What is the Primary Series of Ashtanga?
By: Steph Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP
The primary series of Ashtanga yoga is the first series of this preset sequence of yoga poses designed by K. Pattabhi Jois.
Ashtanga Yoga is a traditional and dynamic form of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures, combined with breath control and focused gaze. It was developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and is often referred to as the "eight-limbed yoga" based on the teachings of the ancient sage Patanjali.
The term "Ashtanga" translates to "eight limbs" in Sanskrit, referring to the eight aspects or steps outlined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. These limbs provide guidance on various aspects of yoga practice and spiritual development. Ashtanga Yoga places emphasis on synchronizing breath (Ujjayi pranayama) with a progressive series of postures (asanas) to create an internal heat, purify the body, and enhance the flow of energy.
Ashtanga Yoga is typically practiced through two main formats:
The Ashtanga Yoga practice consists of six series of postures, known as Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa), Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhana), and four Advanced Series (Sthira Bhaga). Each series builds upon the previous one, with more challenging postures and sequences.
The practice of Ashtanga Yoga emphasizes the tristhana method, which involves three points of attention during the practice: the breath (pranayama), the posture (asana), and the gazing point (drishti). This combination helps to focus and calm the mind, while also building strength, flexibility, and balance.
Ashtanga Yoga is known for its physically demanding nature, and regular practice can improve stamina, increase flexibility, and promote overall well-being. It is often recommended for practitioners who prefer a disciplined and structured approach to yoga.
It's important to note that Ashtanga Yoga should be practiced with proper guidance and gradually, respecting individual abilities and limitations. Beginners may start with the Primary Series and progress at their own pace under the guidance of a certified Ashtanga Yoga teacher.
The Primary Series, also known as Yoga Chikitsa in Ashtanga Yoga, is the foundational sequence of postures that forms the basis of the Ashtanga Yoga practice. It is designed to purify and heal the body, establish a strong foundation, and prepare the practitioner for deeper levels of practice. The Primary Series focuses on building strength, flexibility, and concentration while also detoxifying the body and calming the mind. Let's explore the Primary Series in more detail.
The Primary Series consists of a specific sequence of postures that are performed in a continuous flow, linked by synchronized breath and movement. The practice begins with a series of sun salutations (Surya Namaskara A and B) to warm up the body and connect with the breath. Sun salutations are dynamic sequences that involve a combination of forward folds, backward bends, and downward facing dog poses.
Following the sun salutations, the standing postures are introduced. These postures focus on building strength, stability, and balance. They include poses such as Warrior poses (Virabhadrasana), Triangle pose (Trikonasana), and Extended Side Angle pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana). The standing postures help to open the hips, stretch the legs, and improve overall body alignment.
After the standing postures, the Primary Series moves into a sequence of seated postures. These postures work on increasing flexibility, especially in the hips and hamstrings, and provide a deeper opening for the spine. Some of the seated postures in the Primary Series include Bound Angle pose (Baddha Konasana), Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), and Revolved Head-to-Knee pose (Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana).
The Primary Series also includes a set of challenging seated forward bends called Marichyasanas and a series of twists known as the Marichyasana C and D. These poses help to detoxify and purify the internal organs, improve digestion, and stimulate the energy flow within the body.
Next, the series progresses to a sequence of backbends, which includes poses such as Camel pose (Ustrasana), Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana), and Wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana). Backbends help to open the chest, strengthen the back muscles, and improve spinal flexibility.
The final part of the Primary Series is a set of inversions and finishing postures. This includes Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana), Headstand (Sirsasana), and the concluding pose, Corpse pose (Savasana). Inversions help to balance the energy, improve circulation, and calm the mind.
Throughout the Primary Series, a specific breathing technique called Ujjayi Pranayama is employed. Ujjayi breath involves a gentle constriction of the throat, creating an audible sound that serves as an anchor for the practice. This steady and rhythmic breathing helps to generate heat, build internal energy, and focus the mind.
The Primary Series is designed to be practiced consistently over time, with the practitioner gradually progressing through the sequence as their strength, flexibility, and understanding of the postures deepens. It is recommended to practice under the guidance of a qualified Ashtanga Yoga teacher who can provide adjustments, modifications, and guidance specific to the practitioner's needs and abilities.
The Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga offers numerous benefits, including increased physical strength, improved flexibility, enhanced focus and concentration, and a sense of calm and well-being. It also promotes detoxification of the body, improves posture and body alignment, and cultivates a disciplined and dedicated approach to yoga practice.
As with any yoga practice, it is important to approach the Primary Series with mindfulness, listening to the body's signals and respecting its limits. It is not necessary to achieve perfection in every posture, but rather to cultivate a steady and consistent practice, honoring the body's capabilities and limitations. With regular practice and dedication, the Primary Series can be a transformative and rewarding journey towards holistic well-being.
The accessibility of the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga depends on various factors, including an individual's physical condition, prior experience with yoga, and any specific limitations or injuries they may have. While the Primary Series is traditionally a challenging sequence, it can be modified and adapted to suit different practitioners' needs. Let's explore the accessibility of the Primary Series in more detail.
It is important to note that while the Primary Series can be accessible to many individuals, there may be some cases where it is not suitable. It is always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional and work with a qualified teacher when starting or modifying any yoga practice, especially if there are underlying health conditions or injuries.
Ultimately, the accessibility of the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga depends on a balanced approach that considers individual needs, proper guidance, and a willingness to adapt the practice to suit one's abilities. With the right guidance, modifications, and patience, the Primary Series can be a transformative and accessible practice for a wide range of practitioners.
Online Yoga School is offering an Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series Course Online to teach you the basics of Ashtanga yoga lineage, the history and the entire primary series.