ashtanga yoga in sacramento:

ashtanga yoga
Kapotasana from Ashtanga Second Series. Courtney McElroy is at a led class in Mysore.
classes with
Bill Counter
in Sacramento, California
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Ashtanga FAQs

How does Ashtanga differ from vinyasa or power yoga
practice?
Ashtanga is the traditional form that other styles of flow practice
derive from. It's taught as a specific system with the poses in a
certain sequential order. If you're working on one of the six series of
the Ashtanga system, the sequences are the same whether you're
doing it here or New York City or Mysore, India.  If it's a first series
Ashtanga class it would always be the same sequence of poses..

Power yoga and other vinyasa style classes take certain poses and
other elements from the Ashtanga system and do a re-mix. Some
teachers have a set routine and others do different poses in each
class. Intensity levels of the classes can vary widely between
teachers.

Our Ashtanga 1-2-3 classes are a different remix each week but
more traditionally Ashtanga focused. We do a large portion of first
series, different parts of second and third as well as selected poses
from fourth, fifth and sixth. So you dig deeper into the system and
progress more rapidly. And develop a wider variety of skills.

Both Ashtanga and its power yoga/vinyasa derivatives are
challenging practices focusing on the breath (ujjayi pranayama)
coordinated with movement that leads toward meditation. The
vinyasa approach to linking the poses together that is popular in
many flow styles originated with the Ashtanga system.  

What else distinguishes Ashtanga or the more modern "flow
style" variants from traditional hatha yoga practice?
Ashtanga also emphasizes a certain focused gaze or drishti (from
the Sanskrit root
drs meaning "to see") in each pose to develop
meditative focus.
Bandhas (energetic locks) are also employed
throughout the practice to produce awareness of internal energy
flow and generate internal heat.

Mulabhanda (the lift of the pelvic floor), Uddiyana bandha (a
drawing in and up of the lower abdomen) and (used to a lesser
extent)
Jalandhara bandha (the chin lock) are used during the
poses.  In traditional hatha yoga the bandhas are generally used
only in seated pranayama practice.

The pace, variety of poses explored and work toward cultivation of
upper body strength are also substantially different  than in most
basic hatha yoga classes.

How do the Ashtanga poses differ from those of other yoga
systems?
Well, there aren't really any "Ashtanga poses". Sometimes students
coming from tamer class styles assume that some of the arm
balances or other things they haven't been exposed to are unique
to Ashtanga but (with a few weird exceptions in the advanced series
work) all the poses are also present in other yoga systems.

Sometimes the names of the poses differ and frequently there are
minor variations not shared by, say, Iyengar or Anusara style yogis.
What is unique to Ashtanga is the routining of the various series,
the pace of the practice, and the various vinyasa sequences used
to enter and exit the poses.

How should I start learning the system?
There isn't one right answer. Some yogis like to learn the basic
poses first in a moderately paced classical hatha environment.  
Vinyasa flow or power yoga classes can get you attuned to the
ujjayi breathwork and the chaturanga/ up dog/down dog "glue" that
holds an Ashtanga practice together.

All of the alignment and form that we talk about in an Ashtanga
class is the same body of knowledge that is imparted in any good
Iyengar-inspired hatha yoga class. We work on all of the sequences
from first and second series (plus some third and fourth series
poses) in our Ashtanga 1-2-3 classes.

You can always just hop into a full first series class. Set some limits.
Pace yourself. Skip a few things so it remains a fun practice.

Do I need to know the "series" before coming to a first
series class?
No. The way to learn it is to come to class. We start with whatever
you know walking in the door and build on that. In a led Ashtanga
class you can see what other students are doing with a pose at the
same time you're doing it. You're offered modified versions of the
more challenging poses, verbal instruction on alignment and
hands-on adjustments. You're encouraged to rest when necessary,
skip vinyasas here and there. Gradually you do more and more.

Ashtanga is challenging and fun. It requires cultivation of the ability
to recognize your limitations and not try to do everything during
your first few months of practice. Come do what you can
comfortably and let the practice evolve naturally.

