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Philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga by Melissa Manuel, January 2014

Difference between ashtanga yoga and ashtanga/vinyasa

Although ashtanga and ashtanga vinyasa have very similar names, they have very different meanings in the world of yoga. Firstly, ashtanga yoga is considered the grandfather of modern day ashtanga vinyasa, and both have their own “founding fathers.” Secondly, there are eight principles or “limbs” that guide ashtanga yoga, but only four in ashtanga/vinyasa, and only one that is common between the two. Thirdly, the focuses of both styles are very different, with ashtanga focusing on the path to meditation and Samadhi (pure consciousness) and ashtanga/vinyasa on dynamic movements to increase energy levels.

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ashtanga/vinyasa is a subgroup of hatha yoga, which is a subgroup of ashtanga yoga, otherwise known as raja or royal yoga. Ashtanga or raja yoga was founded by Pattanjali almost 3000 years ago. Ashtanga/vinyasa was founded by Pattabhi Joice and according to him ashtanga/vinyasa was established 1500 years ago, however, this date is argued by modern instructors who indicate ashtanga/vinyasa has been practiced for only 20 to 30 years. Ashtanga yoga is considered a traditional type of yoga, encompassing not only postures, which is generally the focus of modern day yoga like ashtanga/vinyasa, but also the philosophy of yoga, which includes our intellect, spirituality, behavior, and meditative focus.

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The second major difference between ashtanga and ashtanga/vinyasa are the guiding principles or “limbs” as they have been called. In ashtanga yoga there are eight limbs (ashta or astau meaning eight in Sanskrit). These limbs can be represented in a pyramid, with the first limb, yama (self restraint), laying the foundation for the next seven limbs, leading up to the eighth limb at the pinnacle, Samadhi (identification with pure consciousness)

The purpose of ashtanga yoga is to master first the social aspects (yama and niyama), then the physical aspects (asana and pranayama), then the intellectual aspects (pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana), in order to reach the spiritual aspect (samadhi). In contrast, ashtanga/vinyasa has four limbs that are all focused at the physical level; they are asana (postures – as seen in ashtanga yoga), uttjai breathing (breathing by touching air to the windpipe), bandha (locks), and dristi (gaze). Modern day ashtanga/vinyasa focuses on toning the body, whereas in traditional ashtanga, physical health is a byproduct of doing yoga and the focus is actually on the mind.

The third difference between ashtanga and ashtanga/vinyasa is the focus of each style. As discussed above, modern day ashtanga/vinyasa focuses on the physical level of yoga, with a exact outline of which asanas (postures) are done and in what order. The focus of this type of class is working on strengthening and stretching and reaching more advanced postures which tones the body. In traditional ashtanga practice, asanas are only one of many areas of focus and are usually held for longer in an effortless and stable position. Breathing exercises through pranayama and pratyahara are practiced along with mind concentration and meditative practice in dharana and dhayana. This focus of traditional ashtanga is to master the external limbs and work the way up to internal limbs that include focusing and controlling the mind to reach Samadhi

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