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About Yoga & Ashtānga Yoga

Updated: Jul 6

Virinchasana Early Morning Pre-Teaching Practice Santa Barbara 2006
Virinchasana Early Morning Pre-Teaching Practice Santa Barbara 2006

“The way of establishing the mind within our true nature should be known as yoga.” ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

◇ About Yoga ◇ About Ashtānga Yoga ◇ The 8 Limbs of Yoga ◇ The 15 Limbs of Yoga ◇ History of Yoga ◇


Yoga is the unified use of body, breath & mind for the purpose of becoming a healthier, happier, more balanced and present human being. Yoga produces greater coordination, flexibility, strength, vitality & mental clarity while reducing tension & disease producing stress. Yoga leads us towards freedom!

“Yoga is – citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ – the controlling of the mind. If we are sitting here, but our mind is not here, then it has gone elsewhere. To control the mind, to bring it back, that is Yoga.” - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Nama Rupa, p. 10, Spring 2003


Ashtānga Yoga begins with the practice of a specific sequence of postures (āsanas) synchronized together with breath and movement (vinyāsa). The sequence begins with sun salutations (sūrya namaskāras), then progresses through standing and seated postures, and finishes with a seated breathing practice. As an extensive system, the Ashtānga sequence is divided into six parts commonly known as Primary (cikitsā vibhāga), Intermediate (nāḍī śodhana), and Advanced A, B, C & D (sthira vibhāga).

The Foundation: Ashtānga Yoga is founded upon even breathing, core strength (bandhas) and gazing (drishti). These components create continuity and stability while practicing the sequence, and when done correctly, ensures progress unfolds safely and successful while cleansing & strengthening both the mind & body.

"[T]he practice of āsana is spoken of in the śāstras – āsanam pūrvam ucyate – as coming first. Why? We do not have enough energy in the body; the body is very weak. We do not have the listening power to comprehend things clearly. If we have enough śakti, energy, then it is possible to get things accomplished. That is why we must first do āsana." ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Nama Rupa, p. 10, Spring 2003

Ashtānga Yoga – literally: eight limb yoga – means Yama (ethical restraint), Niyama (personal improvements), Āsana (physical posture), Prāṇāyāma (breath & bio rhythm control), Pratyāhāra (control of senses), Dhāraṇā (steady focus), Dhyāna (deep concentration), and Samādhi (meditative absorption). Āsana and Prāṇāyāma (the 3rd and 4th limbs) form the foundation of yoga. By practicing these two limbs every day for a long time with faith, enthusiasm & dedication, the other limbs are developed and understood.

"For the yogin who seeks to climb the mountain - to reach the peak - of yoga, practice is said to be the means; as regards the yogin who has already reached this peak of yoga, equanimity and meditation directly on the eternal (śama) is said to be the means." ~ Bhagavad Gītā, Ch. 6 v. 3


Aṣṭāṅga Yoga अष्टाङ्गयोग – From the Pātañjala Yoga Sūtras, 2.29 to 3.03:

Yama यम:

Ahiṁsā अहिंसा – Non-harming & not being mean,

Satya सत्य – Truthfulness that follows Ahiṁsā,

Asteya अस्तेय – Non-stealing of intellectual & material property,

Brahmacarya ब्रह्मचर्य – Appropriate relationships,

Aparigraha अपरिग्रह – Not taking things inappropriately or unnecessarily.

Niyama नियम:

Śauca शौच – Mental & physical purity,

Saṁtoṣa संतोष – Self-contentment,

Tapas तपस् – Mental & physical discipline,

Svādhyāya स्वाध्याय – Mindfluness, practice & study of yoga philosophy,

Īśvara Praṇidhāna ईश्वरप्रणिधान – Equanimity, non-attachment to thoughts, actions & results, trust in a nature, God or something other than self.

Āsana आसन – The body organized with a straight back and smooth even breathing.

Prāṇāyāma प्राणायाम – While doing āsana correctly, rough, uneven and strained breathing is avoid, that is prāṇāyāma.

Pratyāhāra प्रत्याहार – Directing the senses inward toward the physiological Self.

Dhāraṇā धारणा – Containing the mind within a chosen place of attention; there is awareness of object, meditator & surroundings.

