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We teach Ashtanga Yoga

What does this mean?

In the early 20th century, while India was under British rule, several yogis came to America and introduced the far west to the arts of yoga and the philosophy therein. While several religious and spiritual traditions have visited the west, almost all yoga currently taught in the USA came from one source, and that is a yogi named Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya was the teacher if Indra Devi (the first American yoga asana teacher), BKS Iyengar, TKV Desickachar, and Sri K Pattabhi Jois. These yoga students of Krishnamacharya, who went on to become highly influential yoga teachers, are the source of the vast majority of yoga that is practiced today. Their practice was based on the teachings of the Yoga Sutras, which outlines a method of living life that has 8 components, or “limbs”. This document (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) was originally written in Sanskrit, and the Yoga Sutras outlined the method as “Ashtau-angani”, meaning “eight limbs” (source: Yoga Sutra 2:26-29). Therefore, our practice uses hatha yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, but our method is defined by these 8 limbs. Ashtanga is our practice, it is our way of life, not just how we behave in yoga practice. We do not compare ourselves to others or compete to have the best yoga; we instead acknowledge the wisdom of our ancestors, and a lineage of yoga practice that extends hundreds of generations into the past. Our practice gratefully works to build upon the vast knowledge of yoga within sacred texts such as the Yoga Sutras, the Siva Samhita, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika, as well as garnering truths from contemporary masters such as BKS Iyengar and Sri K Pattabhi Jois. Our practice honors traditions, while adapting the practice for the benefit of all of humanity. Ashtanga Yoga is the practice of yoga that was given to the world by people from India; great sages who knew the world was headed into a difficult time, and needed yoga definitively. We practice yoga in this spirit, and in this light we offer it to our community, as we are students of the lineage of Ashtanga Yoga, by way of the teachers who taught us, and thus the teachers that taught them before us, and thus who learned yoga from the ancient lineage, dating back to ancient times. This is our practice; Ashtanga Yoga.


About Bellingham Yoga School

Bellingham Yoga School offers traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Morning Mysore Classes, Full and Half Led Primary Series classes, Beginners level yoga, and Yoga Teacher Training to the communities of Whatcom and Skagit Counties. Our primary practice location is at 1412 Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham, Washington.

Bellingham Yoga School was founded through the efforts of students who studied at the historical Ashtanga Yoga School of Seattle, in the lineage of T. Krishnamacharya, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, and David Garrigues.

The founder of Bellingham Yoga School is an registered experienced yoga teacher that teaches classical hatha yoga through non-dogmatic, utilitarian methodology inspired by David Garrigues and other contemporary teachers of the lineage of T. Krishnamacharya, while relying on guidance from ancient yogic texts such as the Yoga Sutras, the Siva Samhita, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and other yoga shastras.


About our Ashtanga Yoga Practice

Ashtanga Yoga (literally meaning “eight limbs” of yoga) is the means of liberating human beings from avidya (ignorance causing suffering) outlined in the ancient document known as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Ashtanga Yoga is a universally accessible bhakti (devotional) yoga practice which utilizes hatha (ha-tha represents the two main energy paths of the body) yoga techniques primarily in the form of asana and pranayama. The yoga sequences of Ashtanga Yoga that are practiced, studied, and taught at our school are the ones taught by David Garrigues, a famous yoga teacher from Seattle, Washington, who was a devout student of the late Sri K Pattabhi Jois. These yoga systems were derived from an ancient manuscript known as the Yoga Korunta, which was made popular by the yoga master T. Krishnamacharya (the one known as “the grandfather of modern yoga”). The practices and popular sequences of Ashtanga Yoga are most famously known through the teachings of Sri K Pattabhi Jois; one of the closest yoga students of Krishnamacharya.  

Ashtanga Yoga is also akin to kriya yoga techniques, as it seeks similar goals. The practice of Ashtanga Yoga could be considered or called “Hatha Yoga”, “Kriya Yoga”, Vinyasa Yoga”, “Bhakti Yoga”, and other names, because Ashtanga is the source of almost all yoga that is practiced in North America, as it is Ashtanga that is the lineage of yoga that stemmed from those that wrote the Yoga Sutras. If a yoga practitioner recognizes the authority of the yoga sutras, then they invariably accept Ashtanga as the source of their practice.

