Inhale. Shift. Exhale. Shift. Yoga has always been touted as a breathing exercise. Ashtanga yoga is the full embodiment of flowing between postures while inhaling and exhaling and maintaining asana postures for a specific number of breaths. This allows the practitioner to turn normally static postures into dynamic, moving forms that concentrate on breathing more than the perfect alignments of the human body, as is typical in Hatha yoga. It can also be referred to as ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa is in reference to the actual flowing movement that connects the asanas.
Yoga variations have each been developed to target specific areas and to achieve certain goals. Yang yoga stretches and strengthens superficial and muscular tissues. Yin yoga aims at the connective tissues and are a great way to address the hips, pelvis and lower spine. Iyengar yoga makes use of props to fully perform each posture correctly while reducing the risk of injury. Sirvananda encompasses exercising, breathing and relaxation with meditation and proper diet. In short, there is a form of yoga for everyone at any stage or skill level.
So, how is ashtanga yoga different from other yoga forms? This style of yoga does not demand that each posture is perfect. Instead it concentrates on the movements between a specific set of asanas. This helps generate intense internal heat and leads to heavy sweating which promotes detoxification of the organs and muscle tissues with increased blood circulation.
The biggest difference is the postures themselves. Unlike other forms of yoga, this style uses predefined asanas. In addition to the predefined postures, these yoga exercises also use a specific style of breathing, known as Ujjayi. It emphasizes a relaxation of the diaphragm with a resonating sound in the student's throat. Each session also comprises of four distinct parts. They are the opening sequence, the main series, back-bending and the finishing sequence of inverted asanas. Practice always ends in corpse pose, or savasana. The main series has six separate sets of movements depending on the skill of the practitioner. The first one is basic, and it is regarded as the most important because it is the basis of the entire style. The second is for intermediate yoga students with the remaining geared toward advanced practice. The primary focus isn't the asanas. It is an internal focus on the breathing to the fullest extent and in measured amounts. It provides a mental focal point that is relaxing and calm.
Ashtanga yoga is generally practiced daily and is taught in the Mysore style. This teaching style is supervised but done with self-motivated practice. Because this form of yoga is much more individualized for speed and concentration, these classes are some of the hardest to find. In fact, the majority of these types of sessions are only taught by those that the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute has authorized.