To give you the run-down…
Ashtanga Yoga is a set system of asanas (postures), guided by drishti (gaze point) and linked together by vinyasa (breath connected movement); meant to guide you into a flow-state of focus, and bring balance and vitality to the body and mind.
There are six set sequences: Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, B, C & D…and, you guessed it, we start by learning the primary series and gradually progress from there.
Classes are delivered in two different ways: Led, where you are guided through a sequence together as a group and Mysore-style self-practice, whereby you commit your version of the sequence to memory and move through it in your own time, the teacher then teaches each person individually within a group setting.
It's advised to aim to practice 5-6 days per week (excluding full moon, new moon and the first three days of mensuration for women)...but, if that idea overwhelms you, practicing as much as you can is more than enough!
A longer explanation for those who can spare the time to dive a little deeper...
The Ashtanga yoga system was developed by T. Krishnamacharya, however the modern teachings come from his student Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who popularised the method in the west. Jois lived in Mysore, South India; hence why the style of class is called ‘Mysore-style’, as it was how he delivered the teachings and how they are still taught there by my teacher, Jois’ grandson, Sharath.
In the hands of an experienced teacher, students are taught to commit the sequence to memory one posture at a time and it's tailored according to their individual abilities and personality. So the teacher’s approach will differ with each person based on age, physical and mental condition, lifestyle, and overall aptitude or needs, to give what was needed for one's personal growth.
Day by day, a student begins to develop mastery in conjoining the breath with the asanas (postures) and the drishti (gazing points) in the sequence. When a teacher feels that a student is ready to advance further in his or her personal practice, new teachings are given… as with many things, more is not necessarily better.
The name 'Ashtanga' refers to the eight limbed (eight fold) path of yoga as detailed within yogic philosophy, those elements include:
Yama (Self-restraints), Niyama (Self Purifications), Asana (Physical Postures), Pranayama (Breath & Energy Control), Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal), Dharana (Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation), Samadhi (Enlightenment)
The teachings really aim to meet you exactly where you are, there is no one-size-fits all approach, which is why I'm so passionate about teaching in this way.
Even if the sequence seems relatively fixed, an experienced teacher will mould the practice to fit you, instead of squeeze you into some idea of perfection, and guide you deeper when you are ready.