The practice of Ashtanga Yoga is foreshadowed and supported by the observances of ethical and moral principles which are necessary to prepare the life of the aspirant for the benefits of practice. In the yoga sutras these ethical principles are known as the yamas and niyamas (the first two of the eight limbs of Ashtanga). Without a lifestyle that supports yoga practice, asana practitioners can find no solid ground in their practice, and will likely toil away without true benefit. Thus, Ashtanga Yoga is much more than postures done in class, it is a lifestyle, a philosophy of universalism; Ashtanga Yoga is a complete and holistic method of overcoming the principle obstacles in life, and removes the causes of suffering so that human beings can reach their potential within the bounds of a violent world (ahimsa). It has been stated several times by numerous historical and contemporary yoga masters that aspirants should not take practice under “pseudo yogis” but rather seek out a qualified teacher.

Ashtanga Yoga is defined in the yoga sutras as "yogas-chitta-vritti-nirodaha" -or- the stilling of the mind through practice. Many people believe that the ancient lineage and traditional power of Ashtanga Yoga, which was known by great sages living in India centuries ago, is now living through the gurus and instructors of the K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, located in Southern India. Our practice is based on the techniques at that institute and consists of daily devotional asana sequences based in traditional formats, utilizing contemporary adaptations. Our yoga school is a utilitarian, non-dogmatic, research based yoga school which focuses on the individual betterment of human beings by means of the realization of potential through recognition of the self, or purusha, thus removing the conflict/suffering causing roots of delusion (avidya) caused by the existential poison of samsara (cyclic existence).

Bellingham Yoga School teaches Ashtanga Yoga practices to people of all abilities through group style led classes, traditional mysore classes, individual instruction, modified restorative sequences, and continual research based teacher training sessions. Ashtanga Yoga is explained thoroughly in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This approximately 2,000 year old document outlines a method to attain the nectar of yoga (called Samadhi); in the sutras it is called "eight limbs" (yoga sutra 2:28).. Note that in Sanskrit the number 8 is "ashtau" and limbs is "anga'; so this is to say that Ashtanga is, in English, the word in the sutras utilized to define the method of practice.

When we go to a "yoga" class, we often have reasons for attending which are not at all in concert with the original motivations of yoga. That is fine. Yoga masters decided not long ago that yoga was to be a gift, from India, to the rest of the world. These masters knew then, just as many of them know now, that yoga was going to be taken, manipulated, changed, reformatted, and adapted to fit a variety of preferences and beliefs. Amidst this incredible adaptability which seems to be prevalent in yoga, it is, in our view, vitally important that we do not lose track of the intended purpose of Ashtanga Yoga. Practicing yoga without correct guidance, or a connection to where it came from, can be compared to walking into a pharmacy and randomly selecting medicines to treat an illness; you most certainly will feel something, but that may not ultimately be in your best interests. Thus, "pseudo" yoga should be avoided, and a correct practice of Ashtanga Yoga should be taken up immediately with a qualified teacher.

Most people who begin Ashtanga Yoga practice quit within a few weeks or a few months. Still more people take practice for a few years and do not see the results they wanted, so they quit. Many people take practice in Ashtanga Yoga believing it to be a solely physical endeavor that will give them a great physique, youthful vibrant energy, and a healthy lifestyle... they love it so deeply that they fail to accept the pitfalls of being attached to it, and the obstacles which it may exhume from within us, and quit, often befuddled or bitter that it did not deliver as promised. Ashtanga should not be attempted for any kind of quick fix, but rather as a way of life which is intended to be kept with you throughout yours (yoga sutra 1:14). Take practice with the spirit of diligence, patience, and dedication; Ashtanga is not a physical endeavor, but a spiritual one, and many of the most physically accomplished and most famous yogis and yoga teachers still struggle with these deeper aspects of practice. You are not alone. Let the tapas run through you, don't get too high or too down, but rather keep steady and continue to practice as directed, and as we always say "do your practice and all is coming". 

