Welcome to Motivation Yoga Guide to Ashtanga Yoga!


Guide to Ashtanga Yoga


What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga Yoga is a physically demanding yoga style based on Hatha Yoga.

Ashatanga (or Astanga) can be described as sportive and dynamic yoga form.

Ashtanga Yoga is a form of yoga exercise and also a philosophy of which the aim is to achieve and develop a more holistic well-being – physically, psychologically and spiritually.

Ashtanga practice is not tied to any religion, but the yoga philosophy has its roots in old Indian traditions.

The knowledge is passed on from the Guru (teacher) to the student.

Ashtanga Yoga exercise unifies the movement (vinyasa) and the yoga postures (asana). It is a body-shaping the physical, energetic and at the same time meditative exercise where the main element is breathing.


“When the breath control is correct, mind control is possible.”
– Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


Breathing is the core where everything else is built upon. Breathing adds and keeps alive the energy (prana). The energy is targeted to different parts of the body through body locks called bandhas (mula bandha and uddhyana bandha). Bandhas also stabilize the body, line the postures and safeguard the exercise.

The dynamic breath-movement system, vinyasa, means breath-synchronized movement.

Vinyasa combines postures, asanas, to each other in the exact order. Breathing produces action, and when the action is focused on the postures each movement becomes gentle, precise and balanced.

Properly practiced Ashtanga yoga helps the practitioner to find full physical, mental and spiritual capacity.


What distinguishes Ashtanga Yoga from other forms of yoga?

The distinction between Ashtanga and other yoga styles is the vinyasa, a continuous flow that links breath and movement. Ashtanga practice follows a detailed, specific structure and order of the yoga poses.

Power Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga are generic terms that may refer to any type of aerobic yoga exercise based on Ashtanga yoga.


History of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga is based on old manuscript, Yoga Korunta, which is said to have contained asana series and teachings of the old yoga philosophy.

Sri T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) inherited these teachings from Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachar and later forwarded them to his student Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009).

Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) developed the Ashtanga to the world-renowned exercise on the basis of his teacher Sri T. Krishnamacharya’s teachings.

He founded the school of Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam (now known as Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI)) to his hometown Mysore in South-India.

Pattabhi wrote a famous book about Ashtanga Yoga called Yoga Mala in 1965. Yoga Mala outlines the ethical principles and philosophy underlying the discipline, explains important terms and concepts, and guides the reader through Ashtanga’s Sun Salutations and the subsequent primary sequence.

Thanks to Pattabhi, Ashtanga is now popular form of yoga all around the world. He travelled teaching yoga through the Western world from the 1970’s until he passed away in 2009.


The Philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga is based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Astanga = Eight Limbs (ast = eight, anga=limbs)

Yoga consists of eight branches of the Yoga Sutras, that are:

  • Yamas (limitations): non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, non-posessiveness and chastity
  • Niyamas (regulations): purity, contentment, self-discipline, holy reading, and devotion to God
  • Asanas: the yoga poses
  • Pranayama: controlling the breath
  • Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses
  • Dharana: consentrating
  • Dhyana: contemplating, meditation
  • Samadhi:  spiritual state

According to this philosophy it is possible to become free of the impurities of the mind and body as well as from stress and other conditions that decrease vitality.

The Ashtanga Yoga practice is started at the third branch, Asanas.

The Asana exercises (Ashtanga Yoga series) are very intensive and dynamic. In addition to strengthening and stretching the body, practicing the asanas improve calming and focusing the mind.

Concentration develops when the asanas are practiced with discipline and determination together with correct breathing, vinyasa breath-movement system, drishtis (concentrating the eyes) and bandhas (muscle locks).

When the asana practice is an established on a regular basis, it is possible to move on to the next branch: the exercise of pranayama.

Pranayama will continue to cleanse the body and the sense organs, as well as calming the breath and mind through various breathing exercises.

The importance of the ethical and moral guidelines of the first two branches, Yama and Niyama, will emphasize as the Ashtanga practice continues.

The first four branches of the Yoga Sutras focus on the external factors over which the student is able to affect. The last four branches that are focused on the internal factors become topical when the student has learned the first four.

Ashtanga Yoga philosophies are intended to be practiced, and not so much to be studied from the books.

Pattabhi Jois has said that Ashtanga Yoga is 99% practice and 1% of theory.

