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About Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

by David Robson: Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a system of Hatha yoga that involves synchronizing the breath with a progressively more challenging series of movements and postures. This process produces a purifying heat and profuse sweat that is said to boil the blood and burn away impurities. It is a vigorous, moving meditation that helps to develop a strong, light body and a quiet, steady mind.

Ashtanga comes from Mysore, India.  The Guru of Ashtanga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji), taught there for 70 years. His style of teaching students, one-on-one in a group setting, became known as “mysore-style”. Guruji made Ashtanga famous around the world. His mastery of yoga practice and texts, coupled with his shining charisma, created a vortex of attention around the tradition. Guruji passed away in 2009, and now his grandson Sharath Jois carries on the tradition. The studio in Mysore, or shala, currently hosts a couple hundred foreign students at any time of year. They make the pilgrimage to India to learn the authentic technique and connect with the lineage of teaching, or parampara.

Lineage plays an important role in the teaching of Ashtanga. The breathing-movement technique, vinyasa, is an exact, counted system of ritualized movement that should be learned from a teacher who fully understands the system.


Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga follows the practice as it is taught in Mysore, India. Practice is six days a week, with rest days on Saturdays and the days of the full and new moon. Practice is done “Mysore-style.”  Students each do their own practice in a group setting, with the teacher monitoring the progress of each individual student. Progress happens pose-by-pose through each of the six series.

Ashtanga Yoga uses a special technique to help us keep our focus while we practice. This technique is called “Tristanam”, which means the union of three places of attention. While we move through the practice, we keep coming back to these three points of focus again and again.

The 3 places of attention are:

  1. Asana literally means seat, or posture. Holding asanas help us to fix our mind in concentration. Postures provide a screen against which the impermanent nature of thoughts and feelings become starkly apparent. In this way we use asanas in Ashtanga Yoga to purify the body of obstacles in our path to enlightenment.
  2. Breath: an even, sounded breath that we do throughout the practice. The even breath builds heat in the body, and purifies our nervous and energetic systems. The breath is always done through the nose, with a soft hissing sound in the back of the throat. It should sound like waves crashing on a distant shore, or an angry cobra. The breath remains steady throughout the practice in order to cultivate equanimity and steady focus.
  3. Drishti means gaze, or looking place. Each pose has a drishti, or a specific place we should train the gaze on. By fixing the gaze while we practice, we build concentration, purify our mind, and learn to control our senses. There are 9 different drishtis: the foot, the navel, the hand, the thumb, the nose, the third-eye, the right side, the left side, and up towards the sky.

Source: AWAKEN


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