Ashtanga yoga gets its name from asha and tanga, 8 limbs. It is based on an ancient yoga text thousands of years old that stated there were 8 limbs, or supports, that serve as the foundation of a yoga practice. Yoga means union, so the 8 limbs help unite body, mind and spirit. The 8 limbs are:
Yama refers to a person’s moral and ethical standards and personal integrity. The 5 are:
• not killing or doing harm (ahimsa)
• not being envious
Niyama refers to self-discipline and spiritual practice in one’s daily life. This can be gained through meditation, the practice of mindfulness, and/or attending a house of worship and leading a good life.
There are 5 niyamas:
• spiritual control and self-denial
• study of the sacred scriptures, and of one’s self, trying to tap into your higher power
• surrendering to the divine
Asanas are the physical postures practiced in yoga. You have probably heard the phrase, “Your body is a temple.” For those who believe in reincarnation, such as Hindus and Buddhists, they believe the ‘continually residing mind’ moves from one body to another as we would move from house to house, so we must always keep our ‘residence’ in good condition.
Without breath, there is no life, so pranayama is breath control. The word prana means energy and yama means standards or control. Pranayams is thought to extend discipline and control and in turn can rejuvenate the body or even extend life.
Pratyahara means mental focus.
Pratyahara is concentration. The mantra OM helps focus.
Dhyana can be translated as contemplation, a calm, focused mind.
Samadhi is a state of joy through meditation. It is gained through regular practice of physical yoga and mental training.
Ashtanga yoga has 7 levels, 1 basic, 2 intermediate, and 4 advanced, and physically is very vigorous. Even the most skilled practitioners have rarely been able to reach the 2 highest advanced levels. This yoga would be ideal for people who are young and fit but not for seniors or those with health issues and for those who wish to cultivate a better self. If you are interested in yoga as a transformative process complete with meditation and breath work, beginner level Ashtanga may be right for you.