Ashtanga Yoga

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Female yogi doing the downward facing dog pose. Wearing grey leggings and a white top
Downward facing dog pose

“Ashtanga yoga” translates as “the eight limbs of yoga”, and originates from Mysore, India.

The eight limbs of yoga are outlined in the Yoga Sutras by Pantanjali (400CE). This ancient yogic text lays down the theory and importance of yoga practice whilst outlining strict moral and ethical guidelines to follow throughout life.

This strict discipline can be seen and felt in any Ashtanga class. The set series of moves (set flow sequence) appeal to the rule-follower and the fast pace requires mental discipline and focus. Ashtanga yoga requires strength, determination, and a lot of will-power. For this reason, ashtanga yoga is also sometimes referred to as “power yoga”.

Ashtanga’s closest comparative would probably be Vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa yoga is known for being a strong practice characterized by a smooth transition of postures, synchronized with the breath. Ashtanga yoga also links movement with breath, however, the postures follow a classical set series. In comparison, Vinyasa yoga is less rigid and its teachers are free to pick and choose which asanas to lead that day.

What to expect when practicing Ashtanga yoga

Blonde female yogi performing Upward Facing Dog pose. Wearing black long sleeve leotard
Upward Facing Dog pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

The first thing you know when you join up for an Ashtanga class is that you are going to sweat!

Ashtanga is fast-paced, dynamic, and challenging – The focus is to keep moving and build internal heat within the body. The asanas (poses) are not held like in other forms of yoga, like Hatha, for example.

Following a set sequence, each class will begin with a series of sun-salutations before transitioning into standing and floor exercises. Expect to experience a lot of deep lunges, down-dogs, warrior poses, and push up positions.

Classroom filled with yogis doing the Cobra pose
Classroom doing Cobra pose

Classes will focus on Ujjayi breathing (particular to Ashtanga practice to any Vinyasa traditional asanas) to help focus the mind and flow of breath. Other elements such as chanting or mantras can be used at the beginning or end of the class.

Traditionally there are two types of Ashtanga yoga practice: that which is led by a teacher, and Mysore classes where the students move through the sequence at their own pace.

How difficult is Ashtanga yoga?

Ashtanga yoga is challenging and isn’t recommended for complete beginners. If you are new to yoga, it can be hard to keep up with the fast pace, but if you have a good level of fitness and enjoy a challenge, you might love it! It’s also worth a try if you have some yoga experience and would like to develop a stronger, more disciplined practice.

What is Ashtanga yoga good for?

Upward Facing Dog pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

The benefits of Ashtanga yoga is that it can help develop both physical stamina and mental discipline. It’s great for experienced yogi’s, runners, cyclists, and athletic types who enjoy a challenge.