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Ashtanga Yoga - Patanjali's Eight Limbed Yoga

Written by: jennibagus

Ashtanga Yoga - Patanjali's Eight Limbed Yoga Ashtanga Yoga is the Style of Yoga developed by K. Pattabhi Jois. It literally means Eight Limb Yoga and revolves in Pattanjali's idea that the path of purification is composed of eight spiritual practices.

These are the first four limbs of Yoga (these are correctable external cleansing practices).

  • Yama
  • Niyama
  • Asana
  • Pranayama
These are other limbs (these are internal practices which can only be corrected by proper Ashtanga).

  • pratyahara
  • dharana
  • dhyana
According to Jois, it is not possible to practice the Eight Limbs of Yoga and its sub-limbs of the external practices like the yama and niyama when the body is weak and the sense organs are plagued with hindrances. This philosophy requires the practice of Asanas in order to improve the body's state of health and make it strong. In Ashtanga Yoga, Asanas are practiced with Vinyasa and Tristhana.


This is one of the Principles of Ashtanga Yoga that make it distinct from other Styles of Yoga. Vinyasa, which means breathing and movement, is for internal cleansing.

  • Each movement is accompanied by one breath.
  • The most important product of Vinyasa is sweat.
  • Performing the Asanas creates heat which makes the blood boil and bring the toxins outside the body which are removed through sweat.
  • Purification occurs through this form of cleansing.
  • The Breathing Technique used in Vinyasa is the Ujjayi Breathing or Victorious Breath.
Ujjayi Breathing consists of even and steady length of inhalation (puraka) and exhalation (rechaka). The duration of your inhalation should be the same as the duration of your exhalation.


Another Ashtanga Yoga principle is Tristhana which is the union of the three places of attention or action:

1. Posture
2. Breathing technique
3. Looking Place or Dristhi.

These three should be performed in union with each other.

The Poses are used to develop the body's health and strength. The postures used in Ashtanga Yoga can be classified into three series with different levels of difficulty.

  • Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa) aims to detoxify and align the body.
  • Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhana) focuses on cleaning and opening the energy channels which leads to the purification of the nervous system.
  • Advanced Series A, B, C and D (Sthira Bhaga) integrates the strength and grace of the practice.
These series require higher levels of flexibility. In doing the Asanas, your aim should be towards the practice of Yama and Niyama.

Breathing Techniques
For each movement you make, it is accompanied with one breath. The Yoga Breathing Technique used in Ashtanga Yoga is the Ujjayi Breathing.
  • In this technique, the length of your inhalation should be steady and even.
  • The duration of breath should be prolonged after some practice, thus you also hold your pose longer.
  • This kind of breathing increases your internal fire and strengthens and purifies the Nervous System.
Dristhi or Looking Place
Tristhana, in Ashtanga Yoga, also deals with the Dristhi. The Dristhi is the point on which you focus your attention while doing the Asana. This purifies and stabilizes the functioning of your mind.

The following are the nine Dristhi:

1. nose
2. between the eyebrows
3. navel
4. thumb
5. hands
6. feet
7. up
8. right side
9. left side

Focusing your mind on the breath and the Drishti as you practice the Asanas will result into a deep state of concentration and it will pave way for the practice of the sixth and seventh Limb of Yoga - the dharana and dhyana.

The practice of the four internal cleansing practices brings your mind under your control. This occurs when the purification is complete. Bringing the mind in control makes the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart go completely. These six poisons are:

1. kama (desire)
2. krodha (anger)
3. moha (delusion)
4. lobha (greed)
5. matsarya (sloth)
6. mada (envy)

The cleansing and purification of the internal and external sense organs lead to the full realization of Ashtanga Yoga or Patanjali's Eight-Limbed Yoga. This results into improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.

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Article Comments
Tuesday 26th April 2005 at 3:51:50 PM  

I live in NY and I am looking to become a teacher. I am very interested in Ashtanga yoga. Could you tell me where the best place to go, or who is the best to work with to get this cert. Also if it means traveling I am open to that depending on where it is. Can you help me?

Ali Tripney
Tuesday 21st September 2010 at 6:42:51 AM  

You should most DEFINITELY start with a trip to Strala Yoga to see the amazing Tara Stiles. She will provide you with all the advice and guidance you''ll need.
Good luck!


Sunday 26th September 2010 at 11:23:52 AM  

I live in WA. where do I go for Ashtanga yoga to learn it and to became a teacher? What book can I get to learn the ashtanga yoga language
Thank You

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