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 Yoga: The Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga  
 
Gregor Maehle ©
Ashtanga Yoga is the royal eightfold yoga, standardized by the ancient sage Patanjali. It's outset and conclusion is the state of unlimited ecstasy and freedom that forms the core of our being. Patanjali calls this state objectless samadhi, the Upanishads refer to it as the heart. As human society and it's individuals evolved more and more away from this true and original state, eight sequential steps were presented to get each individual back from wherever their current position is, back into contact with their heart.

The practice of these eight limbs can take up a copious amount of time of one's daily life. Since yoga and the Vedas out of which it grew are life affirmative, the Vedic Seer Vamana presented Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, a practice for householders-people with family and a job or business-in which the eight limbs were practiced simultaneously, not sequentially. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a presentation of Ashtanga Yoga, designed for urban people with time constraints.

Ashtanga Yoga employs a multitude of techniques, such as postures, breathing, concentration and meditation exercises. We could call it the yoga of techniques.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga differs from other forms of yoga in that it is dynamic, whereas most forms are static.

The benefits may be grouped into four categories: physical, emotional, mental and intellectual benefits. The physical benefits consist of making the body free of disease, making it light and strong so that it can be a suitable vehicle on the path to freedom. Through yoga the body is made to absorb and retain prana, which extends the life span.

The emotional benefits consist briefly in being able to not be a slave to one's emotions but to remain the witness. Most of our suffering is caused by emotions. These emotions may become unbearable by identifying with them and often may cause negative results if we follow their urge. It's important to know the difference between emotions and feelings. A feeling is an authentic sensation arising in the present moment such as love. An emotion is a reliving of a previously imprinted condition. For example because we have been hurt in the past we are acting in the present moment not out of love but out of jealousy or fear. Whenever we are emoting, we are in the past; whenever we are feeling, we are in the present. Yoga makes you feel more intensely because it removes layers of old conditioning.

The mind is seen in yoga as a computer, which analyses sensory data. It projects all objects cognised in the past onto a present object that needs to be identified. If it achieves what it believes to be sufficient congruency it signals that it has 're-cognized' the object as one of the objects previously cognised. This is the whole tragedy of the human being. Mind is an application, which projects past onto the future. As long as one is in the sway of the mind, one is, according to yoga, a living corpse. … Recognizing oneself as the immortal, infinite consciousness is to be alive for the first time.

Intellect, similar to the egoic body/mind and the world of objects, is something that grows and evolves as opposed to consciousness/awareness/self, which exists in an eternal state of perfection. Everything that grows and evolves however is, according to yoga, made up of the various combinations of the three elementary particles (guna) of nature (prakrti), which we may call mass (tamas), energy (rajas) and information/intelligence (sattva). An intellect with a preponderance to tamas is too dull to recognize the truth, whereas the intellect with a preponderance to rajas contains to much frenzy to penetrate to the truth. It is only the intellect, which has been made sattvic through the practice of higher yoga, visualization, meditation and samadhi that is capable of seeing the world as it really is (prajna).

(Excerpted from Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy)
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