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Ashtanga Yoga: A Journey Through Yoga Mala by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Short History

"Yoga Mala" is a book written by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga. The book was first published in 1962 and has since become a classic text on the practice of Ashtanga Yoga.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part provides an introduction to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, including its history, philosophy, and principles. The second part of the book describes the specific sequence of asanas (postures) that make up the Ashtanga Yoga practice. The third part of the book provides an explanation of the bandhas (internal energy locks), the breath, and other aspects of the practice.

Throughout the book, Jois emphasizes the importance of discipline, dedication, and humility in the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. He also emphasizes the role of the teacher-student relationship and stresses the importance of finding a qualified teacher to guide one's practice.

The book includes detailed descriptions of each posture in the Ashtanga Yoga sequence, as well as photographs of Jois demonstrating the postures. Jois also provides information on common mistakes in the practice, and offers guidance on how to modify the practice for different levels of ability.

Overall, "Yoga Mala" is a comprehensive guide to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, and provides valuable insights into the philosophy, principles, and techniques of this ancient system of yoga. It is considered an essential text for anyone interested in the practice of Ashtanga Yoga.

The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga, which translates to "eight-limbed yoga," is based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a collection of 196 aphorisms that outline the philosophy and practice of yoga. The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are:

  1. Yama: Ethical restraints or moral disciplines, such as non-violence, truthfulness, and non-stealing.

  2. Niyama: Personal observances or self-disciplinary practices, including cleanliness, contentment, and self-study.

  3. Asana: Physical postures that cultivate stability and ease in the body.

  4. Pranayama: Breathing techniques to regulate and control the flow of vital energy (prana) within the body.

  5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses to cultivate inner awareness.

  6. Dharana: Concentration, or the ability to focus the mind on a single point.

  7. Dhyana: Meditation, or the practice of sustained, uninterrupted focus on a single object or idea.

  8. Samadhi: A state of complete absorption and union with the object of meditation, leading to self-realization or enlightenment.

Ashtanga Yoga Practice

The physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga consists of six series of asanas (postures), each designed to purify and strengthen the body and mind. The series are:

  1. Primary Series: Also known as Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy, this series focuses on realigning the body, detoxifying the internal organs, and building strength and flexibility.

  2. Intermediate Series: Known as Nadi Shodhana or Nerve Cleansing, this series is intended to purify the nervous system and open the energy channels within the body.

  3. Advanced Series A, B, C, and D: Collectively known as Sthira Bhaga or Divine Stability, these series emphasize advanced postures, requiring a high degree of strength, flexibility, and concentration.

Practitioners progress through the series at their own pace, under the guidance of a qualified teacher. The practice is characterized by the use of vinyasa, a flowing sequence of movements synchronized with the breath, and drishti, specific gazing points that direct the focus and cultivate concentration.

The Importance of the Breath

Breath is a vital component of Ashtanga Yoga practice. The Ujjayi breathing technique, characterized by a slow, steady, and audible breath, is employed throughout the practice. This serves to deepen the connection between body and mind, regulate the flow of energy within the body, and steady the mind during challenging postures.

The breath is considered a fundamental aspect of ashtanga yoga practice. In fact, many yoga traditions place a strong emphasis on the breath, and consider it to be the link between the physical body and the mind. Here are some reasons why the breath is important in yoga practice:

  1. Focus and concentration: The breath can be used as a point of focus to help the mind become more concentrated and focused. By paying attention to the breath, the mind becomes more present and less distracted.

  2. Calming and centering: The breath is intimately connected to the nervous system and can be used to calm and center the body and mind. Slow, deep breathing can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and tension in the body.

  3. Energy and vitality: The breath is also considered a source of energy and vitality in many yoga traditions. By using specific breathing techniques, such as pranayama, practitioners can increase the flow of vital energy (prana) throughout the body.

  4. Movement and flow: In many yoga styles, the breath is used to synchronize movement with breath. This creates a flowing, dynamic practice that helps to build strength, flexibility, and endurance.

  5. Self-awareness: Finally, paying attention to the breath can help to cultivate a deeper sense of self-awareness. By observing the breath, practitioners can become more attuned to their internal state and develop a greater understanding of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.

The Role of the Teacher

In the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, the relationship between teacher and student is of paramount importance. Teachers provide guidance, support, and individualized instruction to students as they progress through the practice. This hands-on approach, known as Mysore-style teaching, allows the teacher to address the unique needs and abilities of each student.

Ashtanga Yoga, as presented in Sri K. Pattabhi Jois's "Yoga Mala," is a dynamic and transformative practice that combines physical postures, breath, and ethical principles to create a holistic path towards self-realization. With dedication, discipline, and the guidance of a qualified teacher, practitioners can experience the profound benefits of this ancient practice.


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