Ashtanga Yoga And Vinyasa Yoga: Key Principles And Differences

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If you are wondering What Is The Difference Between Ashtanga Yoga And Vinyasa Yoga then this article is for you. Here we explain both in details and also discuss the differences between the two, to help you understand better. Stay Tuned.

To understand the basics of Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga we must understand the basic principles of Yoga Sutras, written by the ancient Indian great sage Patanjali around 200 B.C.

According to myth, the original is probably thousands of years old, which were basically oral teaching traditions, passed on unchanged by memorization of the verses in which their wisdom was captured.

Ashtanga Yoga And Vinyasa Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga And Vinyasa Yoga- What Are They?

More recently (15th century) the term Raja Yoga is often used instead of Ashtanga Yoga, meaning “royal yoga”. On the other hand Vinyasa is a subset and younger than the age-old process of Astanga Yoga.

Though many schools teach the style of Vinyasa Yoga nowadays, it is different to that from Ashtanga Vinyasa.The western yoga students who didn’t want to practice the repetitive sequences of Ashtanga Yoga created a much more flexible and creative form of Vinyasa over the years.

So, today’s Vinyasa Yoga is more about following a sequence of yoga poses where one flows seamlessly from one pose into another.

Basic Differences Between Vinyasa And Ashtanga Yoga

According to Patanjali. Yoga means ‘restraining of thought waves’. Now, lets take a look at the meaning anf difinition of both.

Starting With Ashtanga yoga…

Definition Of Ashtanga Yoga 

Definition Of Ashtanga Yoga 

In Sanskrit “Ashta+anga” is Ashtanga. “Ashta” means Eight and “Anga” is limbs, so it means Eight Limb Path. In this sacred scripture of ‘Yogasutra’ he has offered an eight-limbed approach for the well-being and purification of body, mind and soul. This 8-limbed approach is called Ashtanga Yoga.

This is not a step by step approach of twisting your body but a deep-rooted multidimensional approach in which all eight limbs are put to use simultaneously.

Therefore, Ashtanga Yoga can be understood as a complete philosophy of yoga, within any yoga tradition.

8 Key Principles Of Ashtanga Yoga 

So as understood, Ashtanga Yoga focuses on the nurturing of 8 limbs of life. Now let us find out what these limbs are all about. Following is the list and details of those 8 limbs.

1) Yama 

The philosophy of this Sanskrit term represents the five restraints or the “don’ts” which are as follows

  • Ahimsa – Non-violence.
  • Satya – Truthfulness.
  • Brahmacharya – Control of the senses and celibacy.
  • Asteya – Non-stealing.
  • Aparigraha – Non-covetousness and non-acceptance of gifts.

2) Niyama 

It is just the opposite of Yama, representing the five observances or the “do’s” which are as follows

  • Saucha – Purity or cleanliness.
  • Santosha – Contentment.
  • Tapas – Austerity.
  • Swadhyaya – Self-study, the study of scriptures.
  •  Ishwara Pranidhana – Surrender to God’s will.

3) Asana

This term represents the Steady postures.

4) Pranayama

it literally means the control over the vital energy known as ‘prana’ or life force.

5) Pratyahara

This term represents the process of withdrawal of the senses.

6) Dharana

This means Concentration.

7) Dhyana

This term represents the process of Meditation.

8) Samadhi

This can be defined as the super-conscious state of a being where absoluteness is experienced and attended with all-knowledge and joy. An individual needs to do much practice to attain this stage.

Also, read our interesting post on Is Yoga A Religion Or A Science?

Going Ahead On The Path Of Ashtanga Yoga

In Ashtanga Yoga each of these 8 dimensions should be mastered to a certain level before moving on to the next one.

If you master one and start neglecting your skill while practising the other one, then that is not a sign of progress in this type of yoga, because, these 8 limbs should be seen here as the 8 feet or limbs of a Table, standing steadily.

Thus the eight steps of Ashtanga Yoga are also eight disciplines and eight phases of growth in yoga and meditation.

In this journey of learning, you tend to skip some steps if automatically mastered.

For example, you can move to the phase of Dharana without attention to Pratyahara, as withdrawal from the outside world automatically happens when successfully focusing on an inside object. If Dharana is not strong enough however, it must be preceded by Pratyahara.

Also, Ashtanga Yoga is a continuous circular repetitive process or rather an upward spiralling movement. When moving through steps 1 to 8 and then again coming out of meditation, you have to start with step 1 and 2 again.

In a way, you will find it helpful to move through the path of Yama and Niyama while applying the benefits, obtained from Meditation.When Yama and Niyama are done naturally and effortlessly, then that is the best sign of true progress on the path of Ashtanga Yoga.

Definition Of Vinyasa Yoga

Definition Of Vinyasa Yoga

On the other hand, the meaning of the term Vinyasa is derived from the word ‘Nyasa’, which means “to place,” and “vi”, means “in a special way.” In short, Vinyasa means moving from one asana to another while keeping in mind the breathing pattern.

A Vinyasa practise is a series of movements done between the asanas, thus being a guidance of one pose to the next.

