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History of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga - Finding the Mysore Roots

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a dynamic and meditative style of yoga that has gained worldwide popularity for its physically demanding sequences and meditative flow. The roots of this practice can be traced back to ancient traditions, but its modern form owes much to the teachings of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and his student, K. Pattabhi Jois.

Sri T. Krishnamacharya: The Father of Modern Yoga

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) is often called the "Father of Modern Yoga." Born in a small village in Karnataka, India, Krishnamacharya was a scholar of various disciplines including yoga, Ayurveda, and philosophy. His profound knowledge and innovative approach to teaching yoga had a lasting impact on the practice.

Krishnamacharya's teaching philosophy was deeply rooted in traditional Indian practices, yet he was revolutionary in his methods. He emphasized the importance of adapting yoga to the individual, a concept that was relatively novel at the time. This personalized approach helped make yoga accessible to people of all ages and physical conditions.

K. Pattabhi Jois and the Spread of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

One of Krishnamacharya's most prominent students was K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). Jois began his studies with Krishnamacharya in the 1930s and later went on to establish the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. Here, Jois developed and taught the structured Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system, which became known globally for its meditative and flowing style.

Pattabhi Jois's Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is characterized by its series of progressive postures linked by breath and movement, known as vinyasa. This practice demands strength, flexibility, and endurance, making it a comprehensive workout for both body and mind.

Series Structures in Ashtanga Practice

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is organised into six series, each with a specific sequence of postures:

1. Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa)

This series is designed to detoxify and align the body. It focuses on foundational postures and is often referred to as "Yoga Therapy."

During 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Courses focusing on Ashtanga practice, you will be practicing this series. 

2. Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhana)

This series aims to cleanse and strengthen the nervous system. It introduces more challenging postures that require greater flexibility and concentration.

If you are taking a proper 300-hour training in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, you will most often practice this intermediate series along with the primary series. 

3. Advanced Series (Sthira Bhaga)

Divided into four sub-series (A, B, C, D), the Advanced Series demands high levels of strength, flexibility, and control. These sequences are typically practised only by seasoned practitioners.

Each series follows a set sequence of postures, beginning with Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) and progressing through standing, seated, and finishing postures. The consistent structure of the sequences allows practitioners to develop discipline and mastery over time.

Mantras in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Mantras play a significant role in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, serving as tools for concentration and spiritual connection. The practice typically begins with the recitation of the opening mantra, which honors the lineage of the teacher and salutes Maharshi Patanjali. The closing mantra is chanted at the end of the practice to express gratitude and invoke peace.

Opening Mantras of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

वन्दे गुरूणां चरणारविन्दे सन्दर्शितस्वात्मसुखावबोधे।

निःश्रेयसे जाङ्गलिकायमाणे संसारहालाहलमोहशान्त्यै॥

Vande gurūṇāṁ caraṇāravinde sandarśita-svātma-sukhāvabodhe।

niḥśreyase jāṅgalikāyamāne saṁsāra-hālāhala-moha-śāntyai॥

Meaning: I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus, The awakening happiness of one's own Self revealed, Beyond better, acting like the jungle physician, Pacifying delusion, the poison of Samsara.

This is also the opening shloka of "Yoga Taravali" written by Adi Shankaracharya.

आबाहु पुरुषाकारं शङ्खचक्रासिधारिणम्।

सहस्रशिरसं श्वेतं प्रणमामि पतञ्जलिम्॥

ābāhu puruṣākāraṁ śaṅkha-cakrāsi-dhāriṇam।

sahasra-śirasaṁ śvetaṁ praṇamāmi patañjalim॥

Taking the form of a man to the shoulders, Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword,

One thousand heads white, I bow to Patanjali.

This is the shloka written by Bhoja Raja (King Bhoja) in his commentary - Bhoja Vritti on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Closing mantra of Ashtanga Practice

स्वस्तिप्रजाभ्यः परिपालयन्तां न्यायेन मार्गेण महीं महीशाः।

गोब्राह्मणेभ्यः शुभमस्तु नित्यं लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनोभवंतु॥

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥

Svasti-prajābhyaḥ pari-pālayantāṁ nyāyena mārgeṇa mahīṁ mahīśāḥ।

Go-brāhmaṇebhyaḥ śubham astu nityaṁ lokāḥ samastāḥ sukhino bhavantu॥

Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ॥

Meaning: May the rulers of the earth keep to the path of virtue for the sake of protecting the welfare of all beings. May the leaders of nations protect the earth in the right way, and may all beings be happy and prosperous. May the well-being of all people be secure with the blessing of cows and learned people. May all the worlds be happy. Om, peace, peace, peace.

Differences Between Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga

While the names are similar, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga refer to different systems.

Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga

Outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, this system is known as the "Eight-Limbed Path." It includes eight components: Yama (ethical restraints), Niyama (self-discipline), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (union with the divine). Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga is a comprehensive philosophical framework for spiritual development.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Rejuvenated by Sri T Krishnamacharya and developed by Pattabhi Jois (seeming to be drawing its techniques from Yoga Kurunta of Vamana Rishi), this system focuses primarily on the physical practice of asanas and the linking of breath with movement.

While it incorporates elements of Patanjali's Eight Limbs (particularly asana, pranayama, and drishti or focused gaze), it is more specifically a method of physical training that aims to purify and strengthen the body and mind.


In summary, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, with its rigorous sequences and emphasis on breath-movement synchronization, offers a dynamic approach to modern yoga practice.

Rooted in the teachings of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois, it continues to be a transformative practice for countless individuals around the world.

The integration of mantras and the structured series sets it apart from other styles, while its connection to the broader philosophical context of Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga provides a deeper spiritual dimension.

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