THE ASHTANGA PRACTICE
A dynamic and physically challenging practice consisting of six series of postures (asanas) to be learnt and followed in sequential order.
The first, Primary Series, (‘Yoga Chikitsa’, or ‘yoga therapy’) realigns, detoxifies, and stabilizes the body, purifying muscles and organs, and building strength, stamina and flexibility.
The second, Intermediate Series (‘nadi shodana’ or ‘nerve cleansing’) works on the subtle body, purifying and strengthening the nervous system.
The remaining four or Advanced Series (‘Sthira Bhaga’ or ‘divine stability’) require even deeper levels of strength, concentration and humility.
Whichever series you are practising, you will always start with the same set of ‘sun salutations’(surya namaskar) and end with the same sequence of finishing postures.
Each posture builds on what has been learnt before. The student must not race ahead and try to do too much too soon, as each level is a preparation for the next, and must be fully developed before moving on. It takes time for the body and mind to strengthen and stabilise, and many years of practice. Moving on before you’re ready could result in injury.
At the heart of this practice is ‘vinyasa’, meaning ‘breath with movement system’. Each posture (asana) is linked to the next with a series of breath synchronised movements, and each asana has a specific number of breaths. Working towards the correct breath count or ‘vinyasa count’ is an important aspect of this system of yoga.
A specific form of deep breathing is used in conjunction with two internal energetic locks (bandhas) and gazing points (drishti) to keep the mind focused. The breath is always through the nose, and the throat is slightly constricted to create the characteristic hissing sound, similar to when you’re whispering.
This unique system of focused breathing and moving creates an internal heat which gradually purifies the body, nervous system and senses.
The breathing system, postures and gazing points are collectively known as ‘tristhana’ (three places of attention).
The three elements are intrinsically linked and must be practised together. The tristhana method will train the student to direct their attention inwards and to be present in the practice so that it develops into a moving meditation.
Many years focusing on tristhana will eventually lead to control of the senses and quietening the mind, which is the ultimate goal of yoga.