Ashtanga Yoga: The Eight Limbs

Ashtanga Yoga: The Eight Limbs

Article by Michael Saunders

Yoga is a family of ancient spiritual practices originating in India. It is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy. In India and across the World, Yoga is seen as a means to both physical health and spiritual mastery. Outside India, Yoga has become primarily associated with the practice of asanas or postures of Hatha Yoga.

In the United States the American Fitness Professionals & Associates offers Yoga Certification for intructors.

Ashtanga means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit, a reference to eight elements that define as a lifestyle. These “limbs” cover your attitudes towards the world around you, your attitudes towards yourself, the poses, breathing exercises, the withdrawal of the senses, concentration, contemplation, and enlightenment.

As a type of yoga, Ashtanga is better known as “power yoga.” This specialized form of Hatha yoga (which uses the third and forth of the eight limbs, poses and breathing exercises) provides an intense workout. Six series of poses within Ashtanga yoga allow for steps of progression in skill, strength, and flexibility. After learning the order of poses from an instructor (the first series includes 75 poses and can take two hours to complete), students often practice Ashtanga independently. This allows them to progress at their own pace to master each series before attempting to learn the next.

With 75 poses in the first series alone, Ashtanga yoga can be difficult to learn, especially with the Sanskrit names.


Did you know?

Buddha, who is estimated to have lived 563 to 483 BC, is believed to have studied what was known of yoga at that time as part of an extensive education in Hindu philosophy. It is also very likely, given the rapid growth of Buddhism after his death and before the Bhagavad Gita was composed, that Buddhism had some influence on that work. There is a considerable overlap between the Hindu yoga tradition and Buddhism.


Many athletes prefer Ashtanga yoga because of its vigorous full-body workout. With meditation downplayed and the poses emphasized, “power yoga” focuses on building flexibility, stamina, and strength, tied into breathing control, with breathing synchronized with the poses. Each breath correlates with one pose. The focal point of the eyes is also controlled, to create a unified control of the looking point, the breathing, and the bodily position.

“Intense” describes Ashtanga yoga as a whole. This type of yoga stresses the synchronized breathing and vigorous poses to produce intense internal heat and to detoxify the body (organs and muscles) by profuse sweating. Make sure you have time for a shower after the Ashtanga yoga lesson! The results include improved circulation and a body that’s both strong and lithe.

A warm environment best suits Ashtanga yoga to comfort the muscles and ease their flexibility. A proper warm-up and relaxing session are required for this form of yoga to avoid harm. The demands of these exercises make caution necessary, as an individual can overdo the workouts, overstrain his or her muscles, and do physical damage. People not used to exercise definitely should not start with this form of yoga.

About the Author

Michael Saunders edits a site on Yoga and Health and maintains a Website on all elements of prosperity and abundance

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