Ashtanga yoga is the practice of a set sequence of postures linked together with deep rhythmic breathing and focused attention.
This method comes from Mysore, India, where students of all levels are individually guided through the sequence, each steadily progressing at their own pace. Teachers offer verbal and hands-on assistance as necessary, helping students to deepen their engagement with the practice.
Ashtanga yoga is a moving meditation, which allows us to become more aware of our physical and mental patterns. The memorization and repetition of the sequence and internal focus helps to bring the mind and body into harmony and creates a deep state of concentration. Over time you will become strong and flexible and learn to do impossible-seeming things like putting your feet behind your head (or touching your toes!), but more importantly you will cultivate steadiness, clarity and peace of mind.
As my teacher, Pattabhi Jois, says in Yoga Mālā: "If we practice the science of yoga, which is useful to the entire human community and which yields happiness both here and hereafter - if we practice it without fail, we will then attain physical, mental and spiritual happiness, and our minds will flood towards the Self." Or in other words, we will recognize our own true nature, rather than identifying with our ego or intellect, and realize that we share that essence with everyone and everything.
तत्र स्थितौ यत्नोऽभ्यासः । स तु दीर्घकालनैरन्तर्यसत्कारासेवितो दृढभूमिः ।
tatra sthitau yatno 'bhyāsaḥ | sa tu dīrgha-kāla-nairantarya-satkārāsevito dṛḍha-bhūmiḥ |
Practice is the effort towards stability. And that attains firm ground when done over a long time, without interruption, and with devotion.
- Yogasūtra 1.13-14