Ashtanga Yoga - The Royal Path of Yoga
Whenever I'm asked 'What yoga do you do?' I find it hard to answer succinctly. Not because I don't know but because it really depends on what you mean by 'yoga'.
Invariably rather than discussing the deeper aspects of yoga (more my kinda thing if I'm honest) the conversation often veers towards the different styles of physical or Hatha Yoga. Iyengar? Bikram? Vinyasa Flow? Vini? Dru? Anusara? Ashtanga? I don't have any particular problem with any school of yoga (unless you get me on a bad day) but I do have a problem with this narrow view of yoga.
Like you probably, I went to my first yoga class expecting some nice gentle stretches and relaxation. I was depressed, feeling a bit lost and in need of something. Friends had recommended yoga to me for at least 10 years before I finally set foot in a yoga centre. The sudden death of my brother in 1998 was the straw that broke the camel's back of my resistance and the yoga centre I walked into was Innergy Yoga Centre in North Kensington, London (sadly no more). Luckily the walls were full of inspiring words from the wise man running and teaching there called Faustomaria Dorelli. These words opened up the other areas of yoga that I never knew existed - Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga. It was here that I learnt about Raja Yoga (literally Royal Yoga), also known as Ashtanga Yoga, which literally means 'Eight Limbs'. No not yoga for spiders but a systematic approach to the science of self-realisation.
I have nothing against the physical practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga but I am often dismayed by the number of Ashtanga Yogis who know nothing of the origins of Ashtanga, the eight limbed path of Patanjali's Raja Yoga.
So here is my brief introduction to the eight limbs of the real Ashtanga Yoga.
1, Yamas - Literally this means things to refrain from - violence, lying, over indulgence, attachment, stealing.
2, Niyamas - Literally this means things to observe and practice - purity, contentment, austerity (timely, huh?), worship and studying.
3, Asana - Having a stable seat for meditation. The physical practice of yoga is not expounded in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali but it certainly helps this. Being still and straight for some time is no easy feat.
4, Pranayama - Controlling the breath and the flow of prana (energy) in the body leading to the expansion of energy and purification of the body and improved control of the mind.
5, Pratyhara - Withdrawing the senses inward. Not being pulled by the sensory world.
6, Dharana - Relaxed concentration which leads to …
7, Dhyana - Meditation. Being one-pointed and still for some time which leads to …
8, Samadhi - Enlightenment. Realising you true nature. The inner peace that is at your centre waiting to be revealed.
The limbs are often taught sequentially but in practice are interconnected.
I will be running a workshop that looks into Ashtanga next year. Let me know if you're interested in learning more. And if you know someone who practises Ashtanga please share this with them in good faith.