Asta-anga (Ashtanga, Astanga) Yoga, also translated as the Eightfold Path of Yoga as defined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, this is the core of classical yoga as taught by BKS Iyengar. The term Ashtanga does not refer to any particular sequence or series of poses. Ashtanga or often Astanga, refers to all eight limbs of Yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. See the links above for more details on each.
“The first five aspects of yoga are individual efforts for the evolution of consciousness, while dharana, dhyani and samadhi are the universal manifestation or the natural states of yoga.” BKS Iyengar.
What is taught in most yoga classes, the physical postures or “asanas”, is but one of the eight components of yoga. For many, this is all they study and care to know about yoga. The asanas provide a rich range of physical work to help tone the body’s vital functions and focus the mind inward, on the breath, on the pose, on the self.
You need not want to know any sanskrit, or want to study the philosophy to gain from a well rounded asana practice. If you want to strengthen your knees, stretch the backs of your legs or heal your back, or if you just want to learn to regulate your breath to calm your nerves at the end of the day – then a regular yoga practice can provide this.
Should you be curious, or should the asana practice lead you to inquire, there is a rich science with complex ethical, moral and spiritual tools to help color our perception of self and the world around us. Discussion of some of this complexity is found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, among other Sanskrit texts. Yoga is a universal science of the human mind, body and spirit and is taught as such.
Mr. BKS Iyengar teaches asana within the context of the wealth that is yoga. He constantly refers to and integrates the Eight Limbs of Yoga in his teaching. Having been trained in his method of instruction, thanks to my teachers, I too try when possible to color the asana practice with the broader context that is yoga.
- 1996, 2000