Ashtanga Yoga Poses,
An Overview of the Standing and Seated Poses of the Primary Series

ashtanga yoga standing poses part 1
ashtanga yoga standing poses part 2

One of the advantages of the Ashtanga Yoga system is the fact that it is a set sequence of poses with a set methodology for getting in and out of each pose.
Once you've learned the sequences and how to get in and out of them, you don't have to think about what pose to do next. You know it.
As a result you can focus on doing the poses and smoothly connecting one yoga pose to the next one.

Breath Synchronized Movements

The technique for moving in and out of each pose is called a vinyasa but the term "vinyasa" can also be used to indicated a particular breath linked movement.
As an example, sun salutations can be considered a series of breath linked movements or vinyasas.

What is important about vinyasa is knowing where you are and where you are going to.
You can focus on moving from where you are to where you want to be while feeling your body (and controlling it) at the same time.
Once you have arrived in a posture, assuming that the end point is a posture that you are going to hold, you can then focus on moving your awareness within your body, making adjustments as and when you need to.

Ujjayi Breathing

Because the sequence is set, one of the things that you can focus on both while moving in and out of postures and while holding them is your breath.
In Ashtanga yoga, a special type of breath is used and it is called Ujjayi Breathing.
In this breathing method you narrow your throat passage so that your respiratory muscles have to do more work while you inhale and exhale.
The more work your respiratory muscles have to do, the more heat your create, and the more you sweat.

In Ashtanga Yoga, sweating is one mechanism for getting rid of toxins that are in your body.

To help control your breath you can vary the amount that you constrict your throat and you can vary the way you use your breathing muscles.

Mula Bandha

Mula bandha is quite an advanced topic and for quite a while I've never talked about it because I didn't understand it fully enough. Only recently am I getting a better idea of what it is.

Anatomically, I believe that mula bandha helps to move and secure the sacrum (which is the base of the spine) relative to the pelvis.

Philosophically, I think that mula bandha is the ability to feel your entire body all at once, particularly your bones, while also having a clear idea of how you want your bones to be positioned or moved relative to each other.

Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana Bandha is a compliment to mula bandha.
As with mula bandha, instruction on this can vary. I'd suggest learning to breath diaphragmatically first. Also practice gaining control of you transverse abdominus with agni sara.

Then work on pulling your lower belly in while using your diaphragm at the same time. You can either inhale, engage uddiyana (and mula) while using your diaphragm, and then relax both while exhale. Or you can exhale while keeping uddiyana engaged

These are suggestions, or guidelines.

Note your body's response to these practices. If you find yourself feeling anxious or tense, then practice without these locks and go back to basics, diaphragmatic breathing or costal breathing.

Once you've learned the sequences of poses and how to get in and out of them, you don't have to think about what pose to do next because you already know it. Instead you can focus on the pose that you are in and then focus on smoothly moving from that pose to whatever pose that follows it in the Ashtanga Yoga Sequence.

Sun Salutations

The primary series of Ashtanga yoga poses starts of with Sun salutations.

Sun Salutation A, 10 positions of sun salutation a, surya namaskara, red poses inhale, blue poses exhale. chaturanga dandasana, upward facing dog, downward facing dog

There are two types: Sun Salutation A (above) and Sun Salutation B (below).

Sun Salutation b, surya namaskara, 18 positions of ashtanga yoga sun salutation b, red poses inhale, blue poses exhale, chaturanga dandasana, upward facing dog, downward facing dog, warrior 1, chair pose

One of the tricks to learning sun salutations (and the entire ashtanga sequence) is to break them down into smaller "practice elements."

As well as helping you to remember the movements, practicing "elements" makes it easier to practice feeling your body as you do them.
Learning and practicing a few movements at a time makes it easier to hold what you are doing in short term memory.
You can then focus on doing the movements and feeling your body while you do them.

Read more about sun salutation a and sun salutation b.

For tips on how to jump back into chaturanga dandasana a little more quietly (and with a little more control) you can read ashtanga jump backs.

Standing Yoga Poses

Like sun salutations, the standing series of ashtanga yoga poses can broken into elements and learned a little bit at a time.

You can focus on a few poses at a time or even just one pose.
I'd suggest that at a maximum, especially if you are new to yoga, focus on learning four or five poses at a time.
This is a small enough number that you can easily retain in short term memory without having to stop and think.

But if you want to learn more in a single session then focus on learning groups of 2, 3 or 4 poses at a time.

To make remembering the sequence of poses easier it helps if you have a way of relating them to each other.

Hip Width, Leg Width, One Knee Bent, Both Knees Straight...

