Ashtanga has a reputation as a dynamic form of yoga. For many people, Ashtanga combines sometimes demanding postures with effects promoting health, muscle fitness and vitality. Ashtanga is, however, much more than this. The practise calms and purifies the mind and develops control of not only of the body, but also of the mind and the senses.
“The mind is calm and alert. In the hum of the shala, concentration condences into silence.”
The Ashtanga method is based on breath, and its central element is the Vinyasa or movement punctuated by breath. The Vinyasatechnique, where breath, movement and Dristi, or the yogic gaze, combine in asanaor posture practice, creates excellent conditions for encountering the sensations of the body and mind. The humming sound typical of Ashtanga is created by the Ujjayibreathing technique. During the practice, engagement of the muscle locks (Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha) warms the body so that the stretches are safe.
The practice of Ashtanga benefits both very fit people and those who have trained less, and getting started does not require you to be especially supple. Openly discussing factors that may pose restrictions for your practice and pacing yourself when it comes to advancing in your practice are important to ensure safety. To get the most out of your practice, try to avoid focusing on external factors and comparing yourself to others.
Tips for Ashtanga
The easiest way to get started with Ashtanga is taking part in a two-day introductory course. After this, people generally pratise in guided or led classes, and once they have memorised the sequence of the postures they move on to mysore-style classes, where everyone does their own practice at their own pace. The instructor assists the students, monitors their development and provides them with new postures to practice when he or she considers it safe for the student. If memorising the sequence of the asana seems difficult at first, you may bring a copy of an asana chart to class to help you remember.
Clothes and equipment
You should wear light clothes that enable free movement of the body. The practice is done with bare feet. You can bring your own mat, but we also provide loan mats. Practising Ashtanga can be sweaty, so having a wash pre-practise is recommended.
Eating and drinking
It is recommended to leave two hours between a meal and getting on the mat. Drinking is not recommended for 15 minutes pre-practice. Fasting pre-practice enables efficient use of muscle locks or Bandhas.
Morning or evening?
Morning is the best time to do your Ashtanga practice: overnight, your mind has emptied itself of everyday thoughts, your body is rested and your stomach is empty. However, in case morning practise seems challenging due to stiffness in the body or the organisation of daily schedules, evening or afternoon practice is also a good alternative.
Even though Ashtanga Yoga suits nearly everyone, its practise should not be started before the age of 12, and pregnant people should abstain from practising for the first trimester and the first few months postpartum. After this, it is possible to resume practise, yet making sure that a competent teacher advises you on which postures to avoid or modify. Pregnancy, illness, operations and other potentially restricting factors should be discussed with a teacher prior to resuming practice. Moreover, listening to your own body is key to safe practice.
Practising Ashtanga on the first three days of your period is not recommended, to ensure that the purification of the body occurs without obstruction. Traditionally, yogis have also abstained from practise on full-moon and new-moon days.
The opening mantra is recited before starting the asana practice. The mantra consists of two parts. The first part pays homage to gurus or teachers. The second part is dedicated to Rishi Patanjali. The finishing mantra wishes good fortune and a good life to all people. You can read more about the mantras on the website of Ashtanga Yoga School Helsinki (in Finnish).
Petri Räisänen (2005): Astanga. Joogaa Sri K. Pattabhi Joisin perinteen mukaan. Helsinki: Otava.