I like this explanation of Ashtanga by Yana (who just completed the AYP teacher training). Very practical way to explain this complex practice! Thanks Yana for allowing us to share!
Ashtanga yoga is one of the most efficient hatha yoga systems known these days. It was formed by a disciple of Krishnamacharya’s (one of the greatest yogis of 20th century): Sri. K.P. Jois based on an ancient text called Yoga Korunta and on common experience of Pattabhi Jois and his teacher. Ashtanga yoga is one of the most complete yoga systems which includes work on all aspects of a disciple’s life starting from the physical body and continuing with more subtle structures. What is interesting in the Ashtanga system is that the practitioner himself can chose to go deeper in morality and philosophy of yoga or to stay with physical aspect.
The classical way to start Ashtanga Vinyasa practice is by following Mysore style class with a qualified teacher. There you learn the sequence posture by posture, learning to synchronize movement with breath mastering vinyasa. This way of studying allows your body to get used to the new physical activity and lets all the body structures get adapted to it.
The sequence is designed to gradually stretch and strengthen muscles, to gain flexibility in joints and to get rid of toxins with the sweat coming out during practice. We start from sun salutations to warm the body up, we continue with standing positions working hard on our foundation, we proceed with sitting postures stretching nicely our spine and gaining mobility in hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow and wrist’s joints, we work on back bend for a flexible spine and to energize all structures, and at the end we perform some inversions to change the blood circulation patterns for a while and to calm the body after active practice. All that is performed with great attentiveness to each breath.
With practice you both cultivate discipline and improve your mood and general state. Ashtanga if practiced properly develops body structures gradually in the safest way possible for a dynamic practice. You become stronger physically and with time emotionally. Practice affects your character, it changes your relationship with yourself and with the outer world you become more determined if you were indecisive and softer if you were too strict, in other words practice brings you balance.
Yoga gives us uncountable tools to make life better, one could simply say that it raises the quality of life and there is no doubt in that, but also there can be a deeper understanding of this statement. We start this with simple movement, from movement connected with the breath this is already a powerful tool in understanding your own body, seeing connections between it’s different parts; than we add focal points to help our concentration; than we add energy locks first to understand that there are some muscles inside and then to find the energy motion inside the body.
The teaching of Yoga includes some behavior rules yamas and niyamas, comprising of truthfulness, nonharming, cleanliness, and contentment. According to the ancient texts following these rules serves for saving energy inside the body, which helps in achieving higher levels of consciousness. Looking at the subject from modern point of view we could say that following these rules makes you a nicer and more aware person.