This particular system was founded by K. Pattabhi Jois. Born on July 26, 1915, Jois became a student at the early age of 12. In 1937, Jois became a teacher at the Sanskrit College in India and progressed to be an Honorary Professor of Yoga at the Government College of Indian Medicine until he left to teach in his own setting in 1973. Jois stated that he transmitted his practices from an ancient Indian manuscript entitled the Yoga Korunta, and he taught his studies since 1948.
Jois’ first trip to the United States occurred in 1975 to teach in California, which gained him famous students such as Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Sting. With a book and movie made about his life to his credit, Jois continued teaching his system (that he stated was essentially his form of Patanjali yoga) until his death on May 18, 2009 at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India.
The term Ashtanga means “eight-limbed;” it is fitting that this system focuses on the following eight cleansing practices to bring forth the Universal Self, more simply known as enlightenment:
1.Yama “The Do Not’s” (External Cleansing)
Five yamas admonish the yogi on what he or she should not do in action, speech, and thought when interacting with the external world. They are:
Ahimsa (Do Not Harm)
As a Yogi becomes grounded in non-injury, others will naturally lose any feelings of hostility- Patanjali
This first yama focuses on releasing negative and hostile feelings in order to exist peacefully. This is especially important for meditative purposes; if a yogi feels threatened by his surroundings because of potential mutual hostilities, it may become impossible to achieve a meditative state— while both meditating and in an everyday meditative state.
The second yama emphasizes purity in action by accepting the naked self, no matter if it is positive or negative. This allows natural results to occur.
Asteya (Do Not Steal)
When non-stealing is established, all treasures present themselves and become available to the Yogi. - Patanjali
Theft in this instance goes beyond stealing; it also includes purposely inconveniencing others such as arriving late, parking badly on purpose, and misrepresenting the truth to others. Being honest in everyday dealings results in treasures— in the form of always receiving what one needs or even wealth.
The fourth yama focuses on withdrawing the senses from basic pleasures and channelling energy flow towards a higher reality.
Non-possessiveness focuses on detachment from material possessions. While certain objects are necessities and even luxuries that everyone is allowed, this yama focuses on detachment from both objects and actions in order to achieve mental clarity and calmness.
2. Niyama “The Do’s” (External Cleansing)
The second limb are extended ethical codes of the yama. Thee five practices include:
The first niyama focuses on purifying the body internally and externally to create a healthy environment for wisdom and liberation.
This niyama emphasizes the need to find the blessings that life provides, and to not become fooled by the temporary happiness possessions bring.
Tapas (self-discipline and will power)
The third niyama is the act of doing undesired things that will have a positive later result in life. While this should be applied for all things, this practice of will power over impulses brings enlightenment, releases the kundalini, and enhances yoga performance.
Svadhyaya (study of self)
This niyama urges the examination of an individual’s conscious and unconscious actions to understand the true motives under it all.
Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion)
The last niyama is the offering of the benefits of these actions to an entity greater than self to release the ego.
3. Asana (External Cleansing)
The asana are over 30 intensive poses that include the Sun Salute, Utkatasana, the Janu Sirsasanas, and more. Each pose performed in its proper order firstly warms up the physical frame and readies the mind then works to lengthen the body, increase circulation, purify the organs, and release mental conflict and ailments.
4. Pranayama (External Cleansing)
Pranayama focuses on breathing. It begins after the asanas are learned, and involves careful attention to exhalation (rechaka), inhalation (puraka), and holding the breath (kumbhaka). This mastery of breathing calms down the nervous system and allows clearer insight to the conscious and subconscious mind.
5. Pratyahara (Internal Cleansing)
“The conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses” is the definition of Pratyahara. This does not mean a physical withdrawal, but a removing of oneself from the element of conflict internally and with other individuals. This requires a conscious effort to choose reactions to the inevitable situations that may cause discord.
6. Dharana (Internal Cleansing)
The sixth limb involves being completely present with all concentration on an object or activity. This form of meditation can be found by using a mantra, which helps still thoughts in the mind.
7. Dhyana (Internal Cleansing)
Dhyana is another word for meditation. This serene and enjoyable state becomes effortless, for it is the flow of consciousness that occurs naturally with the mediator and the object of meditation. This is the final state required before reaching the eighth and final limb.
Regular practice of all eight limbs of Ashtanga brings a yogi to the state of enlightenment, or samadhi. In this state of consciousness, the meditator and the object of meditation becomes one.
Once the eight limbs are regularly practiced, an individual reaches the highest state of enlightenment. Each limb works together and are equally as important; while issues in the external cleansing practices are correctable, it is especially important to take the correct methods of the three internal cleansing methods to protect the mind.