Did you search for “ashtanga yoga poses” on Google to get here? If you did, then there’s a good chance you’re in the wrong place.
I hate to say it, but unfortunately most people have the wrong idea about what ashtanga yoga is … mostly because one of the most popular modern yoga exercise trends as taken this ancient word “ashtanga” as its own, adding lots of confusion for yoga newbies … not to mention creating dismay for those who know and follow the traditional ashtanga yoga system.
The Sanskrit word ashtanga means “eight limbs,” referring to an ancient system of yoga made up of 8 essential, interconnected parts. Ashtanga yoga poses, the primary part of the “modern ashtanga’ is one of those eight parts … but just the tip of the yoga iceberg.
[B]How Strong Are Your 8 Limbs?[/B]
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. 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.”
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.
[B]If that’s true, what’s the point of the first 4 limbs then?[/B]
Preparation. The first four limbs can be referred to as Hatha Yoga … the last 4 as Raja Yoga. And as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a classic yoga text) tells us, Hatha and Raja are two ends of the same pole … “Hatha is a ladder for ascending to Raja, and Raja is the goal of Hatha.”
So yama and niyama, asana, and pranayama all prepare us for the higher stages, where REAL YOGA starts to happen. Hatha yoga is a necessary part of the yoga journey, but if we get stuck there, we’re going to miss the best part of the trip!
[B]Why didn’t your teacher mention that?[/B]
Well, to be honest, very few students have enough dedication and discipline to get to those higher yoga levels. Which is probably a good thing, because there are also very few yoga teachers who have really made it there themselves (unfortunately, becoming a certified yoga teacher today doesn’t require mastery of yoga.)
To be fair, these higher levels of yoga are no walk in the park … but that doesn’t change the facts. If we really want to experience the amazing transformative power of yoga, we need to climb higher. Most people, I know, prefer to remain in the land of endless preparation. My only question for them is … what exactly are you preparing for?