The Ashtanga Yoga system is part of a living lineage of yoga that dates back nearly five thousand years in an unbroken line of teachers, sages and gurus and transmitted to the modern world by Krishnamacarya (1888-1988) and his student, Sri K Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), in Calcutta and Mysore, India.
Ashtanga Yoga Classroom Etiquette
Never been to an Ashtanga Yoga class? Here are some basics about the etiquette that you are likely to encounter. Of course, much depends on the studio and how traditional they run things, but in general this is what you should know:
- No drinking water during class. For those who may think this is dangerously radical, consider that these days our views about how much water we need to drink is heavily influenced by marketing from the companies that want to sell us water. In the 80’s Americans used to mock the French and other Europeans for purchasing bottled water; then water started to be heavily marketed in the US as well. It seemed every sports figure was guzzling some brand or another of water in commercials and low-and-behold, now American spend millions (maybe billions?) on bottled water every year. But I digress…in Ashtanga Yoga, the idea is not to interrupt the flow both of the postures but especially your breathing. As long as you hydrate sufficiently before class, there really isn’t any need to drink water during class. Reaching for the water bottle usually has a lot more to do with your mental thirst to take a breather than an actual need to hydrate.
- No Mirrors. Ashtangis generally do not like mirrors in their studio. Even when a studio is equipped with mirrors, Asthangis will often set up the mats to face away from the mirror. Ashtanga Yoga is an inward, meditative practice and for that reason mirrors are viewed as a distraction. Unlike other styles of yoga that obsess over the minutiae of a posture to get it “correct”, Ashtanga Yoga allows more room to explore the posture without obsessing over perfection. Beginning students are asked to focus more on the breath, than perfecting the postures. Eventually, over years of practice, the postures appear in their intended form.
- No Music. Ashtangis also see music, much like mirrors, as a distraction. Listening to music in class is viewed in much the same way trying to meditate to music would be. Also, as the focus is the breath, having music distracts from and inhibits listening to the breath.
- No Props. In Ashtanga Yoga no props are used. This is most likely because it is a classical Indian practice and when it originated, props were not invented. Also, because each posture is held for only 5 breaths, the practice moves too rapidly to have a chance to set up props. This should not discourage those who ordinarily use props. From an Ashtanga point of view, the body can be modified in each posture without props and in fact encourages a higher level of knowledge of one’s body and the mechanics of the posture itself.
- Sanskrit. Ashtanga Yoga is traditionally, and almost always, taught using the Sanskrit names of postures.
- Opening/closing Chant. Each Ashtanga Yoga class is opened with the traditional opening chant. Not every student will know the chant by heart and there is no obligation to join in. So whether joining in or not, all students start by standing at the top of their mats, hands in prayer. Performing the closing chant is more rare, but may be performed after a Led Primary class.
Helpful Resources and Information
Ashtanga Yoga Links
- Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (AYRI) – The definitive source of Ashtanga knowledge and practice. AYRI was started by Pattabhi Jois and is the center for his (now his daughter and grandson’s teaching) in Mysore, India. Ashtanga yoga practitioners are encouraged to return to Mysore annually to study for a minimum of one month. As such, at any given time in Mysore you will find more than one hundred yoga students at the “shala” (Sanskrit for “house”). Mysore is considered to be the “Mecca” of Ashtanga yoga. AYRI is the only center that grants Ashtanga certification and this is usually granted only after mastery of the primary series, and quite often a period of ten years of study
- While Ashtanga.com is not the official source of Ashtanga information, it is the largest and most well known commercial source of information and products related to the Ashtanga Yoga practice
- Ashtanga.net is the site of David Swenson, one of the most proficient and respected Western teachers ofAshtanga Yoga
- About Krisnamacharya
A Few Predominant Western Teachers of Ashtanga Yoga
- David Williams – In 1973, David Williams began learning Ashtanga Yoga from K. Pattabhi Jois at his home in Mysore, India, and became the first non-Indian to be taught the complete Ashtanga Yogasystem of asanas and pranayama directly from Jois. In 1974, David became one of the first non-Indians to be certified to teach the Ashtanga Yoga asanas and one of the very few people ever certified by Jois to teach the Ashtanga Yoga pranayama. David introduced K. Pattabhi Jois to America and the western world when he, along with Nancy Gilgoff, organized and sponsored their first visit to Encinitas, California, in 1975. David is responsible for teaching the Ashtanga Yoga system to many of today’s leading teachers and practitioners, including David Swenson, Doug Swenson, Danny Paradise, Cliff Barber, Bryan Kest, Jonny Kest, Tracy Rich, Chuck Miller, Maty Ezraty, Kathy Cooper, and Andrew Eppler
- Tim Miller – Tim Miller has been studying and teaching Ashtanga Yoga for over thirty years and was the first American certified to teach by Pattabhi Jois at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India
- David Swenson – David Swenson’s introduction to Ashtanga Yoga came in 1973 when he met David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff in Encinitas, California. In 1975 David and Nancy brought K. Pattabhi Jois to the U.S. for the first time and Swenson was fortunate enough to be there. Swenson made his first trip to Mysore in 1977 and learned the full Ashtanga Yoga system as it was originally taught by K. Pattabhi Jois. David Swenson is recognized today as one of the world’s foremost practitioners and instructors of Ashtanga Yoga. David’s Ashtanga Yoga “The Practice Manual” is the best source for self-study providing essential information on Ashtanga Yoga as well as a breakdown of each posture and accompanying modifications. David’s company also makes practice cards and other valuable tools for the Ashtanga Practice.
- Chuck Miller – Chuck Miller has been practicing yoga earnestly since 1971 and finally learned Ashtanga Yoga from Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 1980. Chuck and his wife, Maty Ezraty run “Chuck and Maty Yoga” in Honokaa, HI. Maty Ezraty was one of the original founders of Yoga Works and also studied with Patabhi Jois.
- Kino McGregor – Kino MacGregor is one of a select group of people to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga at a very young age by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. Kino is the youngest woman to hold this distinction. There are some great videos of Kino’s practice on YouTube. Kino owns and operates the Miami Life Center in Miami, Florida where you can study with Kino.
Ashtanga Yoga Opening Chant
Ashtanga Yoga Closing Chant