The Secrets of Ashtanga Yoga

 Photo of Alena Natalia Charow

For the West the Eastern philosophy has always been the land of great mystery, enigmas and misunderstanding. About India in particular many legends and fantastic tales have existed and still exist, mainly about Indian sages, philosophers, fakirs, yogis and saints.

In India, besides the knowledge contained in the scriptures, Vedas and Vedanta, there is a secret knowledge concealed from the "uninitiated". Besides the known books there are well kept hidden secret teachings... and there, there is the teaching of Ashtanga Yoga.

The science of Ashtanga Yoga

Thousands of years ago the sages of ancient India knew that the powers everyone of us posses can be greatly increased by means of right training and by control of our body, mind, attention, will, emotions and desires.

The basic idea was that in ordinary life and in ordinary circumstances our powers are dormant but can be awakened and developed by means of a certain mode of life, by certain exercises, by certain work upon ourselves. The one of those methods is what is called Ashtanga Yoga. 

An acquaintance with the ideas of Ashtanga enables us first to know ourselves better, to understand our latent capacities and inclinations, to find out and determine the direction in which we ought to be developed; and second, to awaken our latent capacities and learn how to use them in all paths of life.

Ashtanga Yoga falls into two parts

The theoretical part and the practical part. The theoretical part aims at setting forth the fundamental principles of our worldly behavior. The practical part teaches the right way of daily yoga asana practice.

I must say that even the theoretical part can never really be learned from books. Books can at best serve as reminders only for the purpose of remembering, the study of the ideas of Ashtanga requires direct oral explanation.

As regards the practical part, very little I can say in writing. There are books containing attempts at an exposition of the practical exercises of Ashtanga Primary Series, they cannot possibly serve as a manual for practical and independent work.

What the authors of those books forgot is that Ashtanga Yoga helps us in our struggle against the deception of words, shows us clearly that a thought expressed in words cannot be true, that there can be no truth in words, that at best they can only hint at right body alignment, nothing else.

Ashtanga Yoga teaches the way to find the hidden truth concealed in things, in the actions, in the boredom of daily exercise we find the way to our True Self.

Ashtanga Yoga teaches us the way to do rightly everything that we do

Only by studying Ashtanga can we see how wrongly we have acted on all occasions in our life; how much of our strength we have spent quite uselessly,  attaining only the poorest results with an enormous expenditure of our energy.

Ashtanga Yoga teaches us the principles of the right economy of our own energy - the forces. It teaches us to be able to do whatever we do, consciously. This immeasurably increases our powers and improves the results of our work. The study of Ashtanga first of all shows us how greatly we have been mistaken about ourselves.

We become convinced that we are far weaker and much more insignificant than we have considered ourselves to be, and at the same time that we can become stronger and more powerful. We see not only what we are, but what we may become. Our conception of life, of ours place, role and purpose in life.

We begin to understand our aim and to see that our pursuit of this aim brings us into contact with other people going in the same direction. Ashtanga does not seek, as its primary object, to guide us. Ashtanga Yoga only increases our powers in any of the directions of our activity.

Ashtanga Yoga carries enormous power

But this power can be used only in a direction of self-realization. This is  a law which becomes clear to any one who studies Ashtanga Yoga. In everything it touches Ashtanga teaches us to discriminate between the real and the false, and this capacity for proper discrimination helps us to find hidden truths.

At present time, there is no necessity for anything to be kept hidden. The secret teaching is accessible to everyone who wishes but the level of understanding determines how to read. Ashtanga Yoga teaches how to search for truth and how to find truth in everything. 

It teaches that there is nothing that could not serve as a starting point for the finding of truth.

Ashtanga Yoga is not accessible all at once in its entirety. It has many degrees of varying difficulty. This is the first thing to be realized by anyone who wishes to study Ashtanga. The limits of Ashtanga Yoga cannot be seen all at once or from a distance at the beginning of the way.

For us who are doing daily practice new horizons open as we continue stepping on our yoga mat every day. Each new practice shows us something new ahead, something that we have not seen and could not have seen before.

In order to define what Ashtanga Yoga is, study of ourselves and daily practice of asanas are necessary. And that is a closed door.

You may knock if you wish to enter

But until you have entered you cannot know what you will find behind this door. We who have entered the path of Ashtanga Yoga with the aim of reaching its summits must give ourselves up entirely to Yoga, give to Ashtanga all our time and all our energy, all our thoughts, feelings and motives.

We must endeavor to harmonize ourselves, to achieve an inner unity, to create in ourselves a permanent Self, to protect ourselves from continual striving, moods and desires, which sway us now in one direction, now in another.

We must compel all our powers to serve one aim. Ashtanga Yoga demands all this, but it also helps to attain it by showing the means and methods by which it can be reached.