Practicing Ashtanga Yoga in the physical form is deemed essential in the process, although the practice of Ashtanga ultimately does not exist subserviently to the postures and physical practice.  Ashtanga Yoga has a certain fundamental no-nonsense utility to it.  Perhaps it could be said, in a world full of spiritual paths and confusion, that Ashtanga presents a departure, in that it offers a hands on, non dogmatic approach.  This “what you see is what you get” aspect of Ashtanga Yoga practice is undeniably represented in the famous words of Pattabhi Jois, who said repeatedly that “Yoga is 99 percent practice, and 1 percent theory”.  The postures undertaken by a yoga aspirant are designed to lead them to Samadhi, a state of absorbption and cognitive dwelling in which our awareness recognizes the unity of all things.  

 

Practicing Ashtanga Yoga can be made to be very difficult and physically demanding, but the intensity of practice can be variated to suit the individual (Yoga Sutra 1:21-22).  When yoga becomes exclusionary, it becomes of a type forbidden by the great Krishnamacharya who said:

“Yoga must be adapted to an individuals needs, expectations and possibilities,
rather than adapting an individuals needs, expectations and possibilities to Yoga.”
— -T. Krishnamacharya (the grandfather of modern yoga)

 

While the Yoga Sutras are clear that the progress of a student is variable in relation to the level of commitment and intensity, Ashtanga has no built in minimums or expectations of ability; these ideas should be thrown out and practice should be taken according to the ability of the practitioner at that time.   In this way, regardless of who is practicing and how it looks, all people can practice Ashtanga Yoga in some form or another.  The practice is available, and is a gift to us all. 

 

Ashtanga Yoga’s traditional and increasingly popular sequencing is widely believed to be derived almost solely from the yoga korunta, an ancient manuscript credited to the yogi Sage Vemana. It should be noted that this sequence was not brought to the public eye by Pattabhi Jois, but by his teacher, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is known to have found the korunta with 5 sequences, and then divided one of the sequences in half due to its difficulty and lack of application thereof.  Krishnamacharya did write one book that can be identified as an early treatise on what is commonly known now simply as "Ashtanga"; this book is called "Yoga Makaranda" and is available in print now. As a result of Krishnamacharya's efforts while he was teaching in Mysore, India, the current system of Ashtanga is taught in 6 contemporary segments. Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois, one of Krishnamacharyas finest students, became the teacher of the Mysore school probably in 1953. To this day, the Sri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute teaches these sequences almost exactly as Krishnamacharya taught them to Guruji/Pattabhi Jois in the 1920s, and they do so in the city of Mysore, in Southern India. 

 

Krishnamacharya himself never left India.  He taught yoga there until he died at the age of 100.  He gave the lineage of Ashtanga to his good student, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, who then began teaching Ashtanga in the tradition of his teacher.  After over 70 years of teaching yoga, Pattabhi Jois had given his blessing to only a handful of his students, who now continue the lineage.  The founder of Ashtanga Bellingham is the student of one of the highest regarded "certified" Ashtanga Yoga teachers in the world, David Garrigues, who for 10 years directed the Ashtanga Yoga School in Seattle, Washington.  David now travels the world teaching Ashtanga Yoga as it was taught to him by his teacher.  When we hold a class at AB we show credence and respect to the lineage which we belong, as it is the source of all yogic knowledge we have and pass along.  

 

Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois is the gold standard for what is currently known as Ashtanga practice.  “Guruji” was the master of Ashtanga Yoga, and his method of Asana was the sequence which is most often associated with that word. It is vital to understand that Pattabhi Jois did not speak English, so when asked by Westerners to define his style, he replied simply and honestly that he taught Ashtanga.  It was his life’s work and focus, but it would be inaccurate to claim that only Pattabhi Jois and his students are practicing Ashtanga.  Guruji/Pattabhi Jois taught a practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, just as Krishnamacharya had taught him, continually, and through his entire life. Guruji never wanted people to "own" yoga, and he was outspoken against the Bikram Yoga movement for this reason. Sri K Pattabhi Jois passed away in 2009, but his legacy is stronger now than ever before, with students all over the world practicing Ashtanga Yoga as it truly was designed to be practiced.  Pattabhi Jois is responsible for a great deal of knowledge of yoga, which has filtered to the western world through his students.  Many great Yoga practitioners have the prestigious honor to say that they have practiced with this great contemporary master of yoga. 

