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Insights on ashtanga vinyasa yoga and the Full Primary series


Different Yoga traditions in India

Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga is one of the intelligently designed sequences with a specific focus on moving the energy up the spine towards the Agya chakra (third eye) and the Sahasrar chakra (the crown chakra).

There are many traditions in India that follow different sequences of Yoga postures (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama), energetic locks (bandha), focussed gaze (drishti), energetic circuits (mudra), and mantra. These different sequences are designed for different types of people and on the basis of what would better suit them.

The Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is from the Mysore Yoga tradition (Mysore is a place in South India) and is designed in a particular way to bring spiritual energy up the spine. There are sequences from other traditions like the Shivananda Yoga traditions, which consist of a set of postures and breathing exercises with the main focus on grounding the energy. This sequence has some breathing exercises followed by some warmup and Sun salutations and a set of 12 postures sequenced in such a way that it has a grounding effect. It starts with a headstand followed by a shoulder stand(for the crown chakra, third eye) with some other postures for the intermediate chakras and finishes in the triangle pose (a standing pose for the root chakra) to have a grounding effect in the body (opposite of Ashtanga Vinyasa).

Another sequence called angamardana is from the Isha foundation Yoga tradition (popularised by Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev). Along with the above traditions, there are many other traditions in India most of which are not so well known and work on different aspects of the body and energies. Depending on who you are, you might be inclined towards a specific sequence and that sequence might work wonders for you.

Sometimes there is a debate about which sequence is better, none is better or worse, it’s just that everyone is different and some sequences might work better on you than others.

Understanding the name – Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

Ashtanga– Ashta + anga; meaning eight limbs; These eight limbs refer to the eight limbs of Yoga mentioned in The Patanjali Yoga Sutra (an ancient Yoga text). These eight limbs are included in the sequence, hence the name Ashtanga. In the below-mentioned table find out how each of the limbs has its place in the practice. For more details please check out the article Applying the 8 Limbs of Yoga to your Ashtanga Vinyasa Practice

Eight Limbs