Ashtanga means 8 limbs, or parts. It is the old Raja Yoga, described very pragmatically and even a modern person can understand it, in the Yoga Sutras from about 3000 years ago. Before that, yoga was mentioned in much older texts and drawings, and probably practiced much longer. It is a totally non religious teaching on how to get a healthy connected mind and body. To the contrary of what many believe it has no religious implications, no sacred leader, groups, temples nor places. It is a part of Ayurveda, a recommendation on how to be healthy, as Tai Chi, martial arts or Pilates, all with postures based on yoga.
With my own experience over some 20 years, I think it is a very well proven and evidence based teaching, and I see no reason to ‘make my own’ series, and figure out something new. By teaching the Ashtanga series as always taught, I am sure that all students (in the beginning with easier alternatives) can do it without hurting themselves, which is very important. Ashtanga correctly taught, gives the student self-corrections, so that all student with time can do it by him/herself wherever there is space for a yoga mat, at home or traveling.
As explained in yesterdays blog, yoga is much more than an exercise. It is a very (time) efficient way to calm your mind and connect with your body. It is a mediation using your body and breathing, where you mindfully connect with yourself and allow your body to speak. If done as the old teachings say, the 8 parts are done step by step. The postures only come as the 3rd step. Before we start with the postures, we do a mind exercise. First we find out what our moral values are. What is important for you? Is it to be kind? Is it to become rich? Or both, and in that case how is it possible to do both? There is no right nor wrong, but they do help you with some areas to think about. During Gandhi’s struggle for independence, Ahimsa (the philosophy of non-violence) became well known to the whole world. Taking this example, you think about violence and if it is something you want in your life, and if not, what is a violent act? Is shouting, and using negative words violent?
When you have thought about your moral codes, which normally is done with a teacher to guide you, a so called Guru, you start practicing them in your daily life. Note that a Guru is never self proclaimed, it is always the student that chooses the Guru and it can be anyone; your mum, a friend or a scholar. If you for example decided it is important for you with non-violence in your life, you now practice it. The 2nd step is basically a mind detox to start to ‘walk the talk’. It is surprising how much we do by only copying others, without thinking about if it is right or wrong.
When this practice is implemented in your life you continue with the 3rd step, the postures, what we normally see as yoga. You use the class to practice all your moral codes in a micro-cosmos within yourself. If we take the example of non-violence, you make sure to never push yourself to the limit of hurting yourself, a common one in other yogas is the knee or the lower back. You don’t compete with anyone, not even yourself. You observe and care for your body with full gratitude for it being given to you, a fantastic body allowing you to explore with all your senses. With the right yogi mindset and the stretching postures, you get a hugely detoxed and connected mind and body.
If you do it as meant to be in a meditative state of mind, I know of nothing as healthy for all of us. Maybe you don’t go to yoga to have ‘fun’, but you go back because you feel so good from it. I could explain it on a biochemical level with higher dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin and lower stress hormones, but I’ll leave it to your curiosity to find out more and try it out. You will notice the difference. Not only after class, but during the following days you feel the ‘signals’ from your body telling you how and what to eat, you react more calmly in negative situations, and simply feel much better. Tomorrow I’ll tell you the basic techniques so you can try it at home if you want.