Basic Ashtanga Yoga Philosophy

Ashtanga Yoga is more than just "a good workout". As Guruji taught, asana is just the starting point for most students into the 8 limbs of yoga.

Patanjali and the Origins of Yoga Philosophy

Ashtanga Yoga Philosophy originates between 200 BCE to 250 CE with the Sage Patañjali.  He compiled the existing yoga knowledge of his time and wrote a book called the Yoga Sutras.  This book of 196 sutras, or verses, makes up what is commonly called "Classical" or "Raja" (Royal) Yoga.

The Classical definition of Yoga comes from Patanjali:

yogaścittavṛittinrodaḥ - Yoga is channeling or controlling the fluctuations of the citta.

The citta is the sum total of our: thoughts, desires, senses, emotions, personality, intellect, perception, memory, understanding, recognition and cognition.  It consists of three parts: the sensory mind, ego, and intellect.

It is thought that learning to direct and control the citta allows us to see our True Self and gain direct experience of the Ultimate Reality.  To achieve this objective, Patanjali defined 8 practices which are known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga.  The term Ashtanga Yoga is found in the 2nd chapter of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

Modern Ashtanga Yoga

In the modern context of Yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji), the 94 year old Yoga Master from Mysore, South India, called the system of postures he learned from his teacher Krishnamacharya "Ashtanga Yoga".

Pattabhi Jois taught a form of Hatha Yoga and believed it was essential for most students to enter the Eight-Limbed-Path through the third limb: asana (postures).

Most forms of "flow" or "power" yoga classes taught in yoga studios and gyms across the world today, trace their roots back to the Ashtanga-Vinyasa-Asana system of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

However, he would say there is much more then just the practice of postures involved in the system of Yoga he disseminated. Pattabhi Jois always claimed that the Yoga he was teaching was completely in-line with Patañjali’s Ashtanga Yoga Philosophy.

How Physical And Philosophy Work Together

Most of us believe there is more to life then we can explain or comprehend, and we want to connect to some greater mystery beyond, and find something more meaningful then our solitary self.

The modern practice of Ashtanga Yoga (the entire 8 limbs, not just the physical practice), provides us with the tools to explore and uncover these deeper aspects of existence, and discover our connection with all living beings. 

That said, the physical practice (also typically referred to as "Ashtanga Yoga" but more accurately called Asana practice) is the gateway to the other 7 limbs.  When we partake in the physical practice, taught in a Mysore setting, we actually are practicing many of the other limbs at the same time. 

With this understood, we must also acknowledge that led yoga classes can never help us go beyond the physical and while some led classes are ok.  Only practicing yoga in a led class will have limited benefits. 

The constant verbal commands of the teacher focuses us on pushing hard to get deeper into the posture.  By focusing on the physical, we limit our potential growth to the physical.  This is why led yoga classes will never bring you beyond "good stretching". 

If you're ready to move beyond the physical, then you must start with Mysore style practice.