Understanding Ashtanga: Why You Should Try Free-Flow Yoga


It would be impossible to have a yoga forum this week and not mention the loss of one of yogas greatest teachers, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who died peacefully on May 18. Jois is known for his system of ashtanga yoga, a very rigorous, challenging system of physical postures. He will be remembered as one of the people who introduced yoga to the West.

The word ashtanga actually translates to “eight limbs.” What makes ashtanga unique is that it is a set system where the students all practice the same sequence every day, but at different paces. The class is not lead, meaning that the teacher does not call out a specific move at a given time. Instead, all students are practicing in silence at their own pace. This gives a beautiful meditative quality to the room and allows students to spend less time on postures they have already mastered and more time on new postures that they are just learning. The teacher goes about the room helping each student and showing him new postures when each individual is ready.

Although some find the ashtanga system too challenging or fast-paced, most teachers will encourage even the most novice student to try it at his own pace at least once. Amongst the ashtangis (those that practice ashtanga), there is some of the most intense camaraderie Ive seen within the yoga community. It has been an honor to learn and practice this system, and that's all thanks to Pattabhi Jois.