Ashtanga Yoga Definition

Ashtanga Yoga 101: Yoga Definitions

In a time like this, it is understandable to feel stressed and burnt out from all of the stressors in your life. You need a way to release and let go of those burdens behind your back. You don’t want to do something that could be classified as a one-and-done because that seems counterproductive, so, upon research, you find something called ashtanga yoga. So, with interest, you look into what this ashtanga yoga is about.

In general, ashtanga yoga is a structured form of hatha yoga that began in the 1900s that revolves around connecting eight movements in your body to your breathing. It is helped in decreasing stress and increasing productivity and muscle strength. However, eight specific steps go along with this.

Let’s continue reading to learn about the meaning of ashtanga yoga, its primary focus, what makes it different from other forms of yoga, and the steps and differences between ashtanga yoga and vinyasa yoga.

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What is the Meaning of Ashtanga Yoga?

So, what is ashtanga yoga? Well, ashtanga yoga, or eight-limbed yoga, is a structured, practiced form of yoga where you are connecting each movement, eight, of the body alongside your breathing exercises. In practicing ashtanga yoga, it is often recommended that you practice this daily, per the eight steps in order. 

The practice of ashtanga yoga was popularized in South India by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, a yoga guru during the late 1920s, and has since become a popular, traditional form of hatha yoga. The practice of this yoga has provided many benefits to those who keep up with it regularly, include: 

  • Increased concentration.
  • Increase in muscle strength.
  • Reduction in stress levels. 
  • Flexibility. 
  • More creative. 

Many who have not heard of ashtanga yoga may not be aware of the purpose of practicing this form of yoga and its main focus. Let’s continue reading to learn more about the main focus of ashtanga yoga.

Yoga is a great way to improve your physical abilities, allowing you to perform daily activities with ease, prevent injuries, and maintain your overall physical health, specifically by improving your flexibility.

What is the Main Focus of Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga yoga requires a lot of determination and discipline. The main focus of ashtanga yoga is to strengthen your mind and body. To achieve this goal of a better guide of your mind and body, you will need to practice every day as it is recommended to do so and do so in the provided, structured eight steps that go along with it without skipping around. 

The goal of yoga, in general, is to provide you, in the end, with a sense of calm of the mind but strength within your body. However, although ashtanga does deliver those goals, this form of yoga is a bit more fast-paced and lasts longer than other standard yoga classes or practices, which is why it is considered one of the most difficult. You have to be dedicated and focused when doing it because your body is more demanding throughout the practice. 

Understandably, for those who have never done it before, there can be naysayers who do not understand what makes ashtanga yoga uniquely different. So, let’s continue reading to learn about what makes ashtanga yoga different from other forms of yoga. 

What Makes Ashtanga Yoga Different?

Yoga can often be seen as relaxed and versatile. However, ashtanga yoga is a bit different in its practice. Ashtanga yoga is suggested and encouraged to be practiced daily because of its rigorous and demanding physical nature. Another aspect of ashtanga yoga that is essential to remember is that eight steps go along with this practice and are required to be performed in that exact order, no switching it up. 

A lot of sweat and tiredness will come along with performing this yoga, which can often scare beginners who are starting with yoga because it is typically more relaxed. However, beginners can practice and perform ashtanga yoga. 

Along with ashtanga yoga, another form of yoga that is popular in yoga classes that may be well-known to you is called vinyasa yoga. People are often unaware of the differences between these two popular yoga practices. So, we will read more to learn about the difference between ashtanga and vinyasa yoga.

What is the Difference Between Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga?

While the flow of the body connecting from the movements to your breaths remains the same, the difference between ashtanga and vinyasa yoga is that ashtanga is more structured than vinyasa, which is typically more free-flowing and offers you more wiggle room to be creative. 

Both are popular in their own right, but, from the outside looking in, ashtanga can be understandably looked at as more daunting because of its rewarding yet grueling, physically demanding nature. Although beginners can join in practicing with no problem, vinyasa is trendier and more approachable. 

Another difference between ashtanga and vinyasa yoga is the length of time to do each practice. Performing ashtanga yoga typically takes longer than vinyasa yoga, which is not more than an hour, while ashtanga is around an hour to an hour and a half.

But, back to ashtanga yoga, structured steps are typically followed while performing. Let’s continue reading to learn about the eight steps of ashtanga yoga.

What Are the Steps of Ashtanga Yoga?

The objective of ashtanga yoga is to connect you to your mind and body in a more structured way using orderly steps in performing ashtanga yoga. The steps of ashtanga yoga include: 

  • Yama: Yama represents morality and learning to be kind towards others. Yama consists of five sub-Yama’s that define nonviolence and resorting to a path of forgiveness. During this step, you are learning the art of detachment. 
  • Niyama: Niyama represents self-discipline and a level of contentedness. You are cleansing your body of any worry and negativity and only leaving yourself to God, not worrying about anything else in the world. 
  • Asana: Asana is the third step in ashtanga yoga and represents concentration. In achieving this, you must focus more on your postures when practicing yoga. By this point in the performance, the poses can be held for more extended periods and will tend to become uncomfortable. 
  • Pranayama: Pranayama represents the ability to control your breathing. So continuing to control your breathing amid these rigorous poses will become helpful, along with needing to release stressors and have the ability to control your emotions. 
  • Pratyahara: Pratyahara wants you to become more entuned and focused on your senses, blocking out external stimuli. In focusing on yourself, you are gaining more knowledge about who you are as a person. 
  • Dharana: Dharana is the sixth step in performing ashtanga yoga, representing silencing distractions within and externally. In doing this, you must focus next on a single thing, sound, etc. 
  • Dhyana: Dhyana is the seventh step in ashtanga yoga, and it focuses on meditation which ensues quietness and stillness and focuses on a singular thing, sound, person, name, etc. 
  • Samadhi: Samadhi is the eighth and final step in ashtanga yoga, and this will tie everything together once you’ve achieved the quiet, stillness, and awareness from the previous steps. In tying everything together, you will have reached enlightenment. 


So, in learning about ashtanga yoga, it is hopeful that you’ve learned enough to determine whether you are interested in practicing this form of yoga. You have also known about the various steps to practice yoga, the meaning, what makes it different, and the difference between ashtanga and vinyasa yoga.