The first series of postures you learn in Ashtanga is called Yoga Chikitsa, or “yoga therapy”. The main avenue for the purifying therapy of the Primary Series is heat
. Though a relatively stationary and aerobic form of exercise, Ashtanga generates an extraordinary amount of heat, which anyone who has practiced in a room of 50 people in the mid-summer can attest to. Heat burns away excess fat, kills disease, and releases toxins through the sweat. In my first year of serious practice with my teacher
I lost 10kg before finally stabilizing around 6kg lower than when I started.1
Though it is the very surface of the practice, anyone looking to shed some excess weight should take me up on that one-month challenge.
The breath is the key: the first heat generation method of Ashtanga is the special type of breathing it employs, called Ujjayi breath.2 This technique involves swirling air at the back of the throat during inhaling and exhaling, creating a Darth Vader sound even though you are breathing through your nose – I’ll let Kino explain to you how to accomplish this.3 Swirling the air increases its kinetic energy and therefore its heat. When you inhale, hot air passes into your lungs, heating your chest; then this air passes into your bloodstream, traveling to all areas of the body. When you exhale, hot air passes through the head, heating it on its way out. Breathing in this way continually through the practice helps establish and maintain a full body heat, which the other methods serve to augment.
Constant kegels: the most subtle heating method of Ashtanga is the engagement of two energy locks in the pelvic and abdominal regions – Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. The first is a flexing of the perineum muscle on the pelvic floor. This is part of the area you would engage while doing Kegel exercises, so the starting point is to flex all of the muscles in that region and over time localize to the exact muscle. The second is a constricting of the abdominal muscles such that the stomach does not move while breathing. Here is David Swenson explaining these bandhas. This flexing stokes the internal fire in the belly and spreads its heat throughout the body during practice. Though not one of the reasons I do Ashtanga, engaging these bandhas over time has the interesting side effect of enhancing sexual control – feel free to inquire for more details.
Flying on a yoga mat: the last heat generation method is Vinyasa, the flying movement between each seated posture. The basic progression is 1) hold sitting posture for 5 breaths, 2) inhale lift off the ground, fly back to push-up position, 3) exhale lower into hovering just above the floor, 4) inhale updog, 5) exhale downdog, 6) inhale fly through to sitting, 7) repeat. Steps 2-6 are the Vinyasa. Here are a group of advanced practitioners under Sri K. Pattabhi Jois doing Vinyasa. This motion again increases kinetic energy through the whole body and builds heat through repetition throughout the practice.