What The Heck Is Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga is one of the most popular branches in the yoga family tree, practiced all around the world. It's often called "astanga yoga" and sometimes "power yoga". Whatever you call it, ashtanga yoga is not recommended for beginners to exercise programs or those with some flexibility problems. Before you consider beginning any exercise program (especially ashtanga yoga), please talk to your doctor first so you don't wind up hurting yourself. And please don't use this article in the place of your doctor's advice.

The Basics

Ashtanga yoga classes can be grueling because they are set at a very fast pace. You are purposefully made to sweat buckets in the belief that it will purify both your body and your mind. You are also supposed to synchronize your breathing with these postures. You really need instruction in order to get the general idea. This branch of yoga is nearly impossible to describe in words.

Ashtanga yoga is recommended for younger people. Although you can see people well into their senior years performing the jaw-dropping contortions and handstands, it is only because they started when they were young. For example, this writer cannot participate in any ashtanga yoga classes due to old injuries along the spine.

Fun For Spectators

You have to really enjoy ashtanga yoga in order to put up with some of the poses that you have to go into and somehow get yourself out of. This is one of the most visually spectacular branches of yoga for spectators. They go through their own series of positions with winces and gasps when they look at an ashtanga yoga class or instructional video.

Although ashtanga yoga begins with mantas, rhythmic breathing and warm-up poses, it is the more spectacular contortions done at relatively fast speeds which is its hallmark. Poses include leaning backwards until your body forms an arch; going into a lotus position and lifting yourself off the ground with your hands and bending between your legs to touch the top of your head on the ground. Ouch!

Perhaps one of the reasons ashtanga yoga has caught on well in America as it suits the national temperament and penchant to get a lot of things done. This is the theory of author Carrie Scheider in her book, "American Yoga". Americans idea of exercise includes very athletic moves and a lot of sweat. This is done with or without Hindu mantras and teachings, sometimes using Bible verses to make Americans feel more comfortable.