Asthanga Yoga is a non-religious style that sees dynamic physical exercises and a fit and healthy body as the base for higher spiritual development, which is achieved with breathing techniques (Pranayama) and meditation. In Asthanga there is a strict form of exercises (e.g. Primary Series) in which we use vinyasas (synchronization of breath and movement), drishtis (gazing points) and bandhas (energy locks). This way we not only train the body but also our mind. Done regular this practice leads to joy, inner peace and balance and supports self-transformation and self-realization.
Ashtanga means literally "eight-limbed" and was outlined in the book The Yoga Sutras by the Indian sage Patanjali about 2000 years ago. Patanjali defines the goal of yoga as "controlling of the mind activities" and the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga work together to reach this goal.
Yama and Niyama form the moral and ethic base for the yoga practice. The physical practice of Asanas make the body healthy, strong and flexible. In addition of cleansing the body and a purification of the mind the breathing exercises of Pranayama lift the practitioner to a higher spiritual level.
These first four limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are called outer yoga as they prepare mind and body optimally for the other limps. The limps of the inner yoga – Pratyahara (withdraw of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Shamadhi (enlightenment) – work on the spiritual and intellectual development of man as they discipline the mind and create harmony between body, mind and soul.
If you want to learn more about the philosophy and practice of Ashtanga Yoga you can read my comprehensive introduction to Ashtanga Yoga.
The book presents the practice, theory and philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga. It describes in a short and concise way its historical development and philosophical background. It studies the goals of Ashtanga yoga but looks equally closely at the theory and the environment of yoga practice. The detailed description of the ancient system of Ashtanga yoga is compared with modern scientific findings. One chapter discusses also obstacles to the practice of yoga and how to overcome them.