For myself I remember that:

  • In the first two standing yoga poses of the Ashtanga sequence (after the sun salutations) the feet are hip width apart. First grab the toes, then slide the hands under the feet (go from easier to slightly harder.)
  • In the next set of four poses, the triangle series, the feet are slightly wider but the knees are still straight.
  • In the third set of poses, the side angle series, the feet are even wider but one knee is bent.
  • In both the triangle series and the side angle series of ashtanga yoga poses the "back foot" is turned slightly in and the "front foot" is turned out 90 degrees.
    Both sets start with a sideways moving posture done to both sides and then finish with a twisting version of the posture. (Originally the twisting version of side angle wasn't in the series but apparently got added in.)
    In the sideways version of both poses the pelvis is in the same plane as the front foot. In the twisting variation it is 90 degrees to the front foot.
  • The next group of four postures are all forward bends with the feet are about the same distance apart as in triangle, but parallel and pointing straight ahead.
    The difference between these four poses is the position of the hands.
    In the first and last positions the hands are on the floor. In the middle two they are on the waist.

The wide leg forward bending hand positions, in order, are:

  • hands on the floor shoulder width apart (some people like to turn this position into a tripod headstand.)
  • Then hands on waist.
  • Then hands clasped behind the back.
  • Then first two fingers of each hand grabbing the big toes.

This last position may be a preparation for the "big toe pose" that follows.

Here's a pictorial summary of the first part of the standing series of Ashtanga yoga poses.

ashtanga yoga standing poses part 1

The specifics including the vinyassas, are included in Ashtanga Standing Poses Part 1.

Reverse Prayer, Big Toe Pose, Lotus, Chair Pose and The Warriors

The next pair of poses is reverse prayer. The legs are in a similar position to revolving triangle but the hands are behind the back in prayer.

ashtanga yoga poses, utthitta Purvottanasana, hands in prayerashtanga yoga poses, utthitta Purvottanasana, right side

 

I should point out here that in the ashtanga yoga system, the right side is always done first.
Problems can arise in how you define which is the right side version of a pose.

The next posture, extended big toe pose, is three poses in one.

  • Balancing on one leg you grab the toe of the lifted leg with that leg straight out in front.
  • Then you open the leg to the side.
  • Then you bring the leg back to the front and let go.

The fun part is holding the leg in place, unsupported for five breaths.

utthita hasa padangushtasana 1utthita hasa padangushtasana 2utthita hasa padangushtasana 3

The next single leg balancing ashtanga yoga pose is half bound lotus.

ardha badda padmasana

Again you are on one leg, the other leg is in lotus.
You grab the toe of the lotus foot from behind the back with the same side arm. And you bend forward with the free hand on the floor.

The standing series finishes with a mutant sun salutation. Chair pose, followed by Warrior 1 and then Warrior 2.

Note that warrior 2 breaks the "right side first" rule.
You do left side warrior 2 first, then right side.

chair pose, ashtanga yoga poseswarrior 1 yoga pose, asthanga yoga pose right sidewarrior 1 yoga pose, asthanga yoga pose right side

Ashtanga Yoga Poses part 1 has more details.
And ideally you can use the graphic below to see relationships between the poses in the second half of the Ashtanga standing series for yourself so that you can more easily remember the sequence of these poses.

ashtanga yoga standing poses part 2

Seated Ashtanga Yoga Poses Part 1

The seated series of ashtanga yoga poses starts of similiar to the standing series, with some forward bends.

Staff Pose and the Paschimottanasana Series

The first pose is actually sitting upright with legs straight (dandasana). If you've got tight hamstrings, this could be a stretch.

Following are three (or four) seated forward bending variations.
You grab the big toes, then the sides of the feet, then grab over the feet. Then finally you grab a wrist beyond the feet.

ashtanga yoga poses, dandasanaseated forward bend, ashtanga yoga poses, paschimottansana a

I've seen different variations of hand positions. In general they proceed from easier to more difficult.

Reverse Plank/Purvottanasana

Immediately following these forward bending yoga poses is a back strengthening yoga pose, reverse plank.
In this yoga pose you place your hands behind you, lift your hips with your legs straight. It acts as a counterpose for the forward bends, strengthening the muscles that have just been stretched.

ashtanga yoga poses, purvottanasana

The next two pairs of poses are also compliments.

Half Bound Lotus and Half Hero Forward Bend

Half bound lotus forward fold is followed by half hero forward bend.
In half bound lotus (see yoga lotus for tips on working towards lotus pose) one the foot is in lotus, again with the same side hand binding from behind.
In lotus position the thigh is externally rotated and the shin is displaced inwards with respect to the knee.

half bound lotus pose, ardha badha pada paschimotanasanaashtanga yoga poses, triang muka eka pada paschimotanasana

In half hero forward bend (triang muka ekapada paschimottanasana) the shin is folded to the outside of the thigh.
In this pose the thigh is internally rotated at the hip and the shin is displaced outwards with respect to the knee.

The Janusirsasana Series

The next three poses are of the janu sirsasana type, a, b and c.
In janusirsasana type poses one knee is bend while the other is straight. And you bend forwards.

  • In janu sirsasana a the foot is placed against the inner thigh.
  • In janu sirsasana b you sit on the heel of the bend knee foot.
  • In janu sirsasana c the foot is turned downwards.
janu sirsasana a, seated ashtanga yoga posesjanu sirsasana b, sitting down, seated ashtanga yoga posesjanu sirsasana c, upright, seated ashtanga yoga poses

The C position has a similiar shin displacement to lotus. The only difference is the ankle is bend more than 90 degrees. (In lotus the front of the ankle can be stretched depending on the foot position that you use.)

The Marichyasana Series

Following the janu sirsasana series is the marichyasana series.
Here's where right and left can get confusing. General rule.
The marichyasana leg determines whether the pose is right or left.

In the first two marichyasana poses you bend forwards.

  • In A-position variation the non-marichyasana leg is straight.
  • In the B-variation the non-marichyasana leg is in lotus.

The third and fourth variations follow the same pattern but they are twists instead. You twist towards the marichyasana leg.

  • In C the non-marichyasana leg is straight,
  • in Marichyasana D it is in lotus.

You also bind in these poses. And in general the binding arm is the hand that grabs.

marichyasana a, seated ashtanga yoga posesmarichyasana b, front view, seated ashtanga yoga posesmarichyasana c, seated ashtanga yoga poses

Following the marichyasana series, the next few ashtanga yoga poses get a little bit tougher. Actually they got tough at the D variation.

Boat Pose, Shoulder Pressure Pose and The Turtle Poses

The next yoga pose is boat pose.

You repeat 5 times, lifting up after each one. Then you balance in shoulder pressure pose with the legs on the shoulders, the hands supporting the body and the shins crossed in front of the arms.

Turtle yoga pose and sleeping turtle yoga pose follow.

navasaana, ashtanga yoga posesashtanga yoga poses, bhuja pidasana modifiedashtanga yoga poses, kurmasana

In the first turtle yoga pose, you lay down between your legs and reach your arms under your legs. Legs are straight. In the second turtle yoga pose you cross ankles behind your head.

The next pose involves putting both legs in lotus then threading your arms through the gaps behind your knees. You then roll nine times in this position after first holding your face in your hands. This is called embryo in the womb. The 9 rolls represent the 9 months in the womb though some one told me it's actually 10 months. After, you roll up and balance on your hands (which are still inserted into your lotus!) This is called rooster pose.

garbha pidasanakukkatasana

For more on these seated poses check out ashtanga yoga poses 3.

Seated Ashtanga Yoga Poses Part 2

The next set of poses could be thought of as a bit more relaxing.

Bound Angle and Wide Leg Forward Bends

Bound angle pose. How sweet. Feet together, knees bent to the side, bend forwards. (Grab the feet.)

bound angle forward fold with hands grabbing feet

Then two wide leg forward fold variations.

ashtanga yoga poses,  neil keleher, sensationa yoga posesashtanga yoga poses, upavista konasana, neil keleher, sensationa yoga poses

It's a little like the wide leg forward folds while doing the standing ashtanga yoga poses but first you bend forwards (while grabbing the big toes.) Then you fling your self up and balance on your butt.

ashtanga yoga poses, neil keleher, sensationa yoga posesashtanga yoga poses, upavista konasana, neil keleher, sensationa yoga poses
ashtanga yoga poses, neil keleher, sensationa yoga poses

The next version you start of on your shoulders with legs in the same position. You roll up to balanced, then roll forward and land on your heels.

Reclining Big Toe Pose

Again like the standing ashtanga yoga poses you do a supine extended big toe pose.

ashtanga yoga poses, neil keleher, sensationa yoga posesashtanga yoga poses, neil keleher, sensationa yoga poses

  • Leg up,
  • then to the side,
  • then up again.

Balancing on Your Butt Forward Bends

Then you lay on your back, legs above you, grab onto your toes and roll up to balance, upward facing big toe pose.

ashtanga yoga poses, neil keleher, sensationa yoga posesashtanga yoga poses, neil keleher, sensationa yoga poses

Then lay on your back again, grab the sides of your feet and roll up to balance in Upward facing forward bend.

ashtanga yoga poses, neil keleher, sensationa yoga posesashtanga yoga poses, neil keleher, sensationa yoga poses

The final pose prior to finishing is a bridge variation. I actually left this pose out for a long time because I was worried about protecting my neck.

A substitute is bridge yoga pose.

Ashtanga Yoga Finishing Series

The finishing series includes wheel poses 3 times. You push up and hold, then lower, then push up without much of a rest.

wheel pose, asthanga yoga poses finishing series

A seated forward bend follows to cool down.

Shoulderstand is followed by plough pose which in turn is followed by ear pressure pose (press your knees into the sides of your ears).

shoulder stand, asthanga yoga poses, finishing seriesplough pose, asthanga yoga poses, finishing series

Then you do an upside down supported lotus (no need to bind this time.)

You then roll into fish (legs still in lotus) and extended fish yoga pose (legs straight.)

Then its time for headstand.

head stand, asthanga yoga poses, finishing series

The final two poses are lotus variations. You bend forward in the first one doing a yoga seal, grabbing the feet from behind.

Then you lift up.

Rest

Finally you get to rest in corpse pose. This is a good practice at the end of any yoga practice. It's a chance for your body to recover and also to absorb the effects of the practice. And if you are really tired you just might fall asleep.

shivasana

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