Should I be doing other exercise to build the strength
necessary for Ashtanga?
The practice itself builds the strength and develops the flexibility
over time. We do our weightlifting using our own body weight in the
poses. Ashtanga is a good complement to many other physical
activities. It will cultivate balance, reduce injuries due to increased
flexibility and improve your strength.

It will make everything else in your life seem easier. But the flip side
of the process is that too much hiking, weightlifting, etc. will make
your yoga seem harder as many of these other activities tend to
reduce flexibility.

What is the pace of a traditional Ashtanga class like?
Fast.  Once you ramp it up, each pose is held for only 5 breaths --
not a lot of time to discuss the subtleties of the practice. You absorb
a bit more each time you practice. A full first series class explores
about 70 poses in 90 minutes. The value of series work is that it
feels more leisurely and gets more meditative over time.  You know
what is coming next so gradually the focus can become more
internal -- on the breath, on deeper subtle work in the poses, on
meditation.

How long should I wait before trying second series?
You'll get different answers from different teachers. Students used
to move through the system more rapidly than many teachers teach
it at present. One good answer is as soon as you're familiar enough
with first series to know the order of the poses on your own. Second
series offers a nice complement to the first series practice. Which is
why our Ashtanga 1-2-3 classes introduce all of the second series
poses.

Should one do other kinds of practice in addition to
Ashtanga?
Each style of yoga practice offers its own rewards. Doing an
Ashtanga - based practice such as power yoga or vinyasa offers a
chance to be exposed to second, third and fourth series poses in a
different context (with perhaps more accessible modes of entrance
and exit). Slower traditional hatha classes allow more time to focus
on form and details in a pose. It's all fun. Don't take it too seriously.

How often should I practice?
It depends on the time you have and the results you desire.
Traditionally, the Ashtanga practice is done 6 days a week. A
consistent moderate practice of any style of yoga is better than an
intense practice done infrequently.

Is this done in a hot room?
No. It's not Bikram Yoga. It's a hot, sweaty practice but that heat is
generated internally -- from a continuous flow of the asanas, ujjayi
breathing and the bandhas. The room should be warm from your
work, not from setting the thermostat up to simulate the climate of
southern India.

Do you drink in class?
No. Come well hydrated and drink lots afterward. How could you
drink in class if you're moving continuously and doing your ujjaji
breathing?

What is mysore? What's a Mysore Ashtanga practice?
Mysore is the name of the city in southern India where Pattabhi Jois,
the head of the ashtanga yoga lineage, taught until his recent death
at 93. His grandson, Sharath, is now head of the center.

"Mysore style" (as opposed to a led class) has come to mean an
independent practice with students starting at different times (and
frequently doing different Ashtanga series) with the teacher
wandering around and assisting as needed. Pattabhi Jois of course
would also teach "led" classes in Mysore and usually did not teach
"Mysore style" during his many visits to the United States.

What does "Ashtanga" mean?
This Sanskrit word means 8 limbed or 8 part. Ashto=8 and
anga=limb. It's a reference to the 8 limbed philosophical system
(leading to enlightenment) outlined in the text
Yoga Sutra about
200 BC.  Also sometimes referred to as raja yoga (the royal, or
highest, path of yoga).
Yama -- ethical practices toward others
Niyama -- internal ethical disciplines
Asana -- physical practices
Pranayama -- breath/energy work
Pratyahara -- withdrawal of the senses
Dharana -- concentration
Dhyana -- contemplation
Samadhi -- enlightenment

What does the 8-limbed path have to do with the vinyasa
yoga practice style of Pattabhi Jois that is taught as
"Ashtanga"?
Perhaps not much except a philosophical underpinning. Pattabhi
Jois and his teacher Krishnamacharya have alleged that this is the
yoga intended by Patanjali. Patanjali, however, was mostly
interested in the meditative aspects of yoga and only 3 of his 195
aphorisms deal with asana practice, and these only in a general
way.

