Ashtanga Yoga Postures - are they really yoga?
I did a Google Search for 'ashtanga yoga postures' today, just to see what will come up. All ten first-page results gave me exactly what I didn’t want . It gave me websites about the wrong ashtanga yoga.
There’s more than one Ashtanga yoga? Can you even name limbs five through eight? Don’t feel bad if you can’t, even most yoga teachers today don’t have much to say about them, let alone teach about them. Which is why modern yoga really is more like “yoga preschool” than “yoga college.”
No, not really … but in recent times the word 'ashtanga' has been attached to a dynamic system of yoga-based exercises , and it’s become so popular that it has literally taken over the word ashtanga yoga as its own, leaving many practitioners of the traditional system of ashtanga yoga baffled and dismayed.
To them, yoga is a sacred, disciplined, eight-limbed science for personal development and inner transformation , a system that includes much more than what is utilized in the newer, fitness centered pop-ashtanga version.
To learn more about the 8 parts of yoga,
How Strong Are Your 8 Limbs?
You may have heard about the first 2 limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas … those pesky morals and ethics that the yogis always seem to keep harping on. Really though, we all know how to be a good person, so what’s the big deal?
Unless you’re from Mars, then you know about the third limb … asana. That’s the cream of yoga for us body obsessed Westerners … and of course, who wouldn’t want to look as young as Madonna in their 50s?
The fourth limb you probably know too. It’s that monotonous breathing they call pranayama (like that exotic word is supposed to make it more interesting?). I already ready know how to breathe, don’t you?
But after that, things start to get vague for most of us.
It’s in the last four stages is where yoga really begins. That’s what all the classic literature on yoga says and any real Guru (not the kind with a fake beard and moustache) would agree.
What’s the point of the first four limbs then?
We all know the saying, “you need to crawl before you can walk.” The first four limbs are “yoga crawling” so to speak … preparation for the higher stages. But one of the biggest yoga delusions people have is thinking that, because they can contort their body into all sorts of extreme positions, they are 'advanced' in yoga.
The ashtanga yoga postures are indeed great tools for improving and maintaining our physical health. They even help ground us a lot on the mental and emotional levels too. But transforming from someone who is deeply attached to their possessions, emotional dramas and relationships in this world, into someone who is able to detach from all these things and experience the real joy of being part of this miracle of life, requires a journey to the higher yoga mountain peak.
If we don’t want to go there, then perhaps our yoga teachers haven’t done a good enough job to inspire us … to let us know what we’re missing, and why we need to set our sites a little higher. If we don’t outgrow our attachment to the Ashtanga yoga poses, then we’ll be stuck in that land of preparation forever. The question is, what exactly are we preparing for?
For online lessons in Traditional Ashtanga Yoga,
Yogacharya is the Director of International Yogalayam, Editor of The Yoga News, and creator of The Yoga Tutor, a step-by-step online yoga training website.
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Can you even name limbs five through eight? Don’t feel bad if you can’t, even most yoga teachers today don’t have much to say about them, let alone teach about them. Which is why modern yoga really is more like “yoga preschool” than “yoga college.”