In addition to the Yoga Sutras, the philosophical and practical background of Ashtanga can be found from The Bhagavad Gita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika.


Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga cleanses and strengthens the body and the mind.

  • Ashtanga strengthens physical fitness, increases flexibility and improves concentration and balance.
  • Each asana has its own therapeutic effects.
  • Yoga postures and breathing exercises affect favorably to muscles, blood flow, internal organs and metabolism.
  • Yoga exercises affect the whole body. Skin, muscles, joints, connective tissues, nervous system and internal organs are cleansed and strengthened, and the senses become more susceptible.
  • Ashtanga yoga reveals the true human personality and potential. Unnecessary burdens of mind and body, such as negative emotions, pains and stresses are discharged slowly away. The mind and body are disengaged.


”The process of disciplining and purifying the mind is called yoga” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


Who can practice Ashtanga Yoga?

Anyone can practice Ashtanga Yoga, regardless of age or starting point.

Practicing Ashtanga Yoga is useful for anyone who is interested in it. You don’t have to be in top shape. The exercises are physical, but beginners will focus on the basics. Everyone can perform the exercises based on their own abilities. Fitness and flexibility will improve rapidly through practice.

Before taking part in Ashtanga yoga class, consult your yoga teacher if you are pregnant, have just had an operation or have other serious medical issues.


How to start practicing?

Ashtanga Yoga practice should always start with controlled classes or elementary course in order to learn how to do the movements correctly, without damaging the body. The course introduces the basic principles of Ashtanga Yoga, practicing proper breathing technique, the use of muscle locks, as well as simple posture exercises.

In order to make progress Ashtanga yoga, exercises should be done regularly.

“Practise, practise, practise and all is coming.” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Ashtanga Yoga Quote

Training should be started under the supervision of a qualified teacher in a favorable environment.

Regular exercise will soon bring beneficial healing effects and better the quality of life.

Effective training can prevented by harmful attitudes such as the comparison of your exercise to others. It should be remembered that everyone is practicing yoga on their own terms. The ability to focus on your own training and mind control deepen when you let yourself go with the vinyasa flow.


Ashtanga Yoga Class Structure

The structure of the Ashtanga yoga class vary depending on the teacher.

  • Traditional training begins with warm-up series: sun salutation A and B.
  • After the warm-up practicing standing and sitting asanas.
  • The class usually ends with relaxation sequence or Shavasana (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shavasana)


In Ashtanga practice the students gradually move to more demanding positions according to their own advancement. The exercises are performed with uijayi-breathing that warms the body.


Ashtanga Yoga Sequences and Poses

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga consists of six different asana series. There are three different types of series: primary series, intermediate series and advanced series.

Advancement to the next series is possible only after the previous exercises are in control.

All series have the same basic principle: Breathing should be controlled, deep and in rhythm with the movement.


Ashtanga Primary Series – Beginner: Yoga Chikitsa

The first Ashatanga Yoga series – primary series – is named Yoga Chikitsa.

It cleanses and stretches the body. It also improves metabolism and balances the body’s fluid circulation (Blood circulation, lymph circulation and the cerebrospinal fluid circulation) and the endocrine system.

First series has lots of forward bends, some spine rotations and only a few back bends

Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series with Jessica Kass and Lesley Fightmaster in YouTube


Primary series training balances the body in many different ways. When the physical body is in balance it calms the mind. It creates the strength and flexibility that is needed in the second series. It usually takes a few years of regular yoga practice before advancing to the second series.


Ashtanga primary series pose chart as PDF (from ashtangastudio.de)


Second Series – Intermediate: Nadi Shodhana

Nāḍi-Śodhana नाडिशोधन

  • The second ashtanga series Nadi Shodhana cleans the nervous system by opening the energy channels that connect the seven energy centers, chakras.
  • The second series also strongly purifies internal organs and the nervous system. It requires more flexibility and a better management of breathing and the bandhas than the primary series.
  • Nadi Shodsana has a lot of back bends and thus it opens up the muscles in front of the body but at the same time requires support and flexibility of the dorsal muscles.
  • The second series poses 


Advanced Series (3-6): Sthira Bhaga

Sthira Bhaga स्थिर भग Sublime Serenity

  • The series 3-6 form together the advanced series of Ashtanga Yoga. Each of the series are still different, separate exercise series.
  • All of the advanced series require a really good control and understanding of bandhas, breathing and muscle control, as well as a dedicated yoga lifestyle.
  • The asanas require a strong and flexible body as well as concentrated and calm mind.
  • The Advanced Series combines the power of concentration and the functioning of the chakras.


Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training


 “The teacher’s dharma is to teach yoga exactly as he learned it from his guru. The teaching should be presented with a good heart, with good purpose and with noble intentions.” – Shri K Pattabhi Jois

You can study to be an Ashtanga teacher in many yoga institutes around the world. Many yoga centers offer 200-hours teacher training programs, but it has been debated that those courses are too short to produce quality yoga teachers with proper teaching skills.

The Basic Structure of the Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training:


The Yoga Philosophy

Philosophy studies include, for example an introduction to the 8 step path, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita. The student will learn about Yamas and Niyamas, the meaning of Dharma and yoga teaching ethics.

Technique Training

The yoga asanas are studied through multiple yoga classes.

Human Anatomy and Physiology

Equipped with good anatomical knowledge the yoga teacher is able to guide their classes safely and with high quality. In yoga teacher training the anatomy is studied through both western and oriental science.

The teaching will cover the person’s physical and energetic body such as the human digestive system, circulatory and respiratory system, bones, muscles, chakras, nadis, the energy bodies meridians.

Teaching Methodology Studies

Teaching Methodology Studies prepare the yoga instructor candidates to teach yoga. Everyone doesn’t learn in the same way, and a good teacher knows effective means to teach all kinds of people.

Teaching Practice

Yoga teaching skills are trained in practice, so that after graduation each student would have secure and safe feeling to start teaching.


More Information about Ashtanga teacher training:

Shri K Pattabhi Jois Yoga Institute in Mysore, India


Ashtanga Mantra


वन्दे गुरूणां चरणारविन्दे सन्दर्शित स्वात्म सुखाव बोधे

निःश्रेयसे जङ्गलिकायमाने संसार हालाहल मोहशांत्यै

आबाहु पुरुषाकारं शंखचक्रासि धारिणम्

सहस्र शिरसं श्वेतं प्रणमामि पतञ्जलिम्


vande gurunam charanaravinde
sandarsita svatmasukhava bodhe
nihsreyase jangalikayamane
samsara halahala mohasantyai
abahu purusakaram
sankhacakrasi dharinam
sahasra sirasam svetam
pranamami patanjalim


I bow to the lotus feet of the Gurus
The awakening happiness of one’s own Self revealed
Beyond better, acting like the Jungle physician
Pacifying delusion, the poison of Sansara
Taking the form of a man to the shoulders
Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword
One thousand heads white
To Pantanjali, I salute.


Ashtanga closing Mantra

Svasthi Praja Bhyaha Pari Pala Yantam
Nya Yena Margena Mahim Mahishaha
Go Brahmanebhyaha Shubamastu Nityam
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
Shanti Shanti Shantihi


May all be well with mankind.
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way, by keeping to the right path.
May there be goodness for those who know the earth to be sacred.
May all the worlds be happy


Ashtanga Yoga Videos


You can find many great Ashtanga Yoga videos in YouTube:

Ashtanga Yoga Beginners Series


Ashtanga Yoga 45 – 60 minute home practice (Modified Half Primary)

Ashtanga Yoga DVD’S

**These are affiliate links to Amazon.com**

Yoga for Beginners with Kino MacGregor Ashtanga Yoga

Yoga for Beginners with Kino MacGregor : Ashtanga Yoga

In this Beginner’s Yoga DVD, Kino MacGregor introduces you to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga taught to her by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois in Mysore, India.




Ashtanga Yoga The Practice First Series with David Swenson

Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice First Series with David Swenson

This DVD contains the complete First Series of Ashtanga Yoga preceeded by a 30-minute introduction explaining the foundations of the practice.




Ashtanga Yoga Books

Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy

Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy by Gregor Maehle

Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy is the first book of its kind, presenting a comprehensive guide to all eight limbs of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Join author Gregor Maehle, a seasoned yogi and compassionate teacher, as he guides you through the history and lineage of yoga.




Ashtanga Yoga The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Dynamic Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga: The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Dynamic Yoga by John Scott

John Scott’s Ashtanga Yoga draws on his expertise as a teacher of this most energetic form of yoga. An easy-to-use guide, it features color photographs and a series of step-by-step exercise sessions.




More information about Ashtanga Yoga:

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