The asana Patanjali was concerned with was a stable pose suitable
for long stretches of meditation and thus most of our current
syllabus of poses wouldn't qualify. The invocation chanted at the
beginning of an ashtanga class is an homage to Patanjali.

Are there other styles of physical yoga practice called
Ashtanga?
Yes, many classical styles use the the term Ashtanga yoga to
describe their program as almost all of us trace our roots
philosophically back to the
Yoga Sutras. We certainly can use the
Sutras as a guide for the meditative aspects of the practice. Most of
the physical poses we teach apparently evolved a bit later. The
flowering of the tantric tradition (of which hatha yoga is a part)
happened around 800-1200 AD. For example, Baba Hari Das of the
Mt. Madonna Center in Santa Cruz calls his quite traditional hatha
yoga program "Ashtanga Yoga".

Are there styles of physical yoga practice not related to the
Yoga Sutras 8-limbed (ashta-anga) tradition?
Yes. Two of the most common on current studio schedules are Paul
Grilley's
Yin Yoga (which comes from a Japanese tradition) and the
Bikram format which has no meditative tradition and comes more
from a physical culture/wrestling studio origin.

Is there information available about what poses are in the
various series?
The best printed information is David Swenson's book Ashtanga
Yoga: the Practice Manual
. David goes through both first (primary)
and second (intermediate) series in great detail. David also has a
first series video plus another detailing both second and third. The
other good video option is Richard Freeman -- but for first and
second series only.  

Our first and second series links below give you some photos and a
list of poses. We've gone into more detail describing the advanced
series of the ashtanga yoga system (3-4-5-6) because so little other
information is available.   

Come have some fun in class. See you soon!

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OM

MORE PHOTOS:

ashtanga first series
(also known as the
primary series)

ashtanga second series
(also known as the
intermediate series)

ashtanga third series

ashtanga fourth series

ashtanga fifth & sixth series

(third, fourth, fifth and sixth
are also known collectively
as the advanced series)
Mysore Ashtanga: Pattabhi Jois teaching a class in India. Jumping to Uttanasana in Surya Namaskara A. Courtney McElroy is in foreground.
Virabhadrasana in Surya Namaskara A
Mysore, India: Ashtanga yoga with Pattabhi Jois, the head of this yoga lineage.
Courtney McElroy in Parsva Dhanurasana from second series ashtanga.
Dwi Pada Sirsasana from Ashtanga Second Series
Courtney McElroy in Tittibhasana in an Ashtanga class taught by Pattabhi Jois at his studio in Mysore, India. Join us for ashtanga yoga in Sacramento!
The Invocation to
Patanjali

Chanted (usually call and
response style) at the
beginning of a traditional
ashtanga class.

OM
Vande gurunam
charanare vinde

Sandarashita svatma
sukhava bodhe

Nishreyase jangali
kayamane

Samsara hala hala
moha shantyai

Abahu purushakaram

Shanka chakrasi
dharinam

Sahasra sirasam svetam

Pranamami Patanjalim
OM

OM.
I respectfully bow to the
lotus feet of the teachers
who teach the way to the
knowledge of the self, the
knowledge that awakens
us to great happiness
and shows us the true
nature of the poisonous
cycle we have fallen in
love with.
Taking the form of a man
up to the hands and
holding a conch, a
discus, and a sword, and
having a thousand heads
of bright white light,
Patanjali, I bow to you.
OM
The Mangala Mantra

Used at the close of an
ashtanga yoga class

OM
Swasti praja bhyaha
pari pala yantam

Nye yena margena
mahi mahi shaha

Go brahmane bhyaha
shubamastu nityam

Lokah samastha
sukhino bhavantu

OM
shanti  shanti shanti

OM
Let prosperity be glorified.
Let the world be ruled
with law and justice.
Let holiness and
learning be protected.
May all beings
everywhere be happy.
Om
Peace, peace, peace.
Kapotasana from ashtanga second series.
The photos on this page are all from a led
class in Mysore, India with Pattabhi Jois.