The Ashtanga Yoga Lineage Explained
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP
Ashtanga yoga is one of the most popular yoga styles that has been around for decades. This yoga style is often considered highly advanced due to its intense flowing dynamic and rigid sequence of poses. However, with proper guidance, ashtanga yoga practice can be accessible to beginners and experienced practitioners alike!
In this article, we will explore the ins and outs of ashtanga yoga. We will begin by exploring the history of ashtanga yoga before we get into your burning questions about how to become an ashtanga yoga teacher and what makes ashtanga yoga unique. Now, let’s dive in!
Before we explore ashtanga yoga, it is important to differentiate between Ashtanga Yoga from Patanjali and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga from Pattabhi Jois. Essentially, all of modern yoga is considered a derivative of ashtanga yoga from Patanjali, viewed as the father of yoga philosophy. Patanjali authored the text the Patanjali Yoga Sutras sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE, which described the basis of ashtanga yoga or the eight limbs of yoga.
Ashtanga yoga from Patanjali is not the same as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga created by Pattabhi Jois. Pattabhi Jois was one of the primary students of T. Krishnamacharya, viewed as the father of modern yoga, along with BKS Iyengar, Desikachar, and many other renowned yoga teachers of the 19th century. Pattabhi Jois then took the teachings he received from T. Krishnamacharya and created the sequence of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga which he popularized around the world since 1948.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga then later influenced the development of other yoga styles, particularly vinyasa yoga and power yoga. But at the root, all of these yoga styles are derived from the teachings of Krishnamacharya in the 19th century and also fall under the umbrella of traditional yoga delineated by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.
Ashtanga yoga is a unique yoga practice because it truly synthesizes many of the eight limbs of yoga into a single practice. Ashtanga yoga emphasizes the use of ujjayi pranayama, or the victorious breath, throughout the practice of various yoga poses or asanas. By linking body and breath together, your mind can focus on a single point, facilitating a more profound awareness within.
Another unique element of ashtanga yoga is the use of specific yoga sequences. Within traditional ashtanga yoga, there are 6 series or specific sequences of poses. According to Pattabhi Jois, before moving on to a new series, you must first be able to complete all of the yoga poses in the first yoga series and subsequent yoga series before progressing. This ensures that your body is fully prepared for the various yoga series and that you do not engage in practices beyond your ability.
Learn About the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga
Due to this process, many ashtanga yoga students only engage in the first series, which has become the most commonly practiced series worldwide. Ashtanga yoga practice also has a sister practice called Mysore style which is essentially the same as ashtanga yoga except with little to no instruction by the teacher, allowing each student to move at their own pace. However, there is a yoga teacher present in a Mysore style class to provide guidance to the students and any adjustments to their physical practice as needed.
Ashtanga yoga is a much more rigid yoga style that involves specific yoga poses in a set sequence. Ashtanga yoga operates under the process of the guru lineage that requires direct training from someone who received permission from Pattabhi Jois or one of his esteemed students to become a teacher.
Nowadays, it is common to see numerous ashtanga yoga teacher trainings popping up in person and online, but the only truly authentic ashtanga yoga teacher trainings are those that are run through the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Shala (KPJAY) or designated KPJAY yoga teachers who have registered with the shala and given the authorization to teach from this lineage.
So, to answer the common question of why there aren’t ashtanga yoga teacher trainings online – essentially, you cannot learn the intricacies of this practice safely through online teacher training, and to truly receive the authentic teachings of ashtanga yoga, you must go straight to the source!
As discussed above, ashtanga yoga teachers traditionally train directly at the KPJAY shala located in Mysore, India. However, there are now many authorized KPJAY teachers that teach all around the world, bringing these profound teachings directly to you without needing to travel around the world! You can now find many excellent in-person ashtanga yoga teacher trainings from authorized teachers in various locations worldwide.
Take Our Ashtanga Yoga Course Online
Technically, ashtanga yoga is a branch of hatha yoga because hatha yoga is essentially any yoga practice that incorporates physical postures. However, hatha yoga in modern times is now understood as a distinct yoga style that tends to have a slower, meditative, and therapeutic focus.
Ashtanga yoga is primarily different from hatha yoga in the pace of the class. Ashtanga yoga classes tend to be faster-paced and involve many advanced postures. Whereas hatha yoga classes are much slower, involving longer holds of a single posture, and with more adaptations for various yoga poses.
Ashtanga yoga, also known as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, was the first yoga practice that formed the foundation for what we know as vinyasa yoga today. Many yoga teachers who trained within the ashtanga yoga lineage took these practices and adapted the sequences to make them more accessible to beginners while also adding their own creative spin.
Vinyasa yoga classes and ashtanga yoga classes often both have a faster pace, with the traditional sun salutations or vinyasas an essential focus. However, the critical difference between ashtanga yoga and vinyasa yoga is that ashtanga yoga classes follow a set sequence of poses. In contrast, vinyasa yoga classes can vary widely depending on the unique spin of the yoga teacher or yoga style.
Ashtanga yoga provides many of the same benefits as other yoga styles. However, ashtanga yoga is unique in its focus on linking every movement with breath and the incorporation of ujjayi pranayama, or the victorious breath, throughout the practice. This connection between body, mind, and soul becomes much easier with this synchronization. Additionally, the specific poses used in the ashtanga yoga sequences target the entire body, providing a complete physical and energetic exercise.
See below for a brief overview of some of the many benefits of ashtanga yoga:
· Relieves stress and anxiety
· Calms the mind
· Improves physical strength and muscle tone
· Promotes flexibility
· Reduces chronic pain
· Increases weight loss
· Deepens meditative and spiritual awareness
· Improves respiratory health
· Promotes discipline and concentration
· Supports digestive function
· Increases balance and coordination
· Enhances overall wellbeing
In order to experience these benefits of ashtanga yoga, it is essential to engage in regular and ongoing ashtanga yoga practice. As Pattabhi Jois famously says – yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory! So, to truly experience the benefits of ashtanga yoga, you must regularly engage with these practices on your yoga mat and in your daily life.
Many people are concerned about practicing ashtanga yoga due to its famous rigid or militant style. Traditionally, ashtanga yoga practice rarely included props and involved a lot of hands-on adjustments to help yoga students force their bodies into each pose. However, ashtanga yoga has greatly evolved over time and now commonly incorporates yoga props and modifications to support each student’s unique body in this practice.
So, the short answer is – absolutely yes! Modifications are welcomed in ashtanga yoga. It is always important to stay in tune with your own body and adapt the practice to your needs as you gradually progress in improving your flexibility and strength. A trained ashtanga yoga teacher can help you in this process of discovering how to modify and adapt these poses to your needs.
Ashtanga yoga is a profound yoga practice that genuinely embodies the depth of yoga and can take your practice to the next level. Becoming an ashtanga yoga teacher is a long and exciting journey, but taking the steps on this path often requires immense dedication and in-person training to truly explore ashtanga yoga safely and learn from qualified ashtanga yoga teachers.
Before exploring ashtanga yoga teacher training, you might consider getting a broader yoga teacher training certification to give you some tools for teaching before you go to an in-person ashtanga yoga teacher training. While you cannot become an ashtanga yoga teacher online, that doesn’t mean that you cannot begin to explore this yoga practice and become a vinyasa yoga teacher online in the meantime. Ashtanga and vinyasa yoga have many similarities, so make sure to check out our online vinyasa yoga teacher training for more information on how you can begin this journey of a lifetime!