The origins of Ashtanga Yoga are the stuff of which myths and legends are made. This particular system of yoga is believed to have originated thousands of years ago, yet its modern-day rediscovery occurred only about 75 years ago. The individuals who are most responsible for having brought it into contemporary usage are East Indian yoga masters Sri Tirumlai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) and Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois (1915-). Krishnamacharya was one of the foremost yoga teachers of the 20th century. Founder and director of the Yoga School of Mysore, India, established in the Portrait Gallery in the Palace of the Maharaja of Mysore, his students included B.K.S. Iyengar (see Chapter 4), as well as his own son, T.K.V. Desikachar. Jois was one of the most devoted students of Krishnamacharya, with whom he studied privately for many years, as well as at the Mysore yoga school.
According to a frequently recounted story, Krishnamacharya is said to have come across an ancient text describing a series of yoga postures while on a visit to the National Library in Calcutta, India.2 This text, Yoga Korunta by the sage Vamana Rishi, was particularly noteworthy because it described not only the asanas, or physical postures of yoga, but also the exact order and manner in which they were to be executed. The practices described in this text are believed to date back several thousand years. While descriptions of individual postures had been handed down within the yoga tradition, no text had ever been discovered that described an entire yoga practice sequence. No trace of the Yoga Korunta exists today, and Krishnamacharya is believed to have been the only individual in recent history to have direct knowledge of it.
This popular story is felt by many to be apocryphal. According to Jois, not only the Yoga Korunta, but also the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Yoga Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita influenced the approach to yoga that Krishnamacharya taught Jois.3 Jois, in turn, refined this system into a flowing practice sequence. Jois named his system Ashtanga Yoga because to him it represented the most complete embodiment of the eight-limbed (ashtanga) path of raja yoga.
Ashtanga Yoga was brought to the United States in the 1970s by a trio of young American seekers who had set off to India in search for the authentic practice of yoga.4 When they saw Jois's son demonstrating his father's flowing Ashtanga Yoga sequences one day, they felt they had found what they were looking for. In 1972, the initial pioneers included Norman Allen and David Williams, who would eventually be joined by Nancy Gilgoff. Over the course of several years they studied Ashtanga Yoga directly with Jois, then returned to the West to teach it. They soon invited Jois to come and teach Ashtanga Yoga in the United States. Since that time, many in the West have embraced
Ashtanga Yoga (sometimes alternatively spelled "Astanga" Yoga) is a precise and systematic approach to yoga that emphasizes physical strength and endurance in executing a flowing series of prescribed yoga postures. Various bodily locks and seals are applied in conjunction with a special kind of yogic breathing. The combined effect of all these practices results in the generation of heat and energy in a uniquely invigorating and flowing approach to yoga. Ashtanga literally means "eight limbs" in Sanskrit. This style of yoga is named for the eight-limbed path of yoga outlined by Patanjali in his seminal text on yoga, Yoga Sutras. Because this style of yoga is characterized by an especially vigorous approach to practicing the asanas of yoga, it is sometimes referred to as "Power Yoga."
Ashtanga Yoga and made the pilgrimage to Mysore, India, to experience and learn Ashtanga Yoga firsthand with Jois.
One of the most famous teachers of Ashtanga Yoga is Beryl Bender Birch. A teacher of yoga for many years, she studied with both Allen and Jois to perfect the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. As director of wellness for the New York Road Runner's Club, she shared this style of yoga with thousands of athletes around the world. Her best-selling book, Power Yoga: The Total Strength and Flexibility Workout, was the first book in English to detail the entire practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Through this book, Beryl Bender Birch helped introduce Ashtanga Yoga to people around the world. Ashtanga Yoga appeals to many men because of its power, grace, and ability to promote health, harmony, and balance. Many individuals around the globe now practice it.
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A complete guide on Eastern practices of breathing, mental, psychic and spiritual development. The book teaches that Yoga is divided into several branches, ranging from that which teaches the control of the body, to that which teaches the attainment of the highest spiritual development.