Dig deeper into the age-old methodology of posture! Read on to know how Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series can help you strengthen and purify your entire body.
Modern yoga has come a long way. Much of what we see today, is a result of its long journey through different civilisations over centuries. But an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The yoga we practice today is still based on the same notion as it did in ancient times. As much as it has developed, it still revolves around the same natural principles as it did before. It’s the synchronisation of breath control, meditation, movement and postures.
Ashtanga Yoga is one such modern form of yoga which gives special attention to proper co-ordination between these elements. Based on the eight-limb system or eight-fold path of yoga, it is designed to cover every aspect of human life for total transcendence and a higher perception.
There are 5-6 series in Ashtanga Yoga, starting with a Primary Series, followed by an intermediate series and ends with 3-4 advanced series. Each series has a fixed sequence of poses and movements which is to be carried out with proper control and steady breathing. Once you learn, practice and master the primary series, you can move on to the intermediate and then the advanced level. But it all starts with the primary series which is designed to detoxify and cleanse your mind, body and soul. Hence, the nickname Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga therapy.
The Primary Series is designed to detoxify and cleanse the mind, body, and soul.
Or quite simply, the Primary Series!
Surprisingly enough, when it comes to Ashtanga yoga, its primary series is the most difficult one to master.
Well, it’s yoga in its purest form!
Once you master each and every single pose in the primary series, the intermediate and advanced series will be a piece of cake for you. But mastering the primary series is no joke either.
Many practitioners spend years and decades practicing Ashtanga yoga primary series before moving ahead. Some never quit. Since for many, the primary series is good enough to transform their lives in all aspects, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Infact, due to its overwhelming benefits on human life, Ashtanga Yoga may be the perfect style for beginners!
For starters, this is where you can get familiar and comfy with the Vinyasa system (controlled breathing with co-ordinated movement without breaking the flow). It is also a gateway into hundreds of other yoga postures.
But Yoga is not a video game! You don’t have to practice all the styles of yoga to meet your expectations. If you can simply keep up with one style such as Ashtanga Yoga on a regular basis, you wouldn’t need another. Because every time you practice it, it will be a different experience altogether. And that’s what makes Yoga so effective.
But again, don’t expect that you’d be able to perform these poses accurately in every session. Remember, it’s the experience you’re after. And just by sticking to its strict structure and fixed sequence, you can make sure that you’re hitting the right note. Good news!
Now, let’s move on to the sequence and structure of the primary series.
The sequence of Ashtanga Yoga Primary series
The primary series has 5 fixed sequences. Each sequence with a set of poses and movements designed to target and overcome the most common ordeals of modern lifestyle. You’re supposed to practice it in the same sequence every time. The ideal way would be to practice it 6 times a week in presence of an expert or a teacher.
There are opening and closing mantras that you’re supposed to chant before and after the primary series. They help you get into a meditative state so you can perform the sequences efficiently.
Here’s how it goes:
1. Surya Namaskar or Sun salutation A
Ashtanga Yoga primary series begins with 5 Sun Salutations which is to be repeated 5 times.
2. Surya Namaskar B
This includes 3-5 sun salutations, again to be done 5 times.
Sun salutations A & B are more like a body warm up. They help you co-ordinate your breath and movement, and improve the blood flow to and around your spine. It also prepares you to channel your strength and mental focus so as to effectively carry-out the intense Ashtanga Yoga sequences.
3. Standing sequence
After carrying out the sun salutations A and B, comes the standing sequence. It consists of poses that can be done in a standing position. In this sequence, you’ll do lots of forward bends, side bends, twists and folds in a smooth flow, all while maintaining the balance.
The standing sequence is carried out as means to open and stretch your body. It helps you realign your skeletal system, improves your posture and balance. The standing sequence helps dissolve unwanted and bad fat from your body.
(Suns salutations A & B, and the standing sequence are all part of the beginning sequence).
4. Seated Sequence
Next is the seated sequence which is also performed without breaking the movement and breath flow. You’ll do many forward bends, twists and hip opening movements one after another so as to keep your heart rate up. An active and pumped-up metabolism helps you build strength and develop better mind-body connection.
This sequence helps you rid gas, cures constipation and improves your digestive system. It purifies and strengthens the heart, anus, spine and waist.
5. Finishing Sequence
You perform many backbends, shoulder-stands and headstands. It also involves many poses such as fish pose, child pose, corpse pose, boat pose and lotus pose etc.
The benefits of this final sequence of Ashtanga primary series include purification of intestines, strengthening of waist, wrists and neck, improved blood circulation and nervous system etc. It also helps in treating many diseases related to sight, hearing, brain, memory etc.