In it’s current stage, Ashtanga Yoga varies widely be definition, but for our purposes we will narrow the definition to those practices which exist within the lineage of Sri K Pattabhi Jois.  The term Ashtanga is ubiquitously used to describe all types of yoga that stem from the Patanjali school, but in the United States, Ashtanga has become synonymous with the yoga style of Pattabhi Jois, and his students.

Today, Ashtanga Yoga is the basis for most yoga sequences taught in the world as “vinyasa” or "power" yoga.  To use the term more broadly, Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri Krishnamacharya is responsible for about 95% of yoga practiced today, though the styles have been adapted, their origins are undeniably rooted in the ancient Ashtanga tradition.

 

Ashtanga Yoga’s growth in popularity during the past century is somewhat of a phenomenon.  It seems almost as if the cultural status and situation in the western world demanded that yoga be brought to heal the wounds of an overly aggressive, stressed out society.  Ashtanga Yoga’s first western messenger was the English speaking yoga master, B.K.S Iyengar.  While Iyengar taught a style of Ashtanga which is noticeably different than the vinyasa style taught today, there is no doubt that in the core, Iyengar was teaching Ashtanga Yoga. B.K.S Iyengar, also a student of Krishnamacharya, learned the exact same style of yoga and adapted it to be more accessible to certain people. Guruji (Sri K Pattabhi Jois) taught the method exactly as was taught to him while Iyengar has been very creative in variating the sequence and practices. That does not necessarily mean that the contemporary Ashtanga tradition is superior, it just means that it's the original format and sequence taught by a master (the same could be said of a sequence Iyengar taught).

 

It is also useful to note for current and future students of Ashtanga Belligham, that our methodologies have been largely borrowed from the Iyengar tradition. The use of straps, blocks, longer asana holds, and the anatomical focus are largely Iyengar derived approaches. Pattabhi Jois was often quoted reminding his students that throughout the long past experiences of yoga there has been little success from mixing styles. Ashtanga Bellingham believes that you can be completely and totally committed to a style of practice, while remaining open to contemporary advancements made outside of the lineage, if those advancements are made through researching the traditional method, which all Iyengar practices do. This idea reminds us that there is a much larger picture behind the veil of asana practices which may differ in approach and application.

 

Humanity itself is made up of (hopefully) complimentary parts. While many pseudo yoga teachers are definitely ruining yoga by teaching what they do not know or understand, there are others, perhaps hard to decipher as different, who are continuing the practice and lineage of this thousands of years old practice. We do not feel like we own our students, and we do not feel that we own our style of yoga, we see it as a "universal property" and humanitarian art, which has been given by our human ancestors, who practiced, researched, studied, and improved it over many centuries, solely for our benefit today. The intention of Ashtanga Bellingham is not to teach yoga selfishly, but rather to consider our impact on current as well as future generations of yoga. If we do not consider this, we are violating several principles of yoga, namely ahimsa (Yoga Sutra 2:34). To follow the method correctly means that we stay close to the center vehicle of Ashtanga Yoga, and utilize our lifetimes for our benefit and the advancement of yoga for all who will come after us. 

 

Ashtanga Yoga is a traditional practice, and through those traditions it has maintained some semblance to the sacred format that came from our ancestors.  Ashtanga practitioners and teachers follow the tradition of teacher-student progression known as guru parampara.  There is a great deal of respect offered to masters of Ashtanga Yoga, and there are few of them teaching now.

 

 

 

Ashtanga Yoga is often practiced in the morning.  This is the time most suitable for the rigors of the practice.  Later in the day our thoughts can cloud our ability to practice without distraction.  Since Ashtanga Yoga can be very demanding, there are opportunities in the morning to “look” at what your mind does while you practice.  Ashtanga Yoga is nearly universally accepted as a morning practice. 

