Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a method of asana(posture) practice, which includes Vinyasa. Vinyasa are the breath initiated movements linking one posture to the next. There are numerous benefits to practicing Asana with Vinyasa. Vinyasa creates heat in the body, which eases the practitioner into the postures and produces a purifying sweat. Vinyasa activates the breathing system, by deepening the inhale and exhale between each posture. The practice of Asana with Vinyasa also stimulates the cardiovascular system, which strengthens the heart and reduces excess weight. In the Yoga Korunta, the sacred Sanskrit text which describes the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice, it is strongly encouraged not to practice Asana without Vinyasa.
The eight limbs of Yoga are Yama (restraints), Niyama (observances), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (absorption).
The Ashtanga Yoga practice consists of a Primary, Intermediate and Advanced Series of postures. Each series is commenced with Surya Namaskara(Sun Salutations) and continues with a set of standing postures. Then, the postures which are unique to one series are practiced. The practice is completed with back bending and the finishing sequence. The finishing sequence includes shoulderstand, headstand and lotus.
It takes several years of daily practice to integrate the postures and practice of each series. The series are practiced sequentially, starting with the Primary Series. The Primary Series is referred to as Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy and develops a radiant state of health and a calm mind. The Primary Series consists predominantly of forward bends and hip openers. The Intermediate Series is referred to as Nadi Shodhana, or the cleansing of the Nadies. Nadies are the subtle energy channels, which underlie the physical form. The postures of the Intermediate series include a series of back bends as well as arm balances and inversions. The Intermediate series is energizing and deeply purifying.
After many years of practicing the Primary and Intermediate Series, the postures of these series are integrated deeply into the body. The body becomes light and strong. An even muscle tone is developed throughout the body and the organs are strengthened and purified. Once the practice of these two series is mastered, then the practice of the Advanced Series of postures is begun. The Advanced Series is referred to as Sthira Bhaga or the stabilization of radiance.