Vinyasa refers to the belief that everything in and around us is ever-changing- there is always movement and with movement comes change. This principle is and can be implemented completely in our lives too. In contrast to holding static postures, Vinyasa Yoga creates a dynamic flow of seamless movement bringing postures together.

History Of Vinyasa Yoga

The ancient text named as the Yoga Korunta by Vamana Rishi was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in around 1990 which outlines a proper sequence of yoga poses called the Vinyasa Krama suggesting a way to connecting mudras (hand gesture), Pranayama (breathing exercise), Bandhas (physical locks), Meditation, Asana (posture), Drishti (focus gaze) and Japa (repetition of mantras).

Sri T. Krishnamacharya with one of his students Patthabi Jois later popularized the Vinyasa Ashtanga style of yoga during the 20th century in Mysore in India and brought Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga to the western world.

The style of Vinyasa Yoga practised nowadays in various yoga schools, is different from Ashtanga Vinyasa and quite young in yoga history.

Deriving from Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, today’s Vinyasa Yoga is more of a sequence of yoga poses where your body flows seamlessly from one pose to another.

Also, read our post on How To Start Acro Yoga.

Principles Of Vinyasa Yoga 

In Vinyasa yoga you should move from one asana to another while using your breath. Unlike Ashtanga Yoga the Vinyasa yoga practitioner might experience an entirely different sequence of postures each time he or she practices.

Unlike the Ashtanga or Hatha Yoga practice, Vinyasa is less about steady postures. Vinyasa maintains the principles to follow the non-static asanas, and a constant flow throughout the practice, connecting one posture to another and allowing the body to move freely while being guided by a continuous breathing pattern.

This is how Vinyasa Yoga becomes a dynamic flow and can be seen as an alternative freestyle form of Ashtanga.

Let us have a look into the characteristic sequence of Vinyasa Chaturanga to Downward Dog to understand the visibility:

  1. Chaturanga Dandasana: It’s a Four-Limbed Staff Pose.
  2. Adho Mukha Snavasana:  The practitioner would look like a downward-facing dog.
  3. Urdhva Mukha Snavasana: The practitioner would look like an Upward-facing Dog.

Progressing on the Path of Vinyasa Yoga

So we must understand that the practice of Vinyasa Yoga is intuitive, creative, continuous, flowing and seamless, while creating connection, movement and change

Three Building Blocks Of Vinyasa Yoga 

Let’s take a look at the following three essential parts which generally build the foundation of every Vinyasa practice:

1) Continuous Movement and Flow 

When you practice the Vinyasa style of yoga you should remember to follow a series of movements between each asana unlike the Ashtanga or Hatha Yoga. So, now we understand that Vinyasa Yoga is more about maintaining a flow throughout the practice and at the same time allowing flexibility and creativity when it comes to alignment rules.

There are no such prescribed or strict rules in Vinyasa style of yoga. Here you don’t need to follow any fixed guidelines on how an asana or a sequence should look like or must be performed.

In Vinyasa Yoga, yoga teachers and instructors guide you according to your current condition and range of motion so that you can move freely and enjoy the learning while enhancing your lifestyle.

2) Ujjayi Breath

This is the ancient technique of yogic breathing. In Vinyasa yoga, this technique is followed and done seamlessly throughout the practice to achieve the goal of creating a continuous breath and being guided by this breath.

 This breathing sounds like waves rolling in and out in the ocean. So let us see the process of practicing the Ujjayi breath:

  • You should breathe in and out through your nose only with a closed mouth.
  • Then inhale and exhale through your nose while slightly contracting the muscles in the back of your throat.
  • Practice the sound by inhaling ‘HMMM’ and exhaling ‘HAAAAH’ with your lips closed.
  • Maintain the breath throughout the practice and notice your breath altering depending on difficulty level and pace of movement.

3) Bandhas

This is the technique of working with your body muscles. This is the third part of Vinyasa Yoga and it consists of using bandhas throughout the practice.
Here you should follow the three main bandhas:

  1. Mula Bandha: This is the process of Contracting the muscles around the pelvic floor or perineum.
  2. Uddiyana Bandha: In this Bandha, you have to do the Contraction of the lower abdomen.
  3. Jalandhara Bandha: This is the process of locking your Chin, by lowering the chin close to your chest. At this moment you should gaze to the tip of your nose.


So, it is quite clear that even though the root of both these yoga lies in the Yogasutra of ancient sage Patanjali, the difference between Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga lies in its  principle. 

You would find Ashtanga Yoga classes are either teacher-led or self-led. In a self-led class, each student practices an Ashtanga series by memorizing them, moving at his or her own pace. The teacher walks around and provides individual adjustments and instruction, as needed.

In contrast, in a Vinyasa class, the Yoga teacher will place everyone together in a cue and offer individual adjustments as needed by them.

Also, Ashtanga Yoga students usually do not use props, posture modifications, or music. Whereas, in Vinyasa classes, some teachers make props available, use background music, and encourage their students to modify postures, as needed.

Also, read our post on How Often Should I do Yoga and How To Gain Weight Through Yoga?