What is Ashtanga Yoga?
According to Ashtanga Yoga, there are 8 (ashta means eight and anga means limbs) parts to be practiced to achieve the highest state in the meditation. In modern times, it is practiced only by those who are ready to dedicate their whole life for the yoga practice alone. They are known as the “yogis”.
For the average person who is a part of modern society, yoga asanas–principles and values to be followed in life and meditation–help to keep a healthy body and peaceful mind.
The principles to be followed in life are mainly moral actions, such as respecting others around you, following ethical values in life, moral codes of conduct, respecting and believing in yourself, and sticking to your internal code of conduct.
This includes your interaction with the external world and how you handle the thoughts arising in own mind.
The external world means how you interact with other people. These are the moments when we usually get angry, love, peaceful, or shout at others, etc. Ashtanga Yoga says that all your words, deeds and actions matter. Once you are able to control these situations with awareness, then you turn into yourself. You begin the journey of introspection – studying and understanding your own mind, analyzing your words, thoughts and deeds. Basically, it is designed to create a positive attitude in and around your daily life.
When this practice starts to ‘click’, you will see that people around you seem peaceful while interacting with you since there is no negativity or selfish attitude in your actions.
In the next stage, one moves from the mind to the body itself.
The aim of cleaning the body organs is to achieve the benefit of the practice of asanas (body postures). In this step, the act of cleansing the stomach by evacuating the bowels, cleaning the nostrils for proper breathing, etc., is important in order to experience the full power of the asanas.
Asanas, or body postures, become the crux of yoga practices for any beginner. There is a preconceived notion that yoga asanas are not meant for a common person, and that one must first be a super-spiritual individual. This is false.
The basic point of yoga is that it can be practiced by anyone. Only one thing is important – that you need the passion to practice yoga.
Yoga body postures are done by sitting, standing, lying on the floor, etc. There are forward, backward and side bends to loosen the joints of the body. The role of the asanas is to stimulate the energy within so that the body organs function properly without any problems.
For example, forward bending asanas are helpful to improve the blood circulation to the brain. Common ailments such as back pain, digestive disorders, menstrual disorders, respiratory problems, etc. are believed by some to be easily cured by practicing asanas. The body stretches during the asanas affects the whole body by improving the functioning of the entire system. Toxins find no room in your body with the practice of asanas. They are evacuated from your body regularly.
Once the mastery on asanas is gained, it is possible for the higher level of practicing mudras and breath control.
As per the yogic philosophy, the whole universe is an integration of earth, air, water, fire and ether. Earth resembles the human body and within it air, water, fire are also found. Ether is compared with the human mind. By practicing mudras, yogis believe a person can control all these elements. What is the benefit of controlling these elements? We all know that whenever we get angry, the body becomes hot, the breathing rate and heartbeat increases rapidly. Mudras are hand gestures and the five fingers of the hand represent these five elements. When gestures are practiced with the fingers of the hand, the mind can be controlled and so the emotions too.
Here’s an example of Mudras…
Again at the higher level, there is breath control – it is known as “Pranayam”.
“Prana” is the life force that resides within. Yoga believes that each living being in this whole universe has this life force. Very few beings only realize this fact. Pranayam is practiced with under the strict guidance of a master. It is inhalation, retention and exhalation of the breath. As per yoga philosophy, prana is contained in the breath.
The regular and proper practice of prayanam is believed by some to help activate dormant brain cells. Whether one’s analytical ability, intellectual ability, memory power, concentration, is tied so directly to breath is up for debate, but we often feel better when we take a deep breath, so perhaps pranayam is not far off.
The hope is that one will experience the expansion of consciousness by practicing Ashtanga yoga. Awareness increases and helps you to do each of your actions consciously. The results of practicing yoga can be experienced in both professional and personal life. You will start understanding relationships, value and respect them so that you have a peaceful life with harmony.
Meditation can be practiced after doing yoga asanas. For most people, yoga asanas and meditation will help them to handle difficult situations in day-to-day life simply by learning to meditate and concentrating on the breath. While it may not be possible in the initial stages, it is possible to bring the concentration to one point and retain it for long time without any distraction.