Ashtanga vinyasa yoga differs to a lot of yoga classes in that a set sequence of posture is followed in strict order. One of the most important aspects of an ashtanga class is the connection between breath and movement. In the ashtanga system we use ujjayi breath, which is also known as victorious breath. ujjayi breath has many benefits which includes creating lots of internal heat very quickly. The breath is focused at the back of the throat, which stimulates the thyroid gland, producing heat. The importance of this is that it is an internal heat, which among other things protects the body from injury. The heat that is produced is called agni, and stimulates the digestive fire, or our enteric nervous system. Ujjayi breath is also directed at the chest area, which allows us to keep our abdomen area active, and this helps with core stability.
The Ashtanga vinyasa system has several levels which the student progresses through. The beginning sequence is commonly called the primary series, but Its real name is yoga chikitsa, which means yoga therapy. The first series is all about healing the body ready for the progress into the second series, called Nadi shodhana, which means nerve cleansing. This means the first series has purified the body ready for the subtle energy of yoga (prana) to be transported around the body safely. The second series includes lots of backbends, where the main subtle energy channels of yoga are located.
The structure of postures in the ashtanga primary series will build strength and stamina. Although they are meant to be practised in order, a good teacher will be able to adjust postures to an individual’s needs, and have the knowledge to offer modifications for most students, even within a large group. The sequence of postures is also called a vinyasa krama, meaning an intelligent sequence of postures which produces a positive outcome. Therefore, the postures are meant to be practised sequentially, and are carefully crafted to open the body gradually, within the student’s ability.
The primary sequence includes a full range of movement, involving forward bends, back bends, side stretches, inversions and twists. Although the series can appear quite physical, and indeed will make the body lean and fit, it is working more on our subtle body. This is where the most profound change will occur, through our attitude and thinking.
“The ashtanga vinyasa primary series is a powerful tool when taught authentically by an experienced teacher. It is important that the whole of the practise is taught, not just the physical aspects. There is a deep philosophy underpinning the practise, which keeps and essential balance in place. If we exclude the deeper reasons to practise, ego prevails, and it becomes just another set of exercises”
Teaching Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at Yoga Dharma Southend follows the authentic teachings of Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois.