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What is Ashtanga Yoga?

The founder of Yoga at the Reach, Nicola Harpin, is both a teacher and a student of the Ashtanga Yoga practice. Like many yogis around the world, she has travelled to Mysore and Europe to study with Sharath Jois, the current head of the lineage. To date, she has been fortunate enough to study with him four times.

As Ashtanga Yoga is Nicola’s passion, she wanted to ensure that Yoga at the Reach offered Ashtanga classes and courses to suit all levels, helping beginners get started on their journey and allowing more experienced students to flourish and develop their practices to their fullest potential.

What is Ashtanga?

Ashtanga Yoga was introduced to the world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from his humble Yoga Shala in Lakshmipuram near Mysore in the 1970s. The system was developed by Jois and his teacher Krishnamacharya and today is one of the most popular styles of yoga in the world, thanks to social media savvy teachers such as Kino MacGregor.

Ashtanga Yoga differs from other yoga styles as its series of set sequences (yes, there are seven), combine asana (physical exercise), pranayama (breathing), bandha (internal body locks) and drishti (concentration points).

The practice is often called a moving meditation due to these combined aspects of yoga and the way that they synchronise and flow together. All of the series have a level of commonality: the sun salutations, main asana practice and finishing series.

Needless to say all of the series demand dedication to achieve to the best of one’s ability.

Can beginners do Ashtanga?

Sharath and Pattabhi Jois would say that the only people who can’t practice Ashtanga are lazy people!

As all Ashtanga poses are hatha poses, it was very common when people first started practicing that they would be given modifications to help them work towards their expression of the pose in question.

If you go to an experienced, good teacher, this should be the same today, enabling any one, of any ability, to take practice.

Although asana or the physical exercise of the practice is part of Ashtanga Yoga, a calm mind, body and breathing practice are of equal importance; after all we are trying to follow the teaching of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and in Chapter 1, v.2 it states Yoga citta vritti nirodhah or Yoga is the resolution of the agitations of the mind!

How is Ashtanga Yoga taught?

Ashtanga Yoga is taught either in led classes or in ‘Mysore Style’ self-practice classes.

In led classes a teacher will tell you what to do pose by pose. The most traditional form of led class (as still taught by Sharath) are ‘counted’ classes. This means that the breath count of each of the asanas is adhered too, which is really the aim within the practice, and ensures that students perform the asanas correctly and in line with tradition.

In Mysore classes, students practice the poses at their own pace. Traditionally students build up their own practice from the sun salutations onwards, and are only given poses when the teacher deems them ready to advance to the next pose. The series are well designed to ensure that each pose helps prepare for the next. This makes the primary series fantastically accessible for newcomers!

What are the benefits of the Ashtanga Yoga practice?

More than anything, the practice will move you towards a sense of stillness and inner calm.

Due to the way that various yogic disciplines are combined greater self-awareness on a physical and mental level are likely also to occur.

Of course you will become stronger, more flexible and supple but not overnight.

What does Yoga at the Reach offer?

The Reach has classes suited to all levels.

Our Beginners courses are suited for any level of practitioner who want to learn about Ashtanga.

Beginners Plus classes and courses are best suited for those with a little yoga experience, but not necessarily Ashtanga, and the full primary talk through and intermediate classes are better suited for those with a firm footing in the Ashtanga practice.

Our Mysore classes are mixed ability from those who are completely new to those practicing the intermediate series.

The class range has been designed to make Ashtanga accessible to everyone!

What Nicola says about Ashtanga

Come and give it a go. I am really proud of our teaching staff at the Reach, but especially the range of Ashtanga teachers we have. I genuinely believe that we have a teacher to suit every level of practitioner.

Ashtanga is taught differently from other yoga styles. Your teacher won’t be doing their yoga practice at the front of the mat whilst you are practicing. Their job is to walk around and ensure you are doing the practice correctly and to the best of your ability. There is lots of input and verbal and hands on adjusting. They may demonstrate how to fly every now and then but their job is to teach you, and teach you well.

5 Reasons I do Ashtanga Yoga, and why you should too!

  • I like the way that I feel afterwards on a mental and physical level.

  • It makes me feel incredibly calm and grounded.

  • My body feels more supple and stronger after practice.

  • Alongside my daily meditation practice, I get an additional meditation when I ashtanga.

  • Over the years, I have see the benefits of ashtanga as my practice has evolved, it's been an amazing journey and the practice is ever giving - if you have patience!


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