Ashtanga yoga is a practice created by Sri.K. Pattabhi Jois consisting of six series, and each series contains its own sequence of asanas. In the traditional practice of Ashtanga, called Mysore practice (originated from the city of Mysore, India), each student practices their own sequence and the teacher gives them adjustments and the next asana when they are ready. Being "ready" is a very complicated term, and we can get to that later.
Ashtanga is not a practice for the faint-hearted. A lot of Type A personalities are inclined towards this. It's a six day a week practice which lasts for about 90 minutes each session. And mind you, it gets crazy. What happens on that mat is an absolutely wonderful, painful experience that peels your emotions, thoughts, fear, ego, strength, and anything left layer by layer. Now, why do I love this practice?
When you start off as a new student, you have to commit for one month of regular practice so you can actually give yourself and the teacher a chance to take you where you need to be. Trick is never to quit. Just show up. It teaches you dedication. Showing up on the mat on a good, bad, or even ugly day is okay as long as you show up, because that's where it all starts.
The practice itself is very challenging: mentally and physically. Practicing every day builds great muscle strength, flexibility, and balance. Making an effort to surrender, work hard, and endure changes your mentality in a great way; it increases patience, tolerance, the ability to see more than what is presented to you, and above all cleanses you inside out.
3. Letting Go
Every asana challenges you in a different way. Some can be painful, uncomfortable, and impossible while others can come to you very easily. What you realize during practice is that the moment you let go of your thoughts, fears, judgment, ego, and resistance, is pretty much the moment when it comes easily. Like Pattabhi Jois said "Body is not stiff. Mind is."
4. Mirror Effect
Last but not least, Ashtanga is not just to give you an awesome body, a way to detoxify your organs, or to build patience. It's a mirror. It shows you where you are at that given moment, at that given breath. It makes you aware of how you treat yourself. There are moments when you judge your practice--call it the "bad practice" days--and there are moments your ego soars when you successfully perform an asana, but the next day even Surya Namasakar could hurt.
Ashtanga is a practice that will show you how to live in the moment, to appreciate what you have. It is a reminder that nothing is permanent. It makes you feel grateful and gifted, and above all it makes you feel alive. It is a strong, elegant, humbling, and life changing practice.