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Sharath Jois On the Systematic Nature of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga

There's good reason this yoga method is divided into series and postures that must be learned in a particular order. Understanding this order is imperative to cultivating an authentic practice.

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Yoga Master Paramaguru

Yoga has to be done systematically in the sense that we have to go stage-by-stage. In Aṣṭāṅga yoga, there are different series to practice. Each series and pose prepares us for the next step. But most people have still not understood what we are doing in the poses or in yoga. Most have no understanding what affect the poses will have on the body or the mind. Most people continue to speak of yoga in platitudes.

The Primary Series in Aṣṭāṅga yoga is called Yoga Chikitsa, which means yoga therapy. It is designed to bring stability within us. Yet, students now want to put handstands in between the vinyasas. We need to be challenged, they say. Non-Aṣṭāṅga teachers take postures from the Aṣṭāṅga series, not knowing from where they came or for what is their purpose. In a led class, they will show a student, who is not prepared, postures that require many years of practice to gain strength. Many students and teachers still do not understand the breath and how it affects the body before, during, or after their āsana practice. This does not create stability. In fact, this creates a very unstable understanding of yoga.

Many students and teachers have no sense of what yoga is really about or how it can affect the body. They come to āsana to stretch and bend their body in a way that’s not holistic. It is just exercise and talk. Āsana affects our bodies both internally and externally, which impacts our mind and how we live our life. To do Aṣṭāṅga yoga correctly is to do āsana with a focus on the body as well as the mind. It is a completely holistic approach that affects everything in your life. It is a lifestyle. We have to understand this when approaching yoga.

Related: The Therapeutic Nature of the Aṣṭāṅga Yoga Primary Series

Many people are inspired to do or teach yoga. They have the energy. But even when you have the energy, you have to know how to utilize it in a proper way. That’s difficult for many to understand. When we see āsana, it’s not simply a set of postures. We are doing a posture to understand certain greater things, like the healthy functioning of internal organs, our central nervous systems, or unconscious states. When a student begins yoga, he or she probably doesn’t know handstand or back-bending. Even if they are strong and can do handstand, or they are flexible and can bend back and touch the floor, it’s not advised that they do so.

You might take your first yoga class to get in shape, but regardless of your initial intention, everyone yearns for honesty at some point. If a student begins yoga with a humbleness that he or she sustains, then he or she will learn far more about themselves to use for a greater good for the rest of their life.

For instance, the adult yoga student already knows how to walk and run, so why does he want to prove he can run through yoga? Like a small child, in yoga, we grow stage-by-stage and level-by-level. Students feel that the surya namaskaras, A’s and B’s, are very difficult at first, but over a period time, they strengthen both physically and mentally. Only then do they progress to higher āsanas through the guidance of a guru or teacher.

To practice yoga is to bring strength to your entire life. If you practice correctly, you will automatically transform. You’ll be able to judge what is right and what is wrong. How you absorb and use it is very important. Not only how, but also from who you learn is very important. Otherwise, it’s just talk.



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