Ashtanga Yoga is a practice method that has its origins in Mysore, India. It developed from the teachings of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya who in turn had received knowledge of the practice from his guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari. It was brought to the West by Krishnamacharya's student Pattabhi Jois in the 1970-80’s. Today the teachings are continued through Pattabhi Jois’s daughter Saraswati Jois and grandson R Sharath Jois in Mysore, as well as by many certified/authorised teachers around the world. Read more here...
The Ashtanga yoga method includes a dynamic practice of yoga postures (asanas) and deep breathing (pranayama). Movement and breath are synchronized (vinyasa) through a progressive series of yoga asanas. Thde practice puts equal emphasis on strength, flexibility and endurance, and these qualities are balanced throughout the various postures and series.
The physical practice and special way of breathing produces an intense internal heat which results in a sweat that is said to purify the body and entire nervous system. Both body and mind become stronger and more flexible. Regular practice may lead to improved concentration, increased awareness of thought/behavioural patterns, how we treat our bodies and how we interact with the world around us.
The practice of yoga includes more than just physical exercise. Ashtanga is a Sanskrit word that means “eight [anga]" "limbs/parts [anga]” whereof each limb is equally important. The eight limbs are described in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras (one of yoga’s basic texts):
Yamas - moral, ethical principles
Niyamas - self-study and self-purification
Asana - physical movement/yoga postures
Pranayama - breathing exercises, breath control
Pratyahara - to focus ones attention inward/withdrawal of the senses
Dharana - concentration
Dhyana - meditation
Samadhi: yoga’s ultimate state of mind, happiness, self-fulfilment
To reach the goal of yoga which is to still the mind - yoga citta vritti nirodhah - and become more balanced in life, all eight limbs should be practiced. However, progression is not linear and all eight limbs can be practiced simoultaneously. That said, asana practice (making shapes on the yoga mat – the third limb) should be limites to about 2 hours a day, while yoga practice can be done 24/7.