advanced A or third series
- Advanced B or fourth series
- Advanced C or fifth series
- Advanced D or sixth series
The teacher, whose role is key in Ashtanga Yoga, decides when the student is ready to pass from one asana to the next and also from one series to the next.
The term Mysore style, coming from the city Mysore in India where Ashtanga Yoga was first taught, refers to a teaching style where each student, having memorized the series, performs the asanas without being led by a teacher, in a room full of students called « shala ». The role of the teacher is to provide guidance, teach new postures and perform physical adjustments to help students go deeper into the asanas.
The term Tristhana refers to the three main points of focus in Ashtanga Yoga: breathing, vinyasa and gaze (drishti).
The breathing must be slow and deep with the inhales and exhales done by the nose, and producing sound.
- Connection of breathing and asana: Vinyasa
Vinyasa means moving with the breath. In Ashtanga Yoga, every movement has its own breath, inhale or exhale and the practitioner learns the vinyasa together with the asanas: breath and movement become one and ideally it is the breathing that guides the movement and not the opposite. The more the practitioner masters the breathing/movement connection, the more the practice becomes fluid and effortless, a moving meditation.
Gaze (drishti in Sanskrit), or the place where we look at while performing an asana is very important in Ashtanga Yoga. As the eyes focus on a particular spot, the mind also slowly becomes focused and still.
The purpose of performing asana and moving with the breath in a fluid way is to burn away toxins by the internal heat that is generated. According to Pattabhi Jois, with the heat and the sweat the blood becomes hot and boils, toxins are removed and the body becomes healthy and vigorous.