For anyone who has ever practiced Ashtanga yoga, you may be able to create a long list of Ashtanga yoga benefits. Some benefits may be more obvious than others.
For example, as it is a dynamic practice, you may have expected it to help build strength. Also, given all the weird and wonderful ways we bend and twist our bodies, you may have expected it to help increase flexibility.
What if I were to say to you that practicing Ashtanga yoga may increase your wellbeing? And what if I were to mention that by practicing Ashtanga yoga you may even learn some Sanskrit? Or that this practice will help you gain some discipline?
Definitely check out my detailed guide for Ashtanga yoga beginners if you are new to Ashtanga yoga and looking for more information.
- Ashtanga Yoga For Beginners: A Detailed Guide
- Vinyasa vs Ashtanga: Which one is harder?
- Can Ashtanga Yoga Build Muscle?
- Nadi Shodhana Pranayama: 8 Science-Based Benefits
So without further ado, let’s have a look at the 10 wonderful benefits of Ashtanga yoga. Some are science-based and some are more experience-based. Some are expected and some are unexpected. You may relate to them all!
What is Ashtanga Yoga?
Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic type of yoga that follows a set sequence of poses (asanas). It is practiced by thousands of people all across the globe. As it follows a set sequence of the same poses, the practice remains the same all around the world, thus making it a truly universal practice.
Ashtanga yoga is also referred to as Ashtanga vinyasa yoga and it is a dynamic and physically demanding yoga practice. We use the breath to guide us as we flow from pose to pose.
Ashtanga Yoga translates from Sanskrit to eight limbs yoga, as was taught by sage Patanjali. Nowadays, Ashtanga yoga is more commonly known as the yoga practice taught by Sri T Krishnamacharya to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and what is now practiced around Ashtanga yoga studios around the world.
The 10 Ashtanga Yoga Benefits
These are grouped into two distinct categories.
The first 5 Ashtanga yoga benefits mentioned are science-based. What this means is that I read through academic and peer-reviewed studies in order to understand the positive effects Ashtanga yoga can have on our bodies.
The next 5 benefits mentioned are more experiential. I have been practicing Ashtanga yoga for just over a decade and even beginners to this practice may be able to relate to some or all of these!
Ashtanga Yoga Benefit 1: Increase In Strength
The Ashtanga yoga practice follows the same poses and so each class starts off with a series of sun salutations. This asks the body to move through some physically demanding postures such as plank pose, lower plank pose, and downward-facing dog. And so from the very start, that body is asked to go through various weight-bearing poses.
After the sun salutations in the ashtanga primary series, we then move on to the standing postures and then the seated poses. Even when seated we move through vinyasas when transitioning from pose to pose. And so given this constant movement from pose to pose, it becomes clear that Ashtanga yoga can help build muscle strength.
There was one study carried out in the US in 2004 which found that Ashtanga yoga may, in fact, be able to increase core and upper body strength.
In this study, 26 participants between the ages of 20 and 58 were subscribed to 6 weeks of yoga.
They were split into two groups. One group practiced Hatha yoga while the other practiced Ashtanga yoga.
The results showed that people in both groups showed an improvement in core and upper body strength. Perhaps not surprisingly, better results were seen with Ashtanga yoga, given that it is a more physically demanding practice.
For more information, check out my article: Can Ashtanga Yoga Build Muscle?
Ashtanga Yoga Benefit 2: Increase In Flexibility
Ashtanga yoga guides our bodies through a series of postures that help us understand our limits of flexibility. With time, patience, and practice, we may get to experience an increase in flexibility. For some, this will be a lot and for others perhaps not as much.
For example, I started practicing 11 years ago. I have seen a dramatic increase in my hamstring and flexibility (amongst other things). This comes as no surprise given the many many forward folds in Ashtanga yoga.
There was one study carried out in the US in 2004 which found that Ashtanga yoga may, in fact, be able to increase flexibility.
In this study, 12 female participants with an average age of 21 were split into two groups.
The yoga group attended 25 Ashtanga yoga classes over the course of 15 weeks. The other group was the control group and they did not practice yoga.
The results showed that the yoga group had increased upper body muscular endurance and increased trunk flexibility.
Ashtanga Yoga Benefit 3: Improvement In Wellbeing
My Ashtanga practice has been my solid companion in my life’s ups and downs over the past 11 years. It has been there for my heartaches, my dad’s passing, and for many of life’s blows.
And even from my experience, I can say that Ashtanga yoga has really helped me deal with my darker days. And so this was another Ashtanga yoga benefit I expected to find.
There was one study carried out in Canada in 2017 which found that Ashtanga yoga could be used as an intervention to improve psychological well-being.
31 participants took part in the study and they did Ashtanga yoga twice a week for 9 weeks.
The results of the study found that after the 9 weeks, the participants had: “significant improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms, affect, self-esteem, and interpersonal functioning dimensions related to assertiveness, attention to one’s needs, and capacity to connect.“
Ashtanga Yoga Benefit 4: Increase In Overall Health
It could be argued that any form of physical activity can have positive effects on our overall health. And so it was again no surprise to find a study that examined this very thing.
There was one study carried out in the US in 2005 which found that Ashtanga yoga may be able to improve autonomic homeostasis and respiratory function.
In this study, 48 participants took part and were split into two groups.
