Ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga | 8 Limbs of Yoga, Structure, and Benefits

Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic yogic practice that consists of six series of asanas in which we transition through vinyasa. It is meant to purify the blood and our nervous system. Each student must master all the asanas of the previous series to get to the next one.

Benefits include improved flexibility, strength, inner peace, focus, and circulation. Power Yoga is a great Ashtanga alternative, which besides dynamics, holds some other Ashtanga properties.

Ashtanga vs Vinyasa flow yoga

Vinyasa Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga are pretty similar and you might run into both terms used as one. The difference is the adaptability and change in structure that is allowed. We can say Vinyasa is a freestyle form of Ashtanga yoga or Ashtanga yoga is a structured form of Vinyasa Flow.

In Ashtanga there are six series that are followed, students must learn and remember the practiced sequence and adaptability allows beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, but is not as flexible as vinyasa flow. In other words, vinyasa is more creative, flexible, and suitable for everyone or easily transformed because there are fewer rules and guidelines.

“Lazy people can’t practice ashtanga yoga” – K.Pattabhi Jois.

Ashtanga – eight limbs of yoga

It is yogic practice, written in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, who was sage in India, an author of most of the Sanskrit words. He defined eight limbs or parts of Ashtanga yoga. Yoga Sutras by Patanjali is one of the oldest writings on yoga, In 400 CE Patanjali collected knowledge from different older traditions of yoga practice and he synthesized it into 196 aphorisms as a theory on yoga practice.

  • Eight limbs: yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadhi (absorption).
  • Yamas (don’t’s) ethical hinduism rules: ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (non-falsehood), asetya (non-stealing), bracharya (sexual restrain), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness)
  • Niyamas (do’s) observances and habits: scaucha (purity, mental clarity, and speech), santosha (optimism, contentment, acceptance of circumstances), tapas (persistence, perseverance, asceticism, self-discipline), svadhyaya (vedas and introspection, self-exploration), ishvarapranidhana (contemplation of god, supreme being, brahman)
  • Asanas – a posture that is held for some period of time. Pranajali recommended practicing the pose with comfort, relaxation, and motionlessness. Advising that we should not feel pain or too much pressure.
  • Twelve meditation postures: Padmasana (lotus), Virasana (hero), Badrasana (glorious), Svastikasana (lucky mark), Dandasana (staff), Soasrayasana (supported), Parynkkasana (bedstead), Kraunchanishadasana (seated heron), Hastanishadasana (seated elephant), Ushtranishadasana (seated camel), Samasansthanasana (evenly balances) and Sthirasukhasana (motionless posture in accordance to one’s pleasure).
  • Pranayama – breathing practice for breath control, comes from sanskrit “prana”-breath and “ayama”-restraint. Once desired posture has been achieved it is the practice of controlling the breath through inhalation, full pause, exhalation, and empty pause.
  • Pratyahara – the doorway to focus and avoiding distractions, 5th limb is less practiced or discussed, it means emotional withdrawal, to draw in our senses.
  • Dharana – it is inner focus, highly focused attention on self, introspection and one-pointedness of mind, root is the word “dhr”- to hold, maintain or keep.
  • Dhyana – is a way of contemplation or reflection. To contemplate it means to think deep, take as much data into consideration as you can, a way of profound thinking. It is represented as flow of awareness.
  • Samadhi – the eighth limb of ashtanga yoga means union, harmonizing, uniting, combining, putting together, joining, wholeness, connection, and trance. Here we lose sense of identity so much that we (the thinker, our thought and thought process) fuse together in one, samadhi.

“All mental distractions arise from free play of the senses, only through continuing practice can one keep their power in check. –Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.

Ashtanga yoga is a yoga style created by Pattabhi Jois. It is a modern form of classic Indian yoga training created in the 20th century. Practice begins with Surya Namaskara A (five repetitions and Surya Namaskara B (five repetitions) closing with a standing sequence. It consists of six series, through which the practitioner progresses.  Pattabhi Jois learned from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, an Indian teacher, ayurvedic healer, and scholar.