Learning Ashtanga Yoga can be a challenge at first, and the results can be mixed.  All practitioners should be careful when selecting a yoga teacher.  There is a great deal of confusion about this topic.  Currently, Ashtanga Yoga has authorized and certified teachers, who have studied in Mysore, India.  At the very least, your teacher should be able to identify where, within the lineage, his or her studies originated from; if they cannot do this, you are probably best not learning there.  

 

Ashtanga Yoga is best practiced continuously throughout the life of the aspirant.  It is not good to start the practice and stop again.  It is in the best interests of the practitioner to continue steadily, no matter how limited the asanas may be.  Keeping up with your practice can be what defines your practice.  It could be said that your progress in Ashtanga can be measured, if at all, by your consistency of practice over a long period of time (Yoga Sutra 1:14).

 

Perhaps it is good to know that Ashtanga Yoga is heavily steeped in Samkyha philosophy, an ancient eastern philosophy that predates most of the Eastern Religious traditions that utilize it.  While Samkyha itself is non-theistic, it has not hindered its incredible intellectually satisfying prowess from becoming the root of more religiously oriented dogmas.  While Ashtanga Yoga practice has very little to do with any kind of religion, its place of origin certainly connects the practice of yoga to what is now called Hinduism.  It is very important to practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga, and teachers of the art, that it remain separate from any religion, as it was intended by the great masters of yoga.  Ashtanga Yoga is not a religion.

Relevant Yoga Sutras

Yoga is the liberation of pure consciousness from disturbances of thought. Without these disturbances the self abides in its own true nature.

— Yoga Sutra 1:2-3

Practice has a firm ground when tended to for a long time without interruption and with devotion to accuracy

— Yoga Sutra 1:14

While Ashtanga is the original format of Ashtanga Bellingham, the options for contemporary adaptation are as vast as there are problems to be solved with humanity. So as yoga evolves and more people choose to be influenced by it, and still even more people decide to become teachers of their form of yoga, the curriculum exists in an effort to ground all who study to the foundational practices of the ancient art, in the lineage of the contemporary masters who have only just recently left this earth. Ashtanga Bellingham is operated and directed by a lineage holder of Ashtanga Yoga which has roots in Mysore, India, through the teachings of David and Satya Garrigues, who were the former directors of the Ashtanga Yoga School of Seattle, and were both students of the late guruji Sri K Pattabhi Jois, contemporary of BKS Iyengar, who was also a student of the master who brought yoga to the world in the 20th century, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who was himself a student of Sri Mohan Bramachari, the master who gave the blessing for yoga to be taught not only to the elite, but to be spread to the world through a system stemming from the Yoga "Korunta", meaning "groupings". These groupings, as it were, were the pinnacle sequences transcribed by Krishnamacharya, and were the remains of a system of yoga taught by a great master known as The Sage Vemana.

By practicing the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, upon the diminishing of impurities, there is a light of knowing which leads to the end of the cause of suffering

— Yoga Sutra 2:28

From the groupings of the famed Yoga Korunta came nearly all yoga that is practiced today, and with each generation that practices yoga, more and more is known, while some becomes lost in translation, about a humanistic art form which has existed for eons, and has been handed down from teacher to student in the Eastern learning tradition of "parampara", the transmission of knowledge and practice from teacher to student, in an unbroken line, from the beginning of the first practitioner of yoga, beyond recorded time, and back to the origins of humanity, where dissatisfied customers of life sought, just like many do today, for something greater than what "exists" in the phenomenal world. Our heritage as yoga practitioners is not a dogmatic one, but one of service to humanity, one of rebellion against suffering and pain, and one of enlightenment, prosperity, prowess, realization, and power. Bellingham Yoga School is a contemporary research based school in the lineage of our contemporary masters, teaching ancient practices to new people who will study it tirelessly and pass it on again.

For those who practice with intensity, the end is close at hand

— Yoga Sutra 1:17