Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

The Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a style of yoga codified and spread by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) during the 20th century.


Ashtanga, as described by the sage Patanjali, means eight limbs or branches:


  • Yama: Moral Codes - Ahimsa (non violence, non forcing, compassion for everything), Satya (being genuine, honest, commitment to the truth), Asteya (not taking what is not freelely given, not stealing, generosityBrahmacarya (containment of energy, continence, religious studentship, behaviour that respects the Divine as omnipresent), Aparigrahah (non-possessiveness, non-grasping,  non-greediness, non acquisitiveness)

  • Niyama: Self Observation - Shoucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapah (austerity), Svadhyaya (self study), Ishvarapranidhanani (self surrender).

  • Asana: posture

  • Pranayama: breathing techniques

  • Pratyahara: sense withdrawal

  • Dharana: concentration

  • Dhyana: meditation

  • Samadhi: state of joy and peace

Vinyasa means breathing and movement system. 

The purpose of Vinyasa is to purify the internal system. Breathing and moving together while performing asana makes the blood hot. According to Sri Pattabhi Joys, thick blood is dirty and causes disease in the body. The combination of the asana with movement and breath make the blood circulate freely around all the joints, taking away the body pain. When there is a lack of circulation, pain occurs. The heated blood also moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and disease, which are brought out of the body by the sweat that occurs during practice.

Yoga is a Sanskrit words derived from the root "yuj" which means yoke. Yoga can be literally defined a yoke between the Individual and Universal soul.

Yoga is one among the six schools ( NyayaVaisheshikaSamkhyaYogaMīmāṃsā and Vedanta) Indian philosophy. Yoga is a way of life, an approch to the life and its challenges. The philosophy of Yoga discusses about the deeper meanings of concepts such as the goal of life, inner self and its functions, scientific ways of purification of the spirit inside and so on.


The source of the Yoga philosophy is Yoga Sutras of  Patanjali. He codified,  or compiled in a systematic way, the art and science of Yoga for Self - Realization. Nothing new was created with the Yoga Sutras, but rather the ancient practices were summarized in an extremely organized and terse way. While the Yoga Sutras itself is ancient, archaeological evidence and other texts suggest that the methods described in the Yoga Sutras were being practiced as early as  3000 BCE.

Yoga sutras has 4 chapters:

  1. Samadhi Pada:  it is about enlightenment

  2. Sadhana Pada: it contains instructions for our practice

  3. Vibhuti Pada: it instructs us about the progression of our practice

  4. Kaivalya Pada: it is about liberation

Photo Credit: Andara Stars

Tristana: this means the three places of attention or action: posture (Asana), breathing system (Pranayama) and looking place (Dristhi). These three are very important for yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind. They are always performed in conjunction with each other.

Asana purify, strngthen and give flexibility to the body.

Breathing is rechaka (inhalation) and puraka (exhalation). Both of them should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale.

Long even breaths will strengthen our internal fir, increasing heat in the body which in turn heats the blood for physical purification, and burns away impurities in the nervous system as well. Uneven inhalation and exhalation, or breathing too rapidly, will imbalance the beating of heart, throwing off both the physical body and autonomic nervous system.


Important components of the breathing system are the Bandhas. There are three principal bandhas which are considered internal body locks:

These are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal fire. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit. When mula bandha is perfect, mind control is automatic.

Dristi: is where you focus your eyes while in the asana. In the ashtanga yoga method, there is a prescribed point of focus for every asana. There are nine dristhis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side.


Opening mantra:






vande gurūṇāṁ caraṇāravinde saṁdarśita svātma sukhāvabodhe

niḥśreyase jāṅ̇galikāyamāne saṁsāra hālāhala mohaśāntyai

ābāhu puruṣākāraṁ śaṅ̇khacakrāsi dhāriṇam

sahasra śirasaṁ śvetam praṇamāmi patañjalim


which is roughly translated into English as:

I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus,
The awakening happiness of one's own self revealed,
Beyond better, acting like the jungle physician,
Pacifying delusion, the poison of Samsara.

Taking the form of a man to the shoulders,
Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword,
One thousand heads white,
To Patanjali, I salute.

Closing mantra

svastiprajābhyaḥ paripālayantāṁ nyāyena mārgeṇa mahīṁ mahīśāḥ

gobrāhmaṇebhyaḥ śubhamastu nityaṁ lokāḥ samastāḥ sukhinobhavantu


which is roughly translated into English as:

May all be well with mankind,
May the leaders of the Earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.
May there be goodness for those who know the Earth to be sacred.
May all the worlds be happy.

Photo Credit: Andara Stars

Origin of Ashtanga Yoga: Pattabhi Jois claimed to have learned the system of Ashtanga from Sri T. Krishnamcharya, who learned it from a text called Yoga Kurunta by Vamama Rishi. This text was imparted to Krishnamacharya in the early 1900s by his Guru, Yogeshwara Ramamohana Brahmachari. 

Mysore StyleThe term Mysore style comes from the city Mysore, in Karnataka, India, where Pattabhi Jois and T. Krishnamcharya taught. Students are expected to memorize a sequence and practice in the same room as others without being led by the teacher. The role of the teacher is to guide as well as provide adjustments or assists in postures.Twice per week Mysore-style classes are substituted with led classes, where the teacher takes a group through the same series at the same time. However, it should be noted the inclusion of 2 led classes per week was only included in P. Jois' senior years.

Sequences and Series: Usually an Ashtanga practice begins with five repetitions of Surya Namaskara A and five repetitions of Surya Namaskara B, followed by a standing sequence. Following this the practitioner begins one of six series, followed by what is called the closing sequence. The six series are:

  1. The Primary series: Yoga Chikitsa, Yoga for Health or Yoga Therapy

  2. The Intermediate series: Nadi Shodhana, The Nerve Purifier (also called the Second series)

  3. The Advanced series: Sthira Bhaga, Centering of Strength

  1. Advanced A, or Third series

  2. Advanced B, or Fourth series

  3. Advanced C, or Fifth series

  4. Advanced D, or Sixth series .

Nancy Gilgoff reports that originally there were four series on the Ashtanga syllabus: Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, and Advanced B. A fifth series of sorts was the "Rishi series", which Guruji said could be done once a practitioner had "mastered" these four.