The beauty of Ashtanga Vinyasa

Pattabhi Jois

Pattabhi Jois

It should be obvious, but just to make it explicit: I love Ashtanga Yoga and still practice it as often as fatherhood and a day job allow. That’s about three times a week now.

My obituary in The Economist of Pattabhi Jois, the founder of this yoga style, actually reflected that, even though a lot of people have chosen to interpret it as critical.

(Good writing is about coloring in characters in all their rich complexity, not about churning out hagiographies, as I hope I made clear when I wrote about the creation of this piece.)

Anyway, I came across these old videos of Jois teaching some of his students. And I was struck by the sheer aesthetic beauty of the flowing postures.

Here are excerpts from the first (or “primary”) series. There are nowadays six never-changing series of postures (one for each day of the week, with Saturday being a rest day).

And here are excerpts from the “intermediate” series. I find that this usually gets a laugh out of people: If this is intermediate, then what is advanced?

The students in the video, by the way, have since aged and become yoga celebrities in their own right. They are:

(Here are other posts in my thread on Yoga.)

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11 thoughts on “The beauty of Ashtanga Vinyasa

  1. Andreas, do you recommend any particular books or videos for a beginner? I don’t really have time for a class but I think some basic yoga could help my balance, strength, and flexibility for my rock climbing.

    • When I started, ten years ago, I read David Swenson’s and John Scott’s books.

      But videos are better and classes are best. That’s because the point of Ashtanga is not so much each individual pose but the way they are strung together in a flow, and the breathing technique throughout.

      The videos are all out there, but in fragments. Here, for instance:

    • Yes, but only if I had not already spelled it the British way myself, which I do whenever I write for The Economist.

      That means all my computer’s spell-check systems can’t handle me.

  2. I took some Ashtanga yoga classes and after a while my back started to hurt. All the bending seems like it would be unhealthy for the back. Have you experienced any similar pain Andreas? It’s always hard to tell what kind of exercise is the best because there are so many fads and oftentimes not a lot of science behind them.

    • I never had back problems but, like many Ashtangis, I’ve had knee problems.

      When starting the practice, Westerners often force their limbs into asanas like Lotus of Janu Sirsasana III too soon, damaging their knees.

      This is deeply ironic, of course. As David Williams might say, it’s “like saying you injured yourself while praying.” Yoga is supposed to be a humble, entirely healthful and indeed healing practice, tailored to the individual.

      But there you go: We’re in the west, and we want to be like the guys in the video.

      Anyway, I do not know your age, body, physical history, so I can’t recommend this particular style because it might hurt you. But Yoga in general, appropriately taught and practiced, can only help. Technically, it’s all about the breathing. In theory, you could practice while sitting in traffic on the highway…. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Ironic indeed. I wish I had the time and opportunity to learn the breathing without the associated pain. Alas.

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