In the Yoga tradition, Ashtanga means “eight-limbed” and refers to the eight series of poses in the primary series of the classical Ashtanga Yoga Practice. The Ashtanga Yoga sequence is a primary eight-limb sequence of postures, which is generally broken into two parts: the first eight postures are done in a clockwise fashion, with the last eight postures done in a counter-clockwise fashion.
I started practicing Yoga in 2005, and have been practicing since then, and my appreciation for this ancient practice has grown over the years. I have learned many Ashtanga yoga poses over the past years, but I have never been able to write down and organize my collection of yoga poses. This is my first attempt to document the various ashtanga yoga asanas and my daily practice.
Ashtanga is considered a strict and disciplined yoga discipline. First, it involves doing a specific sequence of yoga postures during class. In Ashtanga, these sequences include asanas or postures that range from forward bends, standing postures, twists, inversions, backbends, etc.
An example of sequences performed in Ashtanga yoga is the series of sun salutations (Surya Namaskar), which is also considered one of the fundamental asanas of yoga practice. Sun salutations A and B serve as a warm-up exercise for the Ashtanga yoga postures that follow, as they relax the joints, increase blood flow to the heart, promote sweating, and gently stretch the body to prepare it for the challenging exercise ahead.
What are you warming up to? The following will give you an idea of what happens in the first series (there are three, each more difficult than the last) of Ashtanga yoga.
Parts of these sequences are used between the Ashtanga yoga poses to connect them, especially at the end of the first series. In Ashtanga, these postures are called vinyasa and essentially consist of returning to a low posture (Chaturanga Dandasana), assuming a dog pose facing the wind (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana), then assuming a dog pose facing the ground (Adho Mukha Svanasana) before moving on to the next posture.
Traditionally, these vinyasas are performed after 18 standing poses and between each pose (sometimes on both sides) throughout the series. In a typical 90-minute class, you can do up to 40 vinyas, which gives you enough upper body and core strength to prepare for inversion poses, like the headstand at the end. Vinyasa also serves to reset the body for the next pose.
Triangle pose (Trikonasana) and twisted triangle pose (Parivritta Trikonasana)
These standing Ashtanga yoga postures focus on creating angles, especially triangles, with the extended limbs of the arms and legs.
To sit in Tricoasana, stand with your feet about 1 meter apart, with your right foot pointing forward and the other at a 45 degree angle in the same direction. Straighten your arms and extend them forward over your hips. Place your right hand on your shin or, if you can, grab your big toe with the fingers of your good hand and pull. Raise the other arm so that it forms a line perpendicular to the ground.
Keep the tailbone down and try to place the left side of the hip on the right side. Also open your chest so that your shoulders and collarbones are open. This is an excellent pose for posture, it also opens up the hip joint and teaches balance.
In Parivritta Triconasana, the back hand overcomes the front foot. It’s more challenging to align the hips and maintain balance, but it’s a good pose to stretch the hamstrings and, because it’s a twist, it also wakes up the spine to prepare it for backbends.
Intense hand to big toe pose (Uttaita Hasta Padangushtasana)
This is one of the most difficult standing poses. It takes a high degree of concentration and balance to maintain this posture for an extended period of time.
First, stand on your left leg and put your left arm around your waist for support. Grasp the right big toe with the toes of your right hand and extend it forward. There is a pulling motion with your arm and legs that helps stabilize you. Lean forward and try to keep your chin against your shin. If you can, stand up and turn the leg that is still raised sideways outward.
For a deeper challenge, look over your left shoulder and try not to fall out of the pose as you shift your focus. After a few breaths, come back to the center, lean forward for a breath and stand up again. Now release the leg and let it come up as high as it can on its own. Then you can put your foot down and switch sides.
Forward Bend A (Maricheshyasana A)
This pose is the first in a series of seated twists and is ideal for stretching the inner thighs and groin area. Note, however, that the twists for the abdominal region can be intense, so make sure you don’t overeat before your workout (in fact, Ashtanga is traditionally practiced in the morning at dawn, before breakfast).
Sit down with your legs straight in front of you and tilt your right leg so that your foot is on the ground a fist’s length from your left hip. Now lean forward with your right arm and sweep around your bent leg so that it is wrapped. Now make a similar motion with your left hand, so that your hands meet at the back of your back.
If you can, tie one hand to the wrist of the other. Otherwise, use a towel or a belt. On the inhale, straighten your back and on the exhale, lean forward, keeping your left leg active by lifting your kneecaps, bringing your hip in and bending your foot. When you release, do a vinyasa and repeat on the other side.
These are just some of the postures in Ashtanga Yoga, among the many asanas that make up the practice. It certainly takes a lot of physical effort, but it’s also incredibly rewarding, especially if you make it a habit and see your progress every day. The beauty of Ashtanga is that there is logic and order, so that each pose prepares you for the next.
So, with enough practice, you can do all of these postures and even the seemingly impossible ones like Ashtanga that you could possibly become.The Ashtanga Yoga pose video series will educate you on how to perform the Ashtanga Yoga Poses the right way. These Ashtanga Yoga Poses videos will help you learn the Ashtanga Yoga Poses correctly and also help you perform the Ashtanga Yoga Poses in a more effective way.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the poses in Ashtanga yoga?
The poses in Ashtanga yoga are:
- Standing pose (Tadasana)
- Forward bend (Uttanasana)
- Backward bend (Parsvottanasana)
- Downward facing dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Upward facing dog pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
- Cobra pose or Bhujangasanam
- Locust pose or Salabhasana
- Bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
- Half moon pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
- Warrior I pose or Virabhadrasanam
- Warrior II pose or Virabhadrasanam
- Triangle pose or Trikonasana
- Seated forward bend (Janu Sirsasana)
- Seated back bend (Janu Sirsasana)
- Child’s pose or Balasana
- Corpse pose or Savasana
- Headstand pose (Sirsasana)
- Shoulder stand pose (Sarvangasana)
- Handstand pose (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
- Plank pose or Chaturanga Dandasana