The primary series of Ashtanga Yoga is a physically demanding and highly energetic style of modern yoga. Most Ashtanga Yoga classes are carried out in Mysore style in which every student/practitioner practices the sequence freely as much as the body allows. Unlike other yoga classes, wherein teachers/instructors guide you through the whole process, in Ashtanga Yoga, you are free to practice the sequence on your own. Yes, you need to memorise it. The instructor keeps a close eye on every individual and corrects the postures and movements in case they’re off. Apart from that, you are free to carry out the sequence at your own pace while staying within your limits.
However, there are certain elements that you need to be extremely careful of. These are the key areas of Ashtanga Yoga, which when worked upon correctly, produces the healing effects it’s known for.
Key elements of Ashtanga Yoga Primary series
1. Ujjayi Pranayama or Breathing
It plays a chief role in yoga, meditation and life. “Prana” means the universal life force and “yama” means control. Therefore, learning to control and master your breath is the first and foremost thing you should dedicate yourself into. It will help calm your nervous system and stabilise your vata (one of three doshas, or body characteristics towards strengths, weaknesses, and imbalances). Make sure that you breathe deeply a in controlled manner with proper inhale and exhale through the nostrils. When you breathe in and out deeply, it will produce a hissing sound, or the sound of the ocean, which comes by tightening the back of your throat. And this is how you cleanse and purify your throat chakra or Vishuddha chakra. With a clear and clean throat, you can stop pollutants, unwanted particles and toxins, etc., from entering your body. It will also remove any harshness from your voice. You can learn more about the importance of Ujjayi breathing and how to do it here.
These refer to the energy locks in the body. They help move the prana (life-giving force) and heat that you’re creating with your breath through the body to cleanse and detox your nerves and the chakras. There are three bandhas that you can use in Ashtanga Yoga primary series. These are:
- Mula Bandha (the root lock) activates your kundalini or the cosmic energy.
- Uddiyana Bandha or the flying bandha (the abdominal lock)- Movement of shakti or flow of energy in the body is described as a bird.
- Jalandhara Bandha (the throat lock)- It is the water pipe lock. It binds the network of subtle energy channels. It helps improve the creativity and intellect.
Bandhas are a means of getting more control over your breath and attain a higher state of consciousness.
If you can do all the three locks at the same time, then it’s called a Maha Bandha.
3. Gazing points or Focus points (Drishti in sanskrit or sight/vision)
There are nine drishtis or gazing points. These are parts on your body which you need to focus on both visually and mentally, while practicing the series. You’re also supposed to change it with every inhale or exhale as instructed in the sequence.
Here is the list of all the nine drishtis you’ll be dealing with in Primary series of Ashtanga Yoga:
- Nasagrai – Tip of nose.
- Ajna Chakra/Broomadhya – Third eye or the pineal gland.
- Nabi Chakra – Naval or Axis Mundi.
- Hastagrai – Hands.
- Padhayoragrai – Feet.
- Parshva Drishti – Far to the left.
- Parshva Drishti – Far to the right.
- Angustha Ma Dyai – Thumbs.
- Urdhva or Antara Drishti – Up to the sky.
(Tip: Pay attention to what you see intentionally and also what you see by accident. Focus on how other senses affect your eye gaze. Pick any object or focus point and gaze onto it).
By practicing just the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga, you can target all the areas. This one practice is good enough to bring all the positive changes you want in your life. With little effort and discipline, you can use Ashtanga Yoga Primary series to experience all the benefits of yoga.
Apart from giving strength and flexibility to your body, it also tones muscles, lubricates joints, massages internal organs, releases chronic tension, improves blood circulation and helps lose fat.
With Ashtanga Yoga, you will also become self-accepting, non-judgemental & wise.
To your mental health, it brings calmness, inner peace, mental stability and self-awareness. With regular practice, you’ll attain a state of higher perception. You’ll be more conscious and enlightened about yourself, your surroundings and the unknown.
You will also become self-accepting, non-judgemental and wise.
But remember, it’s not just the poses that heals. It is the proper synchronisation of breath, movement, meditation, postures, body heat, gazing points, bandhas, and the sequence that brings out the therapeutic effects.
Now, if you feel inspired and believe Ashtanga Yoga to be your thing, then hurry up and grab yourself a copy of Yoga Mala. Written by Sri K Pattabhi Jois, who’s credited as the mind behind Ashtanga Yoga, it contains everything there’s to know about Ashtanga Yoga.
A freelance writer, a poet and an avid reader. He’s a passionate wordsmith who believes in writing content which is simple, beautiful and informative. He’s a practised communicator coached by British Academy.
Apart from being a playful scribbler, he’s a hardcore music fan and loves exploring space and science. He is also a spiritual soul and fitness enthusiast. Yoga, meditation and workout are some of his favourite health activities.