Power Yoga for Strength

Ashtanga yoga practice structure

Five repetitions of Surya Namaskara A – twelve linked asanas or sun salutations.
Five repetitions of Surya Namaskara B – same as A, just add warrior 1 in between.

Six series of Ashtanga Yoga:- Primary Series or Yoga, Yoga therapy or yoga for health

  • Intermediate (second) series – nerve purifier
  • Advanced series A – centering of strength
  • Advanced series B
  • Fifth series “Rishi” (recquires mastering all before)
  • Sixth series or advanced D

The energetic style of yoga in which different poses or asanas are done with flowing transitions, in which we link breath with movement. This is dynamic yoga with lots of movement and transitions.

“The full ashtanga system practiced with devotion leads to freedom within one’s heart – K.Pattabhi Jois.

Structure training

In Ashtanga yoga, students must first learn and remember the sequence before they practice it. Ashtanga yoga is taught twice per week in which students come to the place of practice and start practicing. Usually, the teacher is silent and assists his students in correcting their posture. To be Ashtanga yoga teacher you must become officially certified under Sharath Jois in Mysore, India at the KPJAYI also referred to as “main shala”.

Core principles

The core principles of ashtanga yoga are:

  • Trishtana, which means three places of attention: the breathing system or pranayama, posture or asanas, and looking place, point of focus or drishti. Presenting three levels of purification: the nervous system, mind and the body.
  • Vinyasa is used as a connection or transition following asanas, moving from one to another pose through a sequence. This is usually done by transitioning from downward-facing dog to plank, chaturanga, and upward-facing dog, lifting back in downward dog.
  • Breathing, Patthabi Jois reccomends 5-8 breaths, or staying as long as possible in posture.  Instructions with rechaka and puraka (exhale and inhale). Long inhale and exhale, as long as you can, often recommended 10-15 seconds.
  • Bandhas are internal body locks: Root lock – drawing in the perineum, drawing the abdomen, and throat lock –lower chin raise sternum.


Ashtanga yoga can bring alignment, leading to liberation or awakening as the end goal of this practice. Improving psychological and physical health is known as one of the oldest yoga practices. Yoga benefits are enormous, especially for people who tend to be in bad health – mental or physical, people with poor focus or memory, people with low drive and purpose, and people who lack mobility, flexibility, and strength. Ashtanga yoga can therefore improve your body, mind, and spirit growth.

Benefits of ashtanga yoga:

  • Power and strength – lots of contortion poses – core and arm strengthening. Sixty vinyasas in the primary series will improve shoulder strength.
  • A cardiovascular aerobic workout – fast dynamic flow combined with deep long breathing will get your heart rate up. Aids in weight loss since it’s an efficient calorie burner.
  • Improved cognition – through balance practice and point of focus, we can improve our coordination and body awareness or kinesthetic.
  • Emotional balance – comes from organ purification through improving circulation. This affects our stress response, and hormone levels lower fight or flight response and calm reactive state. We can accept ourselves and our circumstances past our imperfections and balance our emotions.
  • Awareness is gradually improving, both physical (feeling our body) and mental (observing our thoughts). It helps in pattern recognition which leads to obsessive thinking or emotional imbalance.
  • Spiritual growth – the first four limbs teach you how to act and behave to the external world, the other four cleanse the inner you in relation to mind and spirit.
  • Improved flexibility – gradually, slowly, over time we improve the elasticity of our muscles
  • Presence shift – heals anxiety and depression and also enhances your creativity. Since depression is living in the past, anxiety is living in the present, we can profit on shifting into the present moment.
  • Improve mobility – as a practice that uses a combination of muscle flexibility and strength and joint mobility is gradually improved.

Ashtanga yoga is more dynamic type of yoga which puts emphasis on strength, balance and controlled movement. It is usually more intense but also rewarding style which improves both mental and physical performance. Surya Namaskara A and B are structural part of Ashtanga Yoga.


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