The yoga group practiced a modified version of Ashtanga yoga twice a week for 6 weeks. The other group was the control group and they did not practice yoga.
The results of this study found that those in the Ashtanga yoga group showed significant improvements in mood, fatigue, energy, quality of life, sleep quality, and short-term memory.
Ashtanga Yoga Benefit 5: Improvement In Weight Management
A regular Ashtanga yoga practice has helped me keep my weight steady and it has also taught me to try to eat in a healthy way. Indeed after even a couple of classes, you may find your energy levels low and so the first thing to try to address is your diet.
For more information on what to eat before and after Ashtanga yoga, you may find my article interesting: What To Eat Before & After Ashtanga Yoga (Plus a post-yoga recipe)
There was one study carried out in the US in 2009 which found that Ashtanga yoga may be able to improve weight management and wellbeing for children and adolescents.
In this study, 14 participants aged 8–15 took part. Given the nature of the study,
Fourteen children aged 8–15 years took part in the study. Interestingly, they were all required to have one of the following risk factors for type 2 diabetes: overweight, first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes, Hispanic/African American descent.
All participants attended an Ashtanga yoga class 3 days a week for 3 months. Each class lasted approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes and involved a modified Ashtanga yoga sequence, pranayama, and also meditation.
The results of the study showed that: “Most participants lost an average of 2 kg after a 12-week program which is consistent with other weight-loss interventions. Also, participants demonstrated improvements in psychiatric inventories, suggesting Ashtanga yoga may provide mental health benefits.|
And so after the science-based Ashtanga yoga benefits, now we are moving on to the more experiential benefits of Ashtanga yoga.
Ashtanga Yoga Benefit 6: You may learn some Sanskrit
In an Ashtanga yoga class, the names of the postures are called out in Sanskrit. The first word you will most likely hear in a class is Samastitihi. This is mountain pose, the pose in which we start out all the sun salutations.
And then comes the count which guides us through the sun salutations.
- Ekam (one) inhale hands up
- Dve (two) exhale fold forward
- Trini (three) inhale lengthen
- Catvari (four) exhale chaturanga (low plank)
- Panca (five) inhale to upward facing dog
- Sat (six) exhale to downward facing dog
- Sapta (seven) inhale to lengthen
- Astau (eight) fold forward
- Nava (inhale) hands up to look at the thumbs
Following this count in Sanskrit and also then hearing the names of the poses in Sanskrit may seem strange or difficult to follow when you first start practicing as you may have no idea what your teacher is saying.
And yet give it some time and you will see how familiar it will gradually become and you may even be drawn to try to break down each word so you know what it means.
For more information on why we use Sanskrit and for the commonly used Sanskrit worlds in Ashtanga yoga read here: Why We Use Sanskrit in Yoga (Plus Commonly Used Sanskrit Words)
Ashtanga Yoga Benefit 7: You will learn about moon days
Moon days are something that is often mentioned in the Ashtanga yoga world. These are considered as the ‘special’ days when we get to have a day off from practice.
Moon days appear twice a month. More specifically, the two days are the full moon and the new moon. Most Ashtanga yoga studios honor these days and have no classes. Others offer restrictive classes while others continue as normal.
For more information on why we don’t practice on those days, read more here: Why Not Practice Ashtanga Yoga On Moon Days?
Photo by Oksana Taran on Unsplash
Ashtanga Yoga Benefit 9: Ashtanga Yoga is a Life-Long Practice
Ashtanga yoga may be a dynamic practice that can ask for both physical and mental strength, it can also be tailored to all bodies and needs. For this reason, you will see all ages and all levels of practitioners practicing.
I have students who are 19 and others who are in their 60s. They all come into the studio, follow their breath, and go through the poses to the best of their ability.
And so this practice may be strict and structured as it follows a set sequence, it is also very flexible as it can be modified to suit all needs.
And so, for this reason, it is a life-long practice, as it can be practiced at a young age when our energy levels may be high, during pregnancy with modifications, and even in our 60s and 70s when perhaps we may use props and be gentler with the pace, the poses, and the vinyasas and focus more on the moving meditation side of the ashtanga poses.
Ashtanga Yoga Benefit 9: It May Help Develop Discipline
Ashtanga yoga is one of those practices where you will see results, as long as you practice consistently. You will develop strength and flexibility (to a certain level of course), but only as long as you keep up practicing.
And this is one of the reasons that Ashtanga yoga has so many dedicated practitioners around the world.
By practicing once in a while you may end up frustrated as for each practice you may find yourself back to square one. And this is the reason many people give up on Ashtanga.
Ashtanga yoga is generally practiced 6 days a week. If that is too much for you, practice at least twice a week but try to be consistent.
And here is a quote that I think fits perfectly:
Man who is sick, he can practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except lazy people; lazy people can’t practice Ashtanga yoga
Sri K Pattabjhi Jois
Ashtanga Yoga Benefit 10: You Will Learn To Move At Your Own Pace & Focus on Your Inner Self
Each breath has a movement and each movement follows the duration of the breath.
And so when doing the sun salutations, we inhale and raise the hands up, we exhale and fold forward. We inhale and lengthen the spine and we exhale and step back and lower to low plank etc. We each breathe at our own pace and so we are encouraged to do this during our practice.
And so this wonderful practice will teach you to move at your own pace and honor your own rhythm. And that is one of my favorite benefits of Ashtanga yoga.