What is Ashtanga Yoga?

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

By Donna McCafferey

Ashtanga Primary Series with Donna McCafferey

Ashtanga means 8 Limbs and this dynamic yoga practice encompasses all of the 8 limbs in one practice. Originally designed for the young boys in the palace in Mysore to keep them active and help them to behave, this practice was embraced by travelling westerners and is now practised all over the world by people of all ages.

There are 6 series of Ashtanga yoga and only a few people practice the 6th series. My first teacher was working on a 5th series when I met him 20 years ago. Most classes teach only primary series as it can be challenging and really it is best learned in a small group setting one posture at a time.

The series is put together in a very intelligent way so that each posture opens your body for the next one. Practised properly the 8 limbs all come together in this one practice. We can include the Yamas and Niyamas by working with kindness and honesty. We are already practising Asana and the Pranayama is the Ujayi breath that we use. By focussing inwards on breath and bandha and drishti we have Pratyahara; and these, in turn, lead to concentration, Dharana, meditation, Dyana and Samadhi.

Practised in this way with awareness Ashtanga yoga becomes a very powerful practice which can transform your life and make you a better person.

The primary series is also known as Yoga chikitsa or yoga therapy and is designed to purify your body.  Each breath is connected to a movement or vinyasa and each vinyasa has a count. I teach with the Sanskrit vinyasa count which becomes another way to focus your attention on what you are doing.

It really is a breath practice, moving from one posture to another, from breath to breath with total awareness. If we can work in this way it really does become a beneficial practice.

It is believed that we store stuff in our bodies, stuff we haven’t dealt with, such as anger, sadness, emotional stuff, and by twisting our bodies into these postures with awareness, we can begin to loosen these bonds and release all of the stuff, leaving us feeling lighter and more content and able to face life more calmly off the mat.

This is Ashtanga Yoga and it is wonderful!


Join Donna every Wednesday at 5.45pm for a full Ashtanga Primary Series at Space at the Mill in Castlefield. Haven't tried it before? Donna will offer modifications to make it accessible for all!

Enjoy your practice.