If slow, relaxed yoga is not for you, you should opt for Ashtanga yoga. This vigorous form of yoga will satisfy your desire for athletic exercise while letting you reap the benefits of yoga at the same time. Designed to provide increased flexibility, strength, endurance, and balance with a series of synchronized movements and breathing, Ashtanga is a dynamic form of yoga. The word “Ashtanga” means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit, referring to the eight limbs of yoga in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Interpreted by Krishnamacharya and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from an ancient text called the Yoga Korunta, the Ashtanga method of asana practice describes an extraordinary system of Hatha yoga, developed by a Rishi named Vamana. Consisting of a series of poses performed in a flowing Vinyasa style, Ashtanga yoga focuses on enhancing the well being of its practitioners. In the practice of Ashtanga yoga, there are six different series of poses through which a student has to go through according to his or her own pace and ability.
Yoga Chikitsa (or yoga therapy) is the first series which begins with sun salutations, followed by a set of 75 poses that take about 2 hours to complete. The Chikitsa series includes standing poses, seated poses, inversions, and backbends for relaxation. This series is aimed at building strength, flexibility and stamina while realigning the spine and detoxifying the body. The second set is the Nadi Shodana. It means nervous system purification and works towards cleansing and strengthening the nervous system. The students are exposed to this intermediate series only after mastering the Chikitsa series. The movements in Nadi Shodana similar to those in the first series but with added poses and variations, to enhance nervous system function and ability. The remaining four are subdivisions of the Sthira Bhaga, meaning divine stability. Emphasizing difficult arm balances, these are only for the highly advanced students. Each series concludes with a group of cooling-down, final positions which precede relaxation.
It can take years for students to master each of these phases. As yoga is a dynamic process of consistantly improving your health, time will be required to reap all of the benefits. If properly practiced, Ashtanga yoga can be of great benefit to your well-being, and worth the time and energy you invest into it.