The origins of Ashtanga Yoga

The practice and beliefs of Ashtanga Yoga have been around for thousands of years, yet it was not until the twentieth century that the Western world was introduced to the practice.

If you’re curious about where the asanas we teach come from, here is a quick overview of the development and growth in popularity of Ashtanga Yoga.

The early beginnings

Yoga itself can be traced back to India over five thousand years ago. From these beginnings, many different beliefs and practices were developed. Ashtanga is first referenced around 200 to 250 BC, when an ancient sage by the name of Patanjali surmised the eight limbs of yoga.

The practice has changed a lot since these humble beginning, but the undertones and influences remain the same. In fact, the literal translation of Ashtanga Yoga is the “eight limbed yoga”.

These eight limbs, according to Patanjali, consist of:

  • Yama – Moral or ethical codes and disciplines
  • Niyama – Self-observation
  • Asana – Posture
  • Pranayama – Breathing control
  • Pratyahara – Control/withdrawal of the senses
  • Dharana – Concentration
  • Dhyana – Meditation
  • Samadhi – Fully integrated supreme consciousness


Ashtanga as we know it

In the twentieth century, Ashtanga Yoga became the primary focus of the famous Yoga teacher, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. He travelled to the Himalayas to learn the practice from Ramamohana Brahmachari, as well as memorising the ancient works of Patanjali.

Krishnamacharya’s student, Pattabhi Jois, is largely considered to be a driving force in bringing Ashtanga to the Western world. He began his studies under Krishnamacharya at the age of 12 in the 1920s, before becoming an influential teacher and yoga leader in his own right.

guruji in padmasana - Pattabhi Jois

Jois devoted his life to Ashtanga Yoga, travelling the world with his son in the 19060s and 70s to spread the practice. He trained Europeans, Americans and more, and from there the popularity of Ashtanga grew exponentially.

The practice of Ashtanga Yoga unites breath with movement and focus, to create a style of Yoga that is ideal for meditation and internal purification. It is widely thought that the underlying practices of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga – breath, asanas and self-awareness – are what influence most popular styles of yoga around the Western world today.

If you want to know more about Ashtanga Yoga, there’s no better way to learn than to try. Visit us today to find out about our beginner classes or a session at your preferred level.