Ashtanga Yoga “Aṣṭau” means eight, “āṅga” means limb.
Patanjali describes Ashtanga Yoga in Yoga Sutras:
2.28 “By the practice of the parts of yoga impurity diminishes until the rise of spiritual knowledge culminates in awareness of reality.”
2.29 “Yama (self restraints), Niyama (fixed rules), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal), Dharana (Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation), Samadhi (Ecstasy).”
These eight limbs are interdependent and every stage of yoga makes way for the next higher stage. The boundaries and obstacles can not be previously known and they can be only known with direct personal experience. The eightfold path is designed to lead the practitioner consistently to the final limb called “Samadhi” which is the realization of higher consciousness or true nature of Self.
For most of people it is necessary to go ahead step by step, beginning with Yama, Niyama and Asana.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika states:
1.17 “Prior to everything, asana is spoken of as the first part of hatha yoga. Having done asana one gets steadiness of the body and mind; diseaselessness and lightness of the limbs.”
It is advised for the yoga practitioner to start the yoga path with Asana.
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga means the method of asana practice where the foundation of the practice is linking the breath and the movement (vinyasa).
There are three points of attention in the system called “Tristhana” (“tri” means three and “sthana” means standing place): breathing, posture and gazing point. These three points have to be observed during asana practice continuously. The purpose of vinyasa is internal cleansing and after the body is purified then the nervous system can be purified as well as sense organs.
An important aspect of the asana practice is bandhas (means locks or seals) which seals in energy, gives strength, lightness and health to the body. There are two main bandhas are used in ashtanga vinyasa practice – anal lock and abdominal lock, and without bandhas performance of the asana practice is not complete.
There are three series in ashtanga vinyasa yoga:
Primary Series or Yoga Chikitsa means medicine of yoga and it is meant to bring the body into the condition of perfect health.
Intermediate Series or Nadi Shodhana means purification of nervous system.
Advanced Series or Sthira Bhaga means steady strength and it is divided into four series (A, B, C, D).
So all together there are six sequences of asanas.
Ashtanga vinyasa yoga equally develops strength and flexibility and due to fixed sequences helps to develop a great discipline and brings the practitioner to overcome weaknesses physically and mentally. There is a great emphasis on self practice as it is considered to be the best way to make asana practice truly meditative.
In the tradition of Ashtanga Yoga there is a lineage of transmission of the yoga teaching. Parampara literally means “from one to another”, it is a chain of uninterrupted transmission and empowerment from teacher (Guru) to disciple (shishya).