Practice

The Asthanga Vinyasa yoga system was spread worldwide by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). It is a method that gives the feeling of meditating while in movement. This is because each movement is linked with the breath, the gazing point is specific (Drishti) and the concentration is sharpened in order to hold certain part of the body locked (Bandhas).

Nowadays, there are 6 sequences of asanas: the 1st one is for the beginners, the 2nd is of intermediate level, while the rest are practiced by advanced students. All of these series begin and end in the same way, only the middle and essential part differs since in each series the focus changes. In this way, each series has a different effect on us. The 1st one brings strength, aligns the body and grounds the spirit; it is very important since it sets a proper base for the next series. The 2nd one works somewhat differently from the 1st acting upon the nervous system. The advanced series work to harmonize strength, flexibility, endurance and balance in a more intricate way; they comprise demanding postures that bring ourselves in more extreme states of existence.

The student already from the first lessons learns how to combine movement and breath and how to hold the gaze fixed and the body locked. In class each student works independently and according to his level, he practices the series at which he is, at his own pace and according to his abilities, adjusting the postures whenever is necessary. The presence of the teacher is discrete. Unlike other yoga systems, in Ashtanga the teacher does not guide the class simultaneously by indicating the next posture; he moves around the students giving personal comments, suggesting variations or helping someone to go deeper in a posture. This kind of class, where the students work by themselves under the discrete presence of the teacher, is called Mysore style (Mysore is the town where Pattabhi Jois used to give classes). Guided classes take place occasionally but their aim is to inspire and give rhythm to the students.

At this point we have to stress out that it is of minor significance the sequence that someone will reach and this is because yoga is something else than plain gymnastics. For instance, if we asked an acrobat or an athlete to do the postures of the system, he most probably  would perform pretty well. This does not mean that he is doing yoga. In our practice the importance lies in the attitude with which we approach what we do, regardless our performance or the level that we manage to reach. Working with full consciousness and turning our attention inside we engage the centers of our senses: the eyes stay focused, the ears are listening to the rhythmical sound of our breath, the nose is breathing, the mouth remains closed, and the mind is occupied on the one hand with the application of postures and on the other hand with the senses that the body experiences. In this way, through our practice, we train our body in order to acquire flexibility, strength, endurance and balance, while at the very same time through observation we move closer to ourselves and we develop harmony, confidence, responsibility and adaptability.

Someone that flirts with the idea of trying this particular method might be discouraged by telling himself that he is not sufficiently flexible, young enough, adequately healthy or strong. All these traits are going to blossom gradually through proper practice. There is no prerequisite whatsoever. All it takes is to breathe deeply, to observe what is happening at the sense level while practicing and to be adaptive to what the body can or cannot do each particular moment. Yoga is for all and as in every other system, in order to experience the results it needs patience, persistence and effort. So once again, yoga is for all but for the lazy.