Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow’s yoga guru on how ashtanga yoga can help you live a balanced life
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Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow’s yoga guru on how ashtanga yoga can help you live a balanced life

Over the years, yoga has branched out into myriad forms such as aerial yoga, hot yoga, vinyasa etc. Touted as the toughest is ashtanga yoga, which R Sharath Jois is a renowned expert in, with over 28 years of teaching experience behind him.

fitness Updated: Dec 23, 2018 14:28 IST
Shruti Dargan
Shruti Dargan
Hindustan Times
Sharath Jois,Ashtanga,yoga guru
Ashtanga gets its name from the patanjali yoga sutras; eight limbs of yoga — yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dyana and samadhi. (Unsplash)

Who doesn’t want to look good and stay fit? Wish there were a magic trick to achieve that? Well, there is, say yogis who swear by it. Yoga, when made an integral part of one’s lifestyle, has several long-term benefits, including a balanced metabolism, improved blood circulation and respiration, and increased energy and muscle strength. Over the years, the practice has branched out into myriad forms such as aerial yoga, hot yoga, vinyasa etc. Touted as the toughest is ashtanga yoga, which R Sharath Jois is a renowned expert in, with over 28 years of teaching experience behind him. The worldwide head of ashtanga and grandson of the legendary yoga guru K. Pattabhi Jois — who taught global celebs such as Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sting — Sharath Jois says, “Ashtanga is more of a physical yoga practice; it includes asanas to purify the body and mind.”

An ancient system of yoga taught by Vamana Rishi, and passed down to Sharath’s grandfather in 1927 from his guru, T. Krishnamacharya, “Ashtanga gets its name from the patanjali yoga sutras; eight limbs of yoga — yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dyana and samadhi,” explains Jois. Now 47, he recalls that yoga came naturally to him when he was all of seven. “I grew up watching my grandfather practising and teaching yoga. At 19, I restarted my studies with him.” He teaches at the K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI) in Mysore, and often travels abroad for workshops. Is his teaching the same as his grandfather? “I’m in a different generation, so my approach is different, but the principal of yoga is the same.”

Yoga for your overall well-being
  • Lower and upper back pain: Utthita Trikonasana strengthens legs and back; increases flexibility. Pachimattasana creates desired gaps between your vertebrae.
  • Headaches: Adho Mukha Svanasana helps circulate blood in the head and back of the neck. Pachimattasana can reduce migraine pain.
  • Respiratory problems: Virabhadrasana 1 and 2 are upward stretches that expand lungs to aid breathing.
  • Erratic or painful periods, menopause: Baddha Konasana reduces menstrual pain. Pachimattasana helps with menopause pains.
  • Anxiety and insomnia: Pachimattasana reduces stress, anxiety and even panic attacks. Baddha Konasana eases fatigue.
  • Healthy skin and hair: Ujjayi breathing, as practiced in ashtanga yoga, does wonders for your skin and hair. So does sarvangasana.


Jois hopes to spread the message that one can have a balanced and healthy life by making simple changes in life, including regular asana practice and healthy habits — something he also emphasises on in his new book, Ageless: A Yogi’s Secrets To A Long And Healthy Life, which is packed with wisdom from the vedas, anecdotes, tips and asana sequences. Ashtanga, as a practice, has travelled across the world over the years. Jois agrees the celeb connect has contributed to its popularity. “Madonna, Sting, Gwenith Paltrow and Donna Karan practice it, which has inspired many others to take it up for health and fitness. My grandfather travelled to the US many times. He would stay there for four months each time teaching yoga. I think this was very instrumental in popularising yoga in the West.” Sharath Jois, too, has imparted lessons to Madonna. “I taught her before my grandfather met her in the year 1999. I taught her in London for the first time.” Closer home, in India, actors Alia Bhatt and Katrina Kaif are said to practice it.

Ideal age to begin practising yoga
They say, yoga is for all ages and body types. But is there an ideal age? “Twelve is a good age to start, but it’s never too late. If you start early, you can go deeper in the asana because the body is more supple; it’s easier to bend and twist. Limitations increase with age,” says Jois. And, what about ashtanga? Can beginners perform it? “In the beginning, any physical practice is tough. As you do it for months, the body gets more flexible and stable; your asana gets easier... You have to start as a beginner to be senior.”

Altering lifestyle is as important
Studies suggest that to keep fit, exercise plays a 30% role while 70% is about diet. Jois can’t agree more about adopting good habits. “One cannot eat too much, sleep too much and work too much. In yoga, we follow this very strictly.”

Millennials, are you reading this?
The yogi strongly believes that ashtanga is the detox we need in this fast-paced world to live better. “Today, people are impatient and they expect everything instant, like instant dosa! Ashtanga yoga makes you calm, especially those who are hyperactive.” On why it’s a form that would appeal to the millennial generation, he says, “It’s challenging and dynamic; everyone wants to try it. It also has several health benefits, and brings mental stability.”

Need he say more?

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First Published: Dec 23, 2018 12:55 IST