Ashtanga Yoga is today regarded as one of the most well-known yoga types and one of the most practiced kinds of yoga. It is distinguished by the coordination of ujjayi breathing with a gradual flowing series of asanas, and is sometimes referred to as Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga.
Here, we’ll take a deeper look at the development of Ashtanga yoga through the efforts of Pattabhi Jois and other key players along the way, as well as how Jois’ singular influence has continued to grow this branch of yoga.
Journey of Pattabhi Jois
When he was 12 years old, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, popularly referred to as Guruji, started practicing yoga in India. At first, Pattabhi followed his guru Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya’s advice and practiced covertly. Through his guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, who had studied the historic yogic literature known as the “Yoga Korunta” by Vamana Rishi, Krishnamacharya had learned about the early Ashtanga traditions.
After two years of daily practice, Pattabhi left home at the age of 14 to continue his education at the renowned Sanskrit University of Mysore, India. There, Pattabhi found his master again.
At that time, the maharaja (“great king”) of Mysore fell unwell and requested Krishnamacharya’s aid in curing him. Krishnamacharya founded a yoga shala (“school”) with the king’s support and enlisted bright pupils like Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar to manage the shala and give public Ashtanga yoga demonstrations. Later, Pattabhi would base his own teachings on his understanding of the “Yoga Korunta.”
When the maharaja of Mysore died, Pattabhi inherited the teachings and legacy of Krishnamacharya and disseminated them throughout the area. Pattabhi founded the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in 1948. The growth of Pattabhi’s school of yoga was aided by the arrival of many well-known yogis. Americans started coming to the center, going home, and promoting Ashtanga to students all throughout the country.
In the years that followed, Pattabhi kept traveling around India and other countries, educating people about yoga, speaking with academics, demonstrating asanas, and enlisting potential pupils.
Ashtanga Yogis and Teachers of Today
Just outside of Mysore, Pattabhi established the renowned Lakshmipuram Institute in 1998.
There were additional spaces for students at the Lakshmipuram Ashtanga Research Institute.
This action gave Pattabhi the opportunity to hire more teachers and broaden the Ashtanga yoga lineage’s influence on a global scale.
In Islamorada, Florida, Pattabhi established an American Ashtanga yoga school in 2006.
Pattabhi spent his final years living at the Ashtanga school in Islamorada, where he continued to learn, impart knowledge, and motivate many scholars from around the world.
At the age of 93, Pattabhi passed away in 2009. He entrusted his daughter Saraswathi and grandson Sharath in charge of continuing his legacy and left the institute in their capable hands.
An international celebration of yoga was conducted in his honor to recognize his life and accomplishments.
The Islamorada Center relocated to Encinitas, California, in 2012, taking up residence at Jois Yoga, a division of the recently established Jois Yoga Foundation.
Richard Freeman, Manu Jois, Saraswathi Jois, Sharath Jois, Dena Kingsburg, Tim Miller, Eddie Stern, and David Swenson are well-known contemporary Ashtanga yogis who follow Pattabhi.
This approach states that there are six different “series”—also known as postural sequences—that one can learn. Each of them does 25 asanas on average. The final sequences of expert contortionist exercises with deep backbends, twists, and extreme stretches that have a profound influence on the organs and body/mind/nervous system are only tried by a few number of people who are adept above the third level.
The Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (AYRI), whose director is Pattabhi Jois, has a policy of gradually increasing each student’s capacity.
Therefore, no one is taught advanced postures unless they have consolidated the practice for at least three to five years and have demonstrated a respectable level of consistency and dedication.
Only one living individual in the world, Sharath Rangaswamy, the grandson of Pattabhi Jois, has been exposed to the final and penultimate episodes, both of which are surrounded in considerable mystery, especially the last one.
Heard to say that some of the “exercises” in this place entail stopping one’s own heartbeat and other extremely high levels of physical control over the muscles and inner organs.
These advanced exercises are, of course, very different from what is typically taught in health clubs, fitness centers, and yoga studios around the world. However, it is interesting to note that the Primary Series, the first sequence taught by the AYRI, is referenced in a lot of the “Power Yoga” and other styles of “Fitness Yoga” that suddenly took off in gyms and health clubs around the world ten to twenty years ago.
HIS WAY OF TEACHING
It was never truly about the physical body, according to Pattabhi Jois, but rather the inner experience of it all, which is progressively set free and becomes more manifest as a result.
When Pattabhi Jois refers to his method as “Ashtanga Yoga,” he is emulating Patanjali.
We first see this name, Ashta-anga, the “eight limbs,” as the eight practical integrated phases leading to a more gradual awakening of yoga up to the ultimate transcending state of Samadhi, in the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, “The Sadhana Pada.”
However, Pattabhi Jois asserts time and time again that the fundamental essence of yoga must transcend academic understanding in order for us to fully integrate our awareness into something more profound than just cognition.
Therefore, anytime others are overly eager to project their varied thoughts on yoga without having established a proper basis to receive it, he readily smiles as though he is exhausted.
He keeps saying, “The practice takes time,” but he adds, “When you feel it for yourself you will know that it is real.”
As a result, he avoids engaging in lengthy philosophical debate over the applicability of this practice and instead lives by the maxim “Practice, practice, and all is coming!”
However, he is always available to offer his steadfast perspective anytime we dispute him and want a fuller expression of his thoughts on the subject of yoga, including what is practice and what is it actually for:
Learning to manage the body and the senses to allow the inner light to shine through is what asana and pranayama practice is all about.
Through proper yoga practice, one can experience this light, his own Self, which is the same for the entire planet. This is the inevitable result of diligent effort, and as one comes to understand the mind’s support through time, they will progressively learn to regulate it.
Although controlling the mind might be quite challenging, everything is attainable with the correct training. Therefore, in order to truly comprehend yoga, we must first and foremost practice, practice, practice.
After a while, we’ll be able to shake off our mental habits and taste everything’s deeper underpinnings. Philosophy is obviously vital, but what is it actually for if it is not tied to and rooted in reality and utility? Talking nonstop exhausts our minds! The genuine grasp of philosophy is built on practice. What good is it if we can’t put things into practice and experience them?
The aforementioned makes it clear that the so-called Ashtanga Yoga technique developed by Pattabhi Jois is more than just a set of physical exercises for fitness—it is an investigation into the very foundation of our being and the essence of Self.
The actual application and worth of this particular method are, of course, up for significant discussion, but it is difficult to access the genuine relevance of what he says without a serious dedication to the practice over time in order to personally experience its effects.
We can reasonably infer that this particular practice affects an individual in a way that seems to go beyond the simple desire for fitness and increased flexibility given the growing interest in it across the globe.
Instead, it seems to make more internal room and increase internal awareness of this very life energy that resides within us. And now that I think about it, that might actually be pretty favorable for a proper integration in yoga.