ASHTANGA YOGA is a style of yoga founded and popularized by Shri. K. Pattabhi Jois and which is often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga.
Ashtanga literally means eight limbs. They are described by Patanjali as: Yama (abstinences), Niyama (observances), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (contemplation). These branches support each other. Asana practice must be established for proper practice of Pranayama, and is a key to the development of the yamas and niyamas. Once these four externally oriented limbs are firmly rooted, the last four internally oriented limbs will spontaneously evolve over time.
VINYASA is one of the main features of Ashtanga, and it refers to the alignment of movement and breath, a method which turns static asanas (postures) into a dynamic flow. The length of one inhale or one exhale dictates the length of time spent transitioning between asanas; these asanas are then held for a predefined number of breaths. The breath is the heart of this discipline, and links asana to asana in a precise order. The combination of the asanas with movement and breath make the blood circulate freely around all the joints, taking away body pains. When there is a lack of circulation, pain occurs.The result is a light strong body.Sweat is an important by product of vinyasa, because it is only through sweat that disease leaves the body and purification occurs. If the method of vinyasa is followed, the body becomes healthy and strong. After the body is purified, it is possible to purify the nervous system, and then the sense organs.
TRISTHANA: This means the three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place. 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. Asanas purify the body, breathing purifies the nervous system and Dristhi (the place where you look while in the asana) purifies the mind making it stable.
An important component of the breathing system is mula and uddiyana BANDHA. These are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit.
THE SIX POISONS: A vital aspect of internal purification that Pattabhi Jois teaches relates to the six poisons (Kama, krodha, moha, lobha, matsarya, and mada) these are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth. When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the heat generated from it burns away these poisons, and the light of our inner nature shines forth.
SELF-PRACTICE: This is the traditional method of learning Ashtanga Yoga system and is the way that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught in Mysore – this is why is called 'Mysore style'. In a self practice class each student works at their own pace with assistance and adjustment from the teacher as and when necessary. The sequence is learnt and committed to memory posture by posture, with new postures being added as and when the student is ready, so that most of the time the student works without being 'led' by a teacher. Self practice classes therefore always have students of mixed abilities working side by side.
This forms the practical and philosophic basis of Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois