Vinyasa means ‘breathing and movement system’: for each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namskar, there are nine Vinyasas: the first Vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head and putting your hands together, the second is exhaling while bending forward and placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way, all Asanas are assigned a certain number of Vinyasas.
The purpose of Vinyasa is for internal cleansing. Breathing and moving together while performing Asanas makes the blood hot. Or as Pattabhi Jois says, boils the blood. Thick blood is dirty and causes disease in the body. The heat created from yoga cleans the blood and makes it thin so that it may circulate freely. 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 heated blood also moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and disease, which are brought out of the body by the sweat that occurs during practice.
Sweat is an important by-product of Vinyasa because it is only through sweat that disease leaves the body and purification occurs. In the same way that gold is melted in a pot to remove its impurities (the dirt rising to the surface as the gold boils and the dirt then being removed), yoga boils the blood and brings all our toxins to the surface which are removed through sweat. If the method of Vinyasa is followed, the body becomes healthy and strong - pure like gold.
After the body is purified, it is possible to purify the nervous system and the sensory organs. These first steps are very difficult and require many years of practice. The sensory organs are always looking outside, and the body is always giving into laziness. However, through determination and diligent practice, these can be controlled. After this is accomplished, mind control comes automatically. Vinyasa creates the foundation for this to occur.
Tristhana centres on these three points: posture, breathing and focus. These three are very important for yoga practice and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and the mind. They are always interconnected with each other.
Asanas purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body. Breathing is Rechaka and Puraka, meaning inhale and exhale. Both the inhale and exhale should be steady - even the length of each should be equal. Breathing in this manner purifies the nervous system.
Dristhi is the place where you look while in the asana. Dristhi purifies and stabilises the functioning of the mind.
For cleaning the body internally, two factors are necessary: air and fire. The place of fire in our bodies is four inches below the navel. This is the standing place of our life force. In order for the fire to burn, air is necessary - hence the necessity of breath. If you stoke a fire with a blower, consistency is required so that the flame is not smothered out or blown out of control.
The same method stands for breathing. Long even breaths will strengthen our internal fire. This increases the heat in the body which in turn heats the blood for physical purification, and burns away impurities in the nervous system as well. Long even breathing increases the internal fire and strengthens the nervous system in a controlled manner and at an even pace. When this fire is strengthened, our digestion, health and life span all increase. Uneven inhalation and exhalation, or breathing too rapidly, will imbalance the beating of the heart - throwing off both the physical body and autonomic nervous system.
An important component of breathing 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. They also help to build a strong internal fire. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct, and the Asanas will give no benefit. When Mula bandha is perfected, focus and total control of the mind is automatic.
During an Ashtanga led class, a teacher guides you through the sequence with Sanskrit counts. Each posture is counted to 5 and 8 breaths so all the students flow through the sequence at the same time. A teacher also performs Asana, adjustments and provide verbal instructions about safety points and explanation of the Asana.
Mysore style is a self-practice class. There are no verbal instructions provided. Students self-practice a sequence according to their level of practice at the pace of their own breath. A teacher provides individual guidance and adjustment where necessary. Is it important that a student develop the habit to practice Mysore style for a long time to get a deeper understanding of the Asana.
series of ashtanga yoga
The Primary Series in Ashtanga yoga method is known as Yoga Chikitsa or yoga therapy. It starts with a standing sequence which works on opening and extending the lower body i.e. feet, thighs, hamstring, hips, and pelvic floor. A few forward bends are done to work on lengthening the spine and a finishing sequence to rest the body and cool down the system. Dedicated practice of primary series provides a strong foundation for the second series.
The Second Series is known as Nadi Shodana - the cleansing of the nervous system of a human body. It works more on the back, lower body and upper body strength. Working on the Second Series requires a strong foundation of Primary Sequence. It is a very powerful sequence which may swing your emotions upside down but practising it for a long time brings harmony and peace to the mind and body.
Both full and new moon days are observed in yoga holidays through the Ashtanga Yoga tradition. What is the reasoning behind this?
Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70% water), we are affected by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are determined by the moon’s relative position to the sun. Full moons occur when they are in opposition to the sun and new moons when they are in conjunction with the sun. Both sun and moon exert a gravitational pull on the earth. Their relative positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to breathing cycles.
The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. This is an expansive, upward moving force that makes us feel energetic and emotional, but not well grounded. The Upanishads state that the main prana lives in the head. During the full moon, we tend to be more headstrong.
The new moon energy corresponds to the end of exhalation when the force of Apana is greatest. Apana is a contracting, downward moving force that makes us feel calm and grounded - but dense and disinclined towards physical exertion.
The Farmers Almanac recommends planting seeds at the new moon when the rooting force is strongest and transplanting at the full moon when the flowering force is strongest. Practising Ashtanga Yoga over time makes us more attuned to these natural cycles. Observing moon days is one way to recognise and honour the rhythms of nature so we can live in greater harmony with it.
A vital aspect of internal purification that Pattabhi Jois teaches relates to the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart. In the Yoga Shastra, it is said that God dwells in our heart in the form of light. But this light is covered by 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.