Ashtanga yoga is a different type of yoga designed around the idea of cleansing your body. You may well have realized in your own personal life that when you don’t eat right and don’t take care of your body like you should, you just don’t feel good. The yoga poses of ashtanga are designed to help cleanse your body under the guidance of a philosophy that believes a cleansed body gives mental clarity and awareness.
The ashtanga yoga poses are taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois of India, and it is said only fourteen people in the United States have a certification given by Jois to teach ashtanga yoga. With that in mind, it is suggested that you find a certified teacher to help you through the poses if you have any difficulties.
There is an online class available that you can take from Kino MacGregor, the youngest to be certified in ashtanga yoga by Jois. You can also find a list of other ashtanga instructors if you prefer not to take a class online. To get you started, here is a basic pose and balance tips.
The Sun Salutation
Some of you might remember the sun salutation from the vinyasa yoga poses for beginners. However, this one is far longer and much more in-depth, known as the Sūryānamaskāra. You begin this pose by standing on your mat in a position known as samasthitih (standing upright). Lift your arms up and over your head and place your palms together. This position is known as urdhva vrikshasana (upward tree position). You should be in a position like the image below
From this position, you move your torso forward to rest against your thighs and press your hands down into the mat beside your feet. The position should look like the image below. This position is called uttanasana(stretched posture) a.
Straighten your arms without moving your hands or feet from their position on the mat. Lift your head and gaze upward toward the ceiling. Your body should make a triangle that is balancing on one of its corners (your feet and hands). This position is a variation of the uttanasana, usually known as uttanasana b. From this position, you will lower your entire body onto your mat into the chaturanga dandasana (four-limbed stick posture). It is similar to the starting position of a push-up as you can see from the image below.
From the chaturanga dandasana, you will straighten your arms and lift your torso up and curl it back. This is known as the urdhva mukha shvanasana (upward-facing dog) and is similar to the bhujangasana (cobra). You will be in a position similar to the image below.
While in urdhva mukha shvanasana, you will lift your bottom toward the ceiling and lower your torso. Your head will be toward the floor, and your arms and legs will be straight. Your body will be making an inverted V shape as seen in the image below. This is known as the adho mukha shvanasana (downward-facing dog).
Once in the adho mukha shvanasana, you move your legs closer to your torso and place your hands beside your feet on the mat. You will be back in the uttanasana b position. Let your arms bend, and bring your torso against your thighs. This will shift your body back into the uttanasana a position. From there, you will raise your arms and torso up until you’re standing straight once more, and lift your arms up over your head and place your palms together. You will be back in the urdhva vrikshasana position. Lower your arms to your sides and place your palms against the sides of your thighs. This will return you to the samasthitih position.
You can take a look at the International Infopage for Ashtanga Yoga to see more positions, but you might want to try a class before attempting some of the more advanced moves.
One of the most important things about ashtanga yoga is balance. Without balance, you’ll have difficulty with the more advanced moves of ashtanga yoga. Kino MacGregor wrote a great article about balance for beginners in ashtanga yoga. MacGregor describes balance in yoga as a state of mind. Once your mind is balanced, the balancing required for yoga positions comes naturally as a physical manifestation of a balanced mind.
Even if you have great balance on the outside, MacGregor believes that without inner balance, your ashtanga yoga will be useless. Her tip is to just keep practicing. As you go through the moves of ashtanga yoga, you will notice an imbalance within your mind and body. The more you practice, the better you will get at finding your inner harmony.
However, there are more tips than just practice to help you find your balance. First, remember that restrictive clothing or shoes can cut off circulation and make you uncomfortable. Always be comfortable when doing yoga, or you will find your balance will be off. Second, yoga is a relaxing exercise, and if you’re stressed, you might want to reconsider starting out your routine with a one-legged pose. All that stress in your body will make you tense and unable to balance.
If you’re stressed before your yoga routine, try some breathing exercises first, and use some beginner forms to stretch and relax your body. Jumping right in will only get you hurt, and you won’t get all the benefits of your yoga routine. Third, try playing some calming music. Avoid music with words. Think instrumental or classical. Nature sounds or white noise are great too. It will help ease your stress and relax your body, giving you greater inner balance.