Ashtanga Yoga was founded by K. Pattabhi Jois and it consists of six series. The main feature of this style is the alternation between asanas and vinyasa connectors. The style is very dynamic, so not everybody is able to keep pace with an entire series of moves. However, the sensations are so powerful that students feel happy and fulfilled by the end of each session.
One of the biggest challenges of Ashtanga Yoga is to manage to memorize all asanas in a series. Beginners may find this impossible, so this is why they have to start by taking led classes, in which the teacher takes the students through the series, one move at a time. This is a good opportunity to adjust each of the group members and to explain them in detail how to improve their practice. A good teacher would never force a posture. Students have to do only what they can, as nobody wants to get injuries. It’s very important to listen to your body and limit your moves whenever you feel you’ve reached the edge.
Breathing is another challenge of Ashtanga Yoga. You can memorize the right sequence of moves after a few weeks of practice, but this is not enough, as you also have to watch your breathing style on an ongoing basis. You have to use a special breathing technique which isn’t difficult to learn. However, as humans usually breathe unconsciously, it’s hard for them to focus on their breath while also retrieving asanas from memory or trying to maintain uncomfortable positions.
The other challenge is the connection between poses. You need to execute that vinyasa flows perfectly, and then be ready for the next pose, as breaks aren’t allowed. Of course, you can stop if you feel exhausted, but the point is to achieve a fluid movement to walk you through the entire series without other stops than the ones included in the sequence.
The biggest reward offered by Ashtanga Yoga is the peace of mind and the serenity you feel after you finish a series. Your body feels much lighter, your spirit is enlightened, and your brain feels sharper. These benefits can bring you an improvement of your quality of life, as you are going to become more willing to let go of worries and anger, and embrace the others as they come, with all their flaws and wanderings.
The other reward is a healthy body. When you start practicing Ashtanga, you are going to feel all your muscles by the end of the first class. There are muscles in your body you have no idea about. You are going to meet them all, including those tiny ones between your fingers. This is unbelievably rewarding, as your body is going to be much better if you stick to this yoga style long enough, and you practice it regularly. You shouldn’t think about yoga as a weight loss method, but it can be quite effective, provided that you don’t start to eat like crazy when you get back home after the classes.
In Ashtanga Yoga, it is mandatory that students master poses before they are given new ones. This is why some of them have to do incomplete series, as they are too stiff or too unfocused to be able to do those poses correctly. Nonetheless, with assistance and adjustments, almost everyone manages to do the first series without a mistake by the end of the first year of practice.
Some practitioners modify the sequences, while others don’t change one single move. This is an ongoing reason of dispute between them. Nonetheless, this yoga style can be very good for your health, regardless this minor issue. Once you master your poses and you know the sequence by heart, you can go ahead and practice twice a day in your own home, without having to go to a class. If you want, you can even take a trip to Mysore and study with Pattabhi Jois or with Sharath Jois. Many yoga teachers go to Mysore every year, in order to improve their skills and to deepen their understanding of this old and beautiful yoga style. After that, they pass this knowledge to their students. This is how Ashtanga has managed to stay alive for such a long time.