Ashtanga ('ash-tanga') literally means eight ('ashta') limbs ('anga').
Like many things from India, the exact origins of the Ashtanga Vinyasa system are somewhat shrouded in mystery. What we know is that it was taught by Sri T Krishnamacharya in the early part of the 20th Century at the Royal Palace in Mysore. One of his earliest and most devoted pupils was Sri K Pattahbi Jois, and was later responsible for bringing the Astanga system out to the rest of the world.
Ashtanga yoga is a system of combining postures (asana) with breath (pranayama) and movement in a controlled and synchronised way. This synchronicity of movement from posture to posture is what we call Vinyasa.
The word Vinyasa means 'to place' (vi) 'in a special way' (nyasa).
What characterises Ashtanga so distinctly is the focus on both strength and flexibility in a co-ordinated and balanced method. This means it is open and accessible to all, no matter what you are looking for from a yoga practice.