Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) was an Indian yoga teacher and scholar. He was credited with the revival of Hatha yoga and was often referred to “ The Father of Modern Yoga”. In 1927, at the age of 12, K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) became a student of Krishnamacharya and was doing intense daily practice. After 20 years in 1948 Pattabhi established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore where he later was discovered by a group of westerners, which was growing rapidly. And now it has become a world known school of Ashtanga yoga for westerners.
What is Ashtanga yoga
Ashtanga yoga is a traditional method. Promoted by Sri K Pattabhi Jois. A traditional Ashtanga practice follows the same series of poses and makes you hold each for five breaths before moving through a vinyasa. The room should be well heated. This dynamic, physically demanding practice synchronizes breath and movement to produce an internal heat, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. Ashtanga with its fast pace and many vinyasas also builds core strengths and tones the body.
Focus points while practicing
At the core of the practice there are three places of attention. 1) The (ujjayi) breath is very important throughout the practice as it helps you to calm the mind.
2) Each posture has a gazing point (drishti) to maintain concentration and internal meditative state. All together there are 9 gazing points, but it is more important to have a fixed gaze than to know all gazing points.
3) While practicing, specific muscles are engaged called locks (bandhas) to get the correct energy flow. There are three bandhas: Mula Bandha (Root Lock), which is contraction of the pelvic floor in order to generate a feeling of groundness. Uddiyana Bandha (Flying Upward Lock) lifting the lower back and tensing the abdominal/ core muscles. Jalandhara Bandha (Net Bearer Lock) is used mostly related to pranayama techniques, as it is the locking of the chin towards your chest to get a deep maximum oxygen exchange.
There are no specific contradictions about Ashtanga yoga, but in general there are some precautions about when not to practice certain postures.
Inversions should be avoided when suffering from glaucoma, inflammatory diseases in the head region and severe hypertension.
Forward bending and up right twisting asanas could be harmful for people with serious problems in the lumbar spine.
People with joint problems should be careful as for example lotus can increase knee problems if you already have them or shoulder problems can increase even while practicing chaturanga, especially if done incorrectly.
The pressure in abdomen should not be increased if there is a case of inflammatory or other acute abdomen diseases.
Who can practice Ashtanga yoga?
Here I will answer with my favorite quote by Pattabhi Jois
“ Anyone can practice. Young man can practice. Old man can practice. Very old man can practice. Man who is sick, he can practice. Man who doesn't have strength can practice. Except lazy people; lazy people can't practice Ashtanga yoga”
If you practice with caution then you wont have problems with Ashtanga yoga. Main thing is that you shouldn’t feel strong pain when practicing asanas. If you do, please stop immediately because it means that you are not practicing the asana correctly or you might have some problems in that area or you are just not ready for the asana. That’s why there are modifications of each asana so anyone can practice, beginners, intermediate and advance levels.
A book to read for beginners in Ashtanga yoga
If you would like to start practicing Ashtanga and would like to know a little more about it, then a really good book to read for the beginners is “Ashtanga Yoga As It Is” by Matthew Sweeney.