The Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga

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People have been practicing (and enjoying the benefits of) Yoga for thousands of years. While its popularity has waxed and waned over the last hundred years – Yoga is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in the United States. Research has proven that practicing Yoga can have a profound impact on your health. Let’s take a closer look at one of the most physically dynamic styles of Yoga and what it could do to make you feel better, look better, restore your health, and improve your mood.

What is Ashtanga Yoga

Yoga is a three-thousand-year old practice that originates in the Indian sub-continent; the word itself means to “yoke” or “connect.” The things being connected are traditionally understood to be the body and spirit in order for practitioners to achieve liberation. There are various styles of Yoga, and each one has a particular focus or goal. We’re going to focus on one style of physically dynamic Yoga that has enjoyed incredible popularity in the U.S. since the 1980’s; Ashtanga Yoga.

The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga actually means “eight limbs.” As a system of both physical and spiritual health maintenance, there is an underlying philosophy to Ashtanga Yoga that is divided into eight parts.

1. Yama: Restraints and moral discipline

This limb refers to the vows, discipline and practices that concern the world around us, and how we interact with it. While practicing yoga can increase physical strength/ flexibility and also aid in calming your mind; what’s the point if you’re still stiff, weak and stressed in daily life?

Ashtanga Yoga has five Yamas; including

  • Ahimsa (non-violence)

  • Satya (truthfulness)

  • Asteya (don’t steal)

  • Brahmacharya (correct use of energy)

  • Aparigraha (avoiding greed).

2. Niyama: Positive duties or observances

The second limb usually refers to our duties towards ourselves, but can also be considered in actions towards the world. Niyamas are traditionally practiced by people who want to build character.

3. Asana: Posture

The physical aspect of yoga is the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga. This concept means being able to repose comfortably, so you’re not “pulled” by aches and discomfort of the body or suffer restlessness from an uncomfortable position.

4. Pranayama: Breathing Techniques

The word Prana means “energy.” It is used to describe the force that keeps us alive and the energy of the universe. Prana is associated with the breath also refers to working with the way we breathe. Ashtanga Yoga teaches that controlling the breath can affect the mind in a very real way.

5. Pratyahara: Sense withdrawal

Pratya means to withdraw or draw in. The second part ahara means anything we absorb; the various sights, sounds and smells we perceive continuously.

6. Dharana: Focused concentration

Dharana means focused concentration. Dha means maintaining, and Ana means something else. Visualization and focusing on the breath are practices of dharana and are what we generally think of as meditation.

7. Dhyana: Meditative absorption

The seventh limb is when we become completely absorbed in whatever we’re meditating on.

8. Samadhi: Enlightenment

This is thought of as the final step of the Ashtanga Yoga journey. Ashtanga Yoga may have lofty spiritual goals built into it – but we’re going to look at some of the scientifically verified benefits of this ancient practice that will allow to you reap some incredible real-world health benefits.

Ashtanga Yoga and Flexibility

The postures of Ashtanga Yoga are an effective way to build and maintain a high degree of muscular flexibility that will make daily movement easier and prevent the injuries that can come from making sudden moves or being accidentally forced to move a joint or muscle beyond the typical range of motion.

According to a study conducted by the Journal of Athletic Training: Increased flexibility is positively correlated with reduced muscle soreness and incidence of injury in the physically active.

Research published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine has discovered that female test subjects who completed an eight-month course of Ashtanga Yoga practice experienced a significant increase in muscle strength and flexibility. The conclusion of this study was that Ashtanga Yoga is an effective alternative to conventional strength training.

Ashtanga Yoga is Heart-Healthy

A research study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology strongly suggests that Yoga has genuine benefits for heart health by mitigating or reversing cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors that may lead to disease.

Ashtanga Yoga and Mental Health

There is concrete evidence that practicing Ashtanga Yoga is an effective way to improve mood, relieve depression, and help maintain a positive outlook on life according to a paper in the journal Mindfulness.

Study participants were required to complete at least two Ashtanga Yoga classes per week for a period of nine weeks. Research subjects who completed the full nine-week course reported significant improvements in:

  • Feelings of depression and anxiety

  • Self-esteem

  • Interpersonal functioning related to assertiveness,

  • Increased attention to self-needs

  • Capacity to connect

Your Bones Will Benefit

There is conclusive, research-based evidence that Ashtanga Yoga has a positive effect on bone density in postmenopausal women. The study followed 34 pre and postmenopausal women over eight months to determine what effect if any, that Ashtanga Yoga would have on bone health.

Participants who took two one-hour long classes per week showed measurable improvements in bone mineralization. The researchers further conclude that Yoga practice on a more frequent schedule will likely result in even greater improvements than they observed.

Improving Balance and Stability

People who are visually impaired are at greater risk for falls due to the lack of visual input to establish balance. In this study, scientists evaluated an Ashtanga-based Yoga Therapy program as a multi-sensory intervention to improve postural stability in individuals with a severe visual handicap.

They found that Ashtanga-based Yoga therapy was an effective way to increase balance and physical stability in people who are unable to orient themselves using visual cues. It’s reasonable to assume that these benefits may extend to many people who suffer balance issues or wish to increase improve balance and stability to avoid being injured in avoidable falls.

An Ancient Practice with Health Benefits for Today

Enduring for over three-thousand years; Ashtanga Yoga has improved the health of countless people around the world. Beyond the proven physical benefits, Ashtanga has an effect on psychological health not found in conventional western-based exercise practices. It’s truly a case of “what’s old is new again.” Try it out! Find a nearby class and see how it makes you feel. You may discover a new and exciting road to greater vitality and a unique mental outlook that may buffer you against the challenges of your daily life.