Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient yoga method which helps to achieve a state of peace, in which one is able to clearly distinguish their soul, who they really are and as separate being from all material objects. Thus living a life as authentically as possible.
Ashtau (eight) – Anga (branches) refers to the 8 steps that this method employs to achieve a state of peace. One of these steps, the third one, is Asana (posture). Asana is the physical part of this system and the gateway to Ashtanga. However, it is important not to confuse this part with the whole. Yoga is much more than a series of postures. Without Yamas and Niyamas there is no Yoga, the system does not work. The Yamas (first step) and Niyamas (second step), without which this practice would be something superficial and empty of meaning, are a series of principles underpinning growth and spiritual development.
The vinyasa system is the most important element in the practice of asana in Ashtanga. Vinyasa is to synchronize breath with movement in such a way that whenever we make a movement this will sync with an inhalation or an exhalation. We see the clearest example of this system of vinyasa in the Sun Salutations, the starting point of the practice. Sun Salutation A, has 9 vinyasas and B, has 17 vinyasas:
Vinyasa 1 inhaling, raise arms and placing the palms of the hands together. Vinyasa 2 exhaling, bending forward, hands on the mat by the feet, etc…
After Sun Salutation A and B, each posture (asana) also has an exact number of vinyasas. For example, Padangusthasana, the first asana, has 3 vinyasas.
The purpose of the vinyasa is to clean and decontaminate us from the inside. The combination of asanas, breathing and movement increases body temperature, making the bloodstream more fluid, thus allowing the elimination of toxins and heavy metals (of which we are constantly exposed to), to leave the body via our sweat. This constant exposure to toxins causes severe damage to the central nervous system, endocrine, cardiovascular and immune system. By following the vinyasa system we will succeed in having a healthy and strong body, and as a result, our mental health will also be positively influenced.
Of great importance in the system of vinyasa mula bandha and uddiyana bandha, are the bandhas; they are intentional contractions of certain muscles to increase the current of energy in the body providing health and strength. So, for the breathing and the asanas to be effective then bandhas must be present during the practice.
Last, but of no lesser importance than the other elements mentioned above, we have the drishti. The drishti refers to a specific point of focus, to where we should hold our gaze during each asana. This method helps us to concentrate, in order to allow us to go deeper in our posture and the practice itself. This union is how we achieve the state of mind we seek when we practice yoga.