Ashtanga yoga was developed at the beginning of the 20th century by S.K. Pattabhi Jois following the principles of the original yoga sutras. It shares some characteristics with contemporary yoga practices but has several distinguishing features that make it an ideal practice for personal growth.
Ashtanga yoga comprises of multiple series of poses, practiced in a consistent order of increasing difficulty. Practitioners progress to the next pose once they have mastered the previous. Therefore, each practice session has a defined order of poses; beyond learning proper technique, this eliminates the dependence on external instruction and allows for a strictly internal focus.
Each practice begins with a sun salutation warm up, safely preparing the body for improving strength and flexibility. It is then followed by a series of standing postures before moving to the floor. Each posture in Ashtanga yoga is entered slowly and held for five breaths. This slow and sustained pace is ideal for moving mindfully and focusing internally. The sustained period is a great isometric exercise for safely improving strength and balance while challenging the practitioner’s focus. Despite the physical exercise, Ashtanga yoga is not about acrobatics or grand flowing gestures – it is intended to be a form of meditation with the postures providing additional challenges to maintaining focus.
Maintaining focus on the body through the physical challenges of each pose builds skills such as concentration, patience, and equanimity. Some of these skills may extend beyond the mat into a less reactive and more poised approach to life with benefits in several domains.
Preliminary studies have shown improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms, affect, self-esteem, and interpersonal functioning. It is currently being taught and practiced in yoga studios all across the globe.