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Ashtanga Vinyasa VS Ashtanga Yoga

So I am beating a dead horse here but I want to keep you guys posted on what is going on. I recently wrote two posts, Whose Ashtanga Should I Practice and What Is The Ashtanga Practice For? in response to a post where a popular teacher talked about Ashtanga needing to evolve. I pointed out, in both articles, that this person was coming from a purely physical perspective and that Ashtanga Yoga was never meant to be purely physical.

The teacher responded back to me, thus proving my point.

Hi Shanna, I agree in principle to what you are saying, but not in practice. I do think you’re comparing apples and oranges: the asana method is primarily for the body, whereas meditation practice is more directly linked to Patanjalis Raja Yoga. So linking Ashtanga Vinyasa with the latter is a little misleading. If you are talking of the body, modifications are not only useful, but necessary. If you are talking of the mind, then we should be discussing meditation pratice and not confusing the two. It’s not that Patanajalis sutra doesn’t relate to Ashtanga vinyasa, however there is no valid historical, or experiential context for the two. However, when unraveling the mind, attachment and the nature of self, meditation practice, advaita vedanta etc are a more direct way in to that subject…

Every single article, interview or book I have ever read that was authored by Pattabhi Jois or Sharath Jois says that Ashtanga Yoga is based on the 8 limbs. Every video I have ever seen where Pattabhi Jois or Sharath are being interviewed talks about Ashtanga Yoga being the 8 limbed path. Almost every set of conference notes that I have ever seen contains quotes from Vedic texts and these texts are given in answer to questions about Ashtanga.  Almost half of the Yoga Mala, written by Pattabhi Jois, talks about the 8 limbed path. The Ashtanga Yoga Anusthasana opens up with a listing of the 8 limbs. One of Pattabhi Jois’s most famous quotes  that he used to describe Yoga was, “everywhere looking, God Seeing.”

So this evolution, that this author is talking about is all based on the physical. Ashtanga is not about evolution. Yep. I know. That sounds bad.  It is about returning to the Self. We have evolved so much that we feel like we are separate. Everywhere looking, God seeing means that God is within us. We are like devolving all the way back to our purist nature which is God Nature, consciousness, or the energy that cannot be created or destroyed. Ashtanga is taking us past this meat suit and connecting us with the energy that creates worlds.

“Hence an aspirant, by the grace of the Guru and constant practice of yoga, can someday realize, before casing off his mortal coil, the Indweller that is the nature of Supreme peace and eternal bliss, and the cause of the creation, sustenance, and destruction of the universe. Otherwise an aspirant will not be able to see anything in this world but turmoil. How can we make the mind one pointed so that we may see the Universal Self? This is what Ashtanga teaches. “Pattabhi Jois, Yoga Mala, pg 5-6

Pattabhi Jois, in the Yoga Mala, does not make a distinction between “spiritual yoga” and “physical yoga”.

Yes, Ashtanga is very physical. Yes, I love the physicality of it. If all you want is the physical practice, that is fine!!!! If you want to have a beautiful balanced body, go for it! If you want to be the Handstand queen of Instagram, do you Boo!! Right on!!!  If you come to Ashtanga because you love a good sweat, right on!!! If you come to Ashtanga because you love the yummy assists or the challenging poses, right on!!! Jai!!! Jai!!! Jai!!! However, reducing it into just something that is physical is the vritti of Viparyaya, misconception.

It is just crazy to me how all the information out there where Jois explains the link between Ashtanga and the Sutras is just ignored. The two videos below are just the tip of the iceberg of the information out there. They both state that Ashtanga is both physical and spiritual and that there is no separation. Don’t believe me. Watch them.



Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail

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