‘Ashta’ means eight and ‘Anga’ parts. Ashtanga – ‘eight parts’ – refers to the eightfold yogapath as laid down by Patanjali in his significant Yoga Sutras. Vinyasa originally means to set out and to return and in the yoga practice describes the process of combination and synthesis. Various Asanas are being put together connected by the flowing movement called Vinyasa. This ancient yoga system – re-discovered by the great South Indian Yogi Krishnamacharya in 1930 – is believed to be about 1’500 years old and written down in a text called Yoga Korunta. Its source though seems to be found in an oral tradition that dates back as far as 5’000 years.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga originally consisted of a system of four series which today are broken up into six series. In each one of these the practitioner tries to evoke a state of deep meditation through an intense practice of Asanas supported by Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha and Dristhis (focal points for our eyes that help us to guide our awareness inward). Here Asana tries to be practiced in conjunction with the seven other limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Each series or sequence of Asanas tries to harmonise the different levels of our body and mind.
The first series (Primary Series) brings about a structural fitness through proper alignement of the anatomical or physical body (Annamayakosha); the second series (Intermediate Series) cleanses the subtle energy-channels (Nadi Shodana) through which our life force (Prana) flows and awakens our pranic or energy-body (Pranamayakosha); the third series (Advanced A) awakens the psychic body (Manomayakosha); the fourth series (Advanced B) awakens the intuitive faculties related to the experience of pure consciousness (Vijnanamayakosha). When these four ‘outer’ bodies are awakened they try to be united with the fifth body, the causal body (Anandamayakosha) which leads to the unison of the individual with the absolute – the highest goal of yoga.
The slow and fluid movements bring about a significant increase of energy, strength and flexibility. The rhythm of the breath controls the physical movements and centers our awareness. The result of this – in the beginning – quite strenuous practice is a state of profound relaxation as well as mental calm, peace and equanimity – both being preconditions to experience a state of meditation.