Ashtanga is what the sage Patanjali called the eightfold path to enlightenment described in his Yoga Sutra. These 196 aphorisms were compiled around 400 CE as a guide to spiritual liberation. The purpose of yoga is to train the mind to enable clear seeing:
Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah.
Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam.
Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field.
Then the seer rests in its true nature.
– Yoga Sutra 1.2-3
The postures we are familiar with from our yoga classes are practices from just one of the stages on the path (asana). Ashtanga the path is not to be confused with a system of yoga asana and pranayama called Ashtanga Yoga, championed by K. Pattabhi Jois.
Click on the links below to read more about the various stages and practices of Ashtanga (a work in progress).
1. Yamas – ethical restraints, respect for others
- Ahimsa – non-harming
- Satya – non-lying, truthfulness
- Asteya – non-stealing
- Bramacharya – non-excess, moderation
- Aparigraha – non-hoarding
2. Niyamas – observances, virtuous habits, self-respect
- Saucha – purity
- Santosha – contentment
- Tapas – self-discipline
- Svadhyaya – self-study
- Isvarapranidhana – surrender, acceptance
3. Asana – Postures, harmony with physical body
4. Pranayama – Control of breath, harmony with life force
5. Pratyahara – Control of senses, harmony with emotions
6. Dharana – single pointed concentration, harmony with thoughts
7. Dhyana – Meditative absorption
8. Samadhi – Union of meditator & object, recognizing true nature