Ashtanga Yoga

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Fast-paced yoga for fast-paced living; Ashtanga yoga takes traditional Hatha yoga and steps it up a notch. Referred to as the yoga of eight parts ('ashta' meaning eight and 'anga' meaning limbs), each stage requires you to synchronise your breathing with a series of postures that then paves the way for the higher levels.

Certain to get you hot under the collar by bringing you out in a healthy sweat, you’ll find Ashtanga yoga is good for weight loss, flexibility, circulation and strength, and because you spend time focusing on your posture and breathing, it can help you unwind and relax too.

How does it work

Ashtanga yoga is divided into eight spiritual practices (or limbs) which are then broken up into different levels:

  • Yama (self-restraint)
  • Niyama (observances)
  • Asana (postures)
  • Pranayama (breath control)
  • Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
  • Dharana (concentration)
  • Dhyana (meditation); and
  • Samadhi (contemplations). Each of these levels supports one another and the postures must be achieved before you can begin reaping the rewards.

If that hasn’t confused you, there are also three groups of sequences in the Ashtanga system (no-one said yoga was straightforward)!

  • The Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa) detoxifies and aligns the body
  • The Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhana) purifies the nervous system by clearing the energy systems, and
  • The Advanced Series A, B, C and D (Sthira Bhaga) uses the strength gained from the other practices.

By synchronising all of these movements with your breathing, it’s no surprise that your body starts to produce an intense internal heat and it’s this rise in temperature that purifies muscles and organs and expels those unwanted toxins. According to the teachings of Pattabhi Jois, one of the first known Ashtanga yoga practitioners, the hormones and minerals which are released when the body perspires subsequently nourish the body when the sweat is absorbed back into the skin (yummy).

At the core of Ashtanga yoga you'll find deep and even breathing. Teachers of the practise claim that when you regulate your breathing, each move should become easier to perform. It also ensures better circulation of the blood, so you’ll be left feeling as light as a feather but with a body as strong as an ox.

As with most other forms of yoga, Ashtanga is taught in classes that tend to last between 60 and 90 minutes. It’s advisable to wear loose, light or Lycra clothing and avoid wearing anything that might cause chaffing or restrict your movement, as head and shoulder stands and abdominal twists are not a rare occurrence. It’s also useful to pop in an extra top layer for the end of the session where the focus is on relaxation, and a small towel and yoga mat would go down a treat to stop that sweat spreading.

Is it for me?

People of all ages, mobility and fitness levels can benefit from yoga as it’s a holistic discipline with a low risk of injury. It can help to relieve stress, high blood pressure and insomnia because it relaxes you and because you feel less stressed and irritable, your mood will be lifted and can help get rid of that little black cloud that’s been following you around.

Because breathing is an integral part of Ashtanga yoga, your lungs will learn to open up and so is a useful treatment for asthmatics to try. By focusing on your breathing, your body will be encouraged to detox and by twisting yourself into certain positions, although you might look and feel rather odd, it will improve flexibility and feed more oxygen to the muscles to boost strength. The twists and turns also help aid digestion as essentially, by arranging yourself in various poses, you’re massaging your internal organs.

Good to know

There's evidence that some of the Ashtanga yoga series incorporates exercises used by Indian wrestlers and British gymnasts.

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