Ashtanga Yoga: Why Lineage Matters

The Ashtanga yoga lineage matters for me because the very best practices of yoga, breathing, and medicine theories are addressed in all the postures of the Ashtanga series.

The practice includes an understanding of the body and the main energies of the body. Keeping in mind that illness surfaces when energy in the body is out of balance, the postures or asanas are designed to restore balance, eliminate phlegm, break up stagnation.

Each posture has specific health benefits. The transition from one posture to the next, the deepening of each layer in the posture enhances health benefits in the body. The Ashtanga practice incorporates physical shapes (asanas) with behavior and lifestyle techniques designed to restore the body and mind to homeostasis. Not to be confused with gymnastics, the ashtanga practice weaves thousands of years of Ayurvedic principles, and Tibetan healing concepts.

At the root of Ashtanga yoga is an ancient text known as the Yoga Korunta. The Yoga Korunta is a text outlining the benefits of purifying the mind and body by eliminating the the obstacles or distractions of day-to-day life. The Ashtanga practice is a systematic approach to movement devised by Sri K Pattabhi Jois, his practice incorporates the teachings of his teacher Sri Krishnamacharya who also studied the principles of the  Yoga Korunta.  

Krishnamacharya’s teacher, Ramana Mohan Brahmachari learned from a sage known as Rishi Samana. One key principle the sage Rishi Samana passed along in his teachings was to awaken the five senses through breathing and physical movement.  At some point over the past 100 years, the principles of Ayurveda and Ashtanga yoga evolve together to create Ashtanga yoga as we know it today. Ayurvedic principles that discuss how to awaken the senses through yoga, diet and breathing.

In Mysore, the torch was passed from Krishnamacharya to Sri K Pattabhi Jois who was born in South India not far from Mysore, and who commenced studies with Krishnamacharya in 1927 as a twelve year old boy. He became a professor at the Maharaja’s Sanskrit College and taught yoga from 1937 onwards. Guruji – Pattabhi Jois, passed away in May 2009.  His teachings live on and are advanced at the yoga shala in Mysore India.   Currently, the practice has been passed on to his to his daughter Saraswathi and grandson Sharath, while his granddaughter Shemee teaches in Bangalore.  The lineage has been taught to only a handful of certified ashtanga teachers throughout the world who have earned the certification through years of training and practice.  


 Moving through the postures in a hot yoga class with any yoga teacher is interesting to me.  I always get something from a practice whether it is Bikram, Power Yoga, or Shiva Rea, I always learn something and I always enjoy the movement.  But for me, the practice of yoga is in the tradition and lineage of Ashtanga.  Through a daily ashtanga practice, I have learned so much.  Not only technique, asana and pranayama, but the deeper levels of the practice that include the effects of each asana on the musculoskeletal system, the importance of nourishing the spine and nervous system, and how the asanas help to restore the body and mind to homeostasis.  

i-Tf77QpL-XLContrary to some ways of thinkingAshtanga is not just gymnastics, the practice runs deep; it helps me to understand the value of breathing, the value of living, and knowing peace.  

To practice ashtanga yoga, is to study the teachings as they have been passed down for hundreds of years, it is a gift I will never stop feeling gratitude for.  For me, the value of my Ashtanga practice resonates off the mat, it follows me in my day-to-day life and infiltrates everything I do.

The body, the asana and shapes become geometric tools that enhance love, life, and the senses.  It is a continuum, a vortex of never-ending information passed down from sage to teacher to student.  This is why lineage matters to me and why I am thankful for the current teachers who inspire me, and for the knowledge I am able to pass on.  

Lineage matters.


Ramona Bessinger

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