The term “Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga” has been used to separate the physical practice of Ashtanga from the full 8 limbed experience. I don’t know where this started but both Sharath and Pattabhi Jois, lineage holders for Ashtanga Yoga, made it clear that Ashtanga Yoga is an 8 limbed practice. Below is an excerpt from a recent conference with Sharath on Ekam Inhale Blog
Sharath started the conference by saying that the first four limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama) are the external limbs that you can practice. The next four (Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi) are internal. He went on to explain the Yamas and Niyamas.
Ahimsa (nonviolence) – “it should come from within you, nobody can force you” Your teacher can’t watch what you are doing all the time.
Satya (truthfullness) – “to be true to yourself and be true to others”
Asteya (nonstealing) – “Shouldn’t steal – even asana stealing, which you have not been taught – doesn’t come from the parampara to you. Some people create their own yoga, which is happening now – this is not being true to yourself and not being true to others – the yoga should come through parampara as many manuscripts say like (he mentioned some texts but I didn’t catch which ones) it says it should come from parampara – it’s not only Asana – generally you shouldn’t steal anything”
Brahmacharya – “Very important. celibacy. devoting yourself to your partner and your partner to yourself”
Saucha (cleanliness)- There are two types of Saucha – internal and external. Internal cleanliness comes from asana practice, eating clean food (vegetarian). It’s related also to ahimsa and you need to make the choice once you know about ahimsa on how to eat. He talked about how if you eat bad food with too much sugar or cholesterol it will affect your body and your organs. “Be very careful what you are eating. Some food will give lots of toxins – so your body also will get sick”.
External Saucha – “how to keep yourself clean, your environment clean, how to keep your clothes clean, how to keep your mat clean – mat clean is very important (laughter)”
Santosha (internal happiness) – he talked about how this is disturbed when you want more than what you have.
Tapas(discipline) – Very important for yoga practitioners. When you have to get up early to do your sadhana you need to set your timetable to support that. This means figuring out when you will eat, what you will eat, when you will go to sleep, what you will and won’t do.
Svadhyaya(self study) – He said this can be very confusing for many people. It’s not watching videos on how to do a handstand. What it means though is reading the manuscripts. The yogic manuscripts. “Just by doing asana practice you won’t gain any knowledge. Once you read yoga related books then your knowledge will also increase, you’ll get a better picture of what yoga is, you’ll get more clarity in your practice, in your sadhana – if you don’t do it it’s like going to the gym and lifting weights.” This knowledge is not to impress anyone it’s just for your own benefit to understand what is yoga.
Isvara Pranidhana(surrender to your god) – “how you get connected to one divine. Japa is the best example of how you do this – when you do Japa it should be meaningful with good Bhavana – good heart within you”
In most of the conference notes you will find on the internet, Sharath always makes a point to speak on the spiritual aspects of Ashtanga Yoga. There are many videos of Pattabhi Jois also speaking on the same subject.
I honestly don’t know where this idea that Ashtanga is only physical came from. Even a brief study of Ashtanga Yoga reveals this fallacy. I even think, but don’t quote me on it, that Sharath has spoken out against the use of this term. I think the term should be retired.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.