Dhyāna ध्यान – An intensification of dhāraṇā wherein concentration flows in a single stream such that there is only awareness of object & meditator; all else has faded.

Samādhi समाधि – An intensification of dhyāna wherein there is no longer any self-awareness – only the object of meditation shines forth; it is as if the meditator has become the object of meditation.

"Yama, niyama, āsana and prāṇāyāma are the external practices. The internal practices are pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi… If the āsanas are not correct, correcting is possible. If prāṇāyāma is not correct, correcting is possible… [However, if the internal practices] are not correct, correcting is impossible… [I]f you do the correct method, then correction on the internal practices is possible… [viz.] if the first is correct, the second will also be correct." ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: A Tribute, 2002


from the Aparokṣānubhūti by Ādi Śaṅkarācārya

v. 100: Now for the attainment of [the knowledge of brahman], I shall expound the fifteen limbs of yoga through which one may practice profound meditation.

ripañcāṅgāny atho vakṣye pūrvoktasya hi labdhaye,

taiś ca sarvaiḥ sadā karyaṁ nididhyāsanam eva tu.

v. 102 - 103: The fifteen limbs, in order, are described: yama, niyama, tyāga (relinquishing), mauna (silence), deśa, kāla, āsana, mūla-bandha, deha-sāmya (evenness of body), dṛk sthiti (steadiness of seeing), prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, ātma-dhyāna, and samādhi.

yamo hi niyamas tyāgo maunaṁ deśaś ca kālatā,

āsanaṁ mūlabandhaś ca dehasāmyaṁ ca dṛksthitiḥ.

prāṇasamyamanaṁ caiva pratyāhāraś ca dhāraṇā,

ātmadhyānaṁ samādhiś ca proktāny aṅgāni vai kramāt.

Yama यम: Restraint of the senses by directly realizing everything as Brahman (God, Supreme Reality) is correctly called yama; this should be practiced repeatedly.

sarvaṁ brahmeti vijñānād indrayagrāmasaṁyamaḥ,

yamo ‘yam iti saṁprokto ‘abhyasaniyo muhurmuhuḥ. (v. 104)

Niyama नियम: The continuous flow of only one thought, to the exclusion of all other thoughts, is calledniyama; indeed, the wise derive a very special bliss from the practice of niyama.

sajātīyapravāhaś ca vijātīyatiraskṛtiḥ,

niyamo hi parānando niyamāt kriyate budhaiḥ. (v. 105)

Tyāga त्याग: Abandoning the illusory nature of things by realizing the all conscious Ātman (the Eternal Self, God within) is true renunciation honored by the wise because it is the nature of immediate mokṣa (liberation).

tyāgaḥ prapañcarūpasya cid ātmatvāvalokanāt,

tyāgo hi mahatāṁ pūjyaḥ sadyo mokṣamayo yataḥ. (v. 106)

Mauna मौन: The wise should always be with that mauna (divine silence) - that from which words together with the mind - unable to reach - return, [but to where] the yogin goes.

yasmād vāco nivartante aprāpya manasā saha,

yan maunaṁ yogibhir gamyaṁ tad bhavet sarvadā budhaḥ. (v. 107)

Deśa देश: Remembering the omnipresent and Eternally Divine Reality.

Kāla काल: Awareness of the entire non-dual and undivided bliss of reality that exists within each and every moment.

Āsana आसन: Posture in which the thought of Brahman flows spontaneously and continuously.

Mūla Bandha मूलबन्ध: That which is the root of all existence, and the basis of mental concentration is mūla-bandha; the Rāja Yogīs are forever devotedly committed to cultivating it.

yan mūlaṁ sarva-bhūtānāṁ yan mūlaṁ citta-bandhanam,

mūla-bandhaḥ sadā sevyaḥ yogyo ‘sau rāja-yoginām. (v. 114)

Deha Sāmya देहसाम्य: Evenness of body through absorption in Brahman.

Dṛk Sthiti दृक्स्थिति: Envisioning the world as Brahman.

Prāṇāyāma प्राणायाम: Restraining all thoughts by regarding all states as Brahman. Furthermore, negating the world is recaka (exhalation), the thought ‘I am Brahman’ is pūraka (inhalation), and sustaining that thought is breath retention (kumbhaka).

Pratyāhāra प्रत्याहार: Absorption in the realization that Ātman exists within all objects.

Dhāraṇā धारणा: Concentration on Brahman regardless of wherever the mind may be focused.

Ātma Dhyāna आत्मध्यान: Meditation on Brahman (Supreme Reality).

Samādhi समाधि: The complete forgetfulness of all thought by utter absorption within Brahman (God).

"We know from various scriptures, purāṇas, Vedas, and legends that the science of yoga has been in existence in India since time immemorial."~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Yoga Mala, p. xix


Ashtānga Yoga is a traditional system that was taught by the late Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois (1915 - 2009), and that is still taught today by the Jois family in Mysore, India and abroad. The method of vinyāsa which is widely known in yoga classes worldwide today was originally learned from Pattabhi Jois. Pattabhi was very dedicated to yoga. He began yoga at the age of twelve and remained steady in his practice and deeply philosophical in yoga throughout his life. He taught and practiced until his passing at the age of ninety-three.

Pattabhi Jois lived a humble life devoted to yoga and family. Never seeking any worldly gain, but living at home with his wife and children, and teaching yoga. Never having advertised, the fame he achieved came after more than sixty years of his steadfastness. The vinyāsa method originally learned from him - now in myriad forms - has spread like wildfire worldwide in the past thirty years. But still further credits are due to those who taught and supported Pattabhi.

In the early 1900's while India was under British rule, India still maintained its royal traditions. It was the sponsorship from the king, Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar, that supported the success of both Pattabhi Jois and his yoga guru, Sri T. Krishnamacharya. Without the king's funding, raising a family with yoga as a profession would have been a bleak existence, and the fate of yoga today - or at least vinyāsa yoga - would be uncertain.

Krishnamacharya - Pattabhi Jois' teacher - was an astounding scholar and genius. Born in 1888 into a scholarly family, he began his training at the age of six! After completely extensive schooling throughout India, and having received degrees in many fields and Indian philosophies, Krishnamacharya traveled to a region in Tibet, near Mount Kailasa and lake Manasarovar. There he lived and studied for seven and a half years with Ramamohana Brahmachari - who had a wife and three children. When Krishnamacharya's studies concluded, he asked his teacher what the payment for the teachings should be: The response, "You get married, have children and teach yoga." At that time in the 1920's, there was no such things as making a living and raising a family as a yoga teacher. It was a virtual sentence to utter poverty! However, with his steadfast faith, dedication, discipline and depth of knowledge, Krishnamacharya not only endured poverty, but he revived yoga from obscurities and laid the foundation for the practice of vinyåsa yoga to blossom forth and benefit the whole world.

Yoga’s current popularization is quite astounding. In recent ages, yoga was viewed by most (even in India) as a form of escapism useful only to those wanting to live outside the norms of society. Thus yoga was practiced almost exclusively by renunciates, ascetics, religious fanatics, and the like.

There are others who came prior to our teachers, Pattabhi Jois and Krishnamacharya, and who prepared the ground for this recent awakening of yoga. In 1883, the late Swami Vivekananda introduced yoga's universal philosophy to the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago. Yogananda came to Boston in 1920 on an invitation to speak at the International Congress of Religious Liberals, and remained in the USA to found the Self-Realization Fellowship for the spread of Kiryā Yoga. So, through the first half of the 1900's, yoga spread slowly. Then in 1968, the Beatles' went to India and spent time with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Following that, interest in Eastern culture grew some more, and the teachings of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar and Bikram Choudhury soon followed. From the work of these great teachers, yoga has spread exponentially to the point that today yoga is a commonly accepted culture throughout all regions of the world, and in some places on nearly every corner!

[I]f we look into the scriptures properly, understand their meaning, and reflect on them, we will come to know yoga’s true nature… [however] the scriptures only show us the right path. It is left to us to understand them and to put them into practice. By the strength gained through this practice, we can come to know the method for bringing the mind and sense organs under control. Thus we can achieve yoga.” - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Yoga Mala, p. 4 - 5, 2002


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