What Is Ashtanga Yoga?

In the past 20 years, the word ‘Yoga’ has grown from being discussed by a select few to being practically on everyone’s lips. Being a set of mindful, energetic, and spiritual disciplines aimed at stilling the mind and strengthening the body, it’s easy to see why people would be enamored with the practices.

However, with the number of yoga studios increasing and the amount of different disciplines available, it is easy for a beginner to become lost or confused by where to begin. Therefore, we have decided to enlighten you, by giving information on one of the most popular forms of the art: Ashtanga yoga.

What Is Ashtanga Yoga


Yoga, as a whole entity, is an ancient Indian practice, stretching back thousands of years. Its origins are so far back in time that we are still not sure how or when it came to be, we only have the vague knowledge of who practiced it.

Being so old and surrounded by a multitude of different cultures caused a lot of adjustments, variations, and changes throughout the years. Even Ashtanga’s origins, a relatively new and popular form of yoga, are shrouded in mystery.

The man who popularized Ashtanga, Pattabhi Jois, claimed to have learned the art from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, widely considered the father of modern yoga, however whether Krishnamacharya learned the style from a now lost book or created it is still up for debate.

Whatever the case may be, Ashtanga is very similar to the Vinyasa style, which may have been adapted from Ashtanga to suit the needs of other practitioners.

Ashtanga Vs Vinyasa: Similarities? Differences?

Ashtanga yoga and Vinyasa yoga were born out of the same discipline in recent times, while Ashtanga yoga is older – being in practice since at least the 1950s – Vinyasa has grown to be equally popular.

However, yoga practitioners who delve into both practices often note key differences between the styles, the main ones being:

Ashtanga Is More Structured

Ashtanga follows a set series of positions that in term are made up of four unique parts: Sun, Standing, Seated, Closing. For every class around the world, it is the same pattern and the same sequence. For Vinyasa, it is less structured and more fluid, varying which pose or sequence you do next, which is often left up to the practitioner.

Ashtanga Uses The ‘Tristhana’ Method

Tristhana is the marriage of the three points of attention: Asana (Poses), Drishti (Gaze), Pranayama (breathing and sound). This helps the practitioner stay focused throughout the session, it is designed to look inward and calm the mind. Vinyasa’s goal is not always the same, so the method is not as necessary.

Ashtanga Always Starts With An Opening Mantra

Most yoga classes may have a mantra used or begin and end with an ‘om’, but Ashtanga uses the same mantra at the start of every class. It is to thank the teachers who came before for helping the practice survive and helps clear the energy of the practice space.

As you can see, the main differences between the two disciplines are often because of Ashtanga having its own set structure, rather than a complete separation between the two.


There are three core principles, excluding the daily practice needed to master them. Each pertain to mastery of a concept, be that physical, mental, or spiritual, and are designed to challenge you, but to never push you beyond your limit:


We briefly covered the three points of attention earlier: Asana, Drishti, and Pranayama. These focus on the purifying of the person: their mind, nervous system, and body, being performed together to harness maximum potential.

Asana’s are set sequences focused on increasing strength and mobility, Pranayama is steady and even breathing throughout the class, calming and soothing you, and Drishti are for focus of the mind and have set points for the eyes to focus during each Asana.


Vinyasa are the transitional movements between one Asana to the next. They are flowing and stable, connecting each one is an unending chain that maintains the purity established by the Tristhana.


Bandha are symbolic poses or gestures that are considered internal body locks. These are contractions of specific areas inside the body and are considered essential for mastering Pranayama. Mula Bandha is the contraction of the perineum, lifting it towards the spine.

Uddiyana Bandha is the contraction of the abdomen, pulling it into the rib cage. Finally, there is Jalandhara Bandha, which is the tucking of the chin into the chest while raising the sternum. When not practicing Asanas, it is recommended you practice Bandhas.

To achieve mastery of Ashtanga yoga, these three principles are the key, and it is recommended you practice them most days of the week to improve your health and outlook, as well as your yoga.


Yoga has many noted practitioners precisely because it has many noted benefits. The most obvious ones being the increase in flexibility and mobility, due to the constant use of different, challenging poses. An increase in strength and stamina is also to be expected, as Ashtanga yoga is noted to be quite strenuous and used amongst athletes.

Finally, yoga is a great way to relieve stress, as it focuses your mind, body, and breathing, forcing you to focus on your present activity rather than other concerns in your life, as well as giving you realistic expectations of what you can achieve through it.

Final Thoughts

Ashtanga yoga is an incredible form of exercise and discipline to devote yourself to. With its many benefits, challenging positions, and social engagement, it’s a perfect activity that won’t put too much pressure on your body and helps set your mind at ease.

Ashtanga is probably the best form of yoga to begin with as it is more structured and has more instruction than a lot of the other forms, making it easier to pick up than the more free form and fluid styles that are out there as well.

If you would like to learn more about Vinyasa yoga, please click the link here: (Insert Vinyasa Yoga Link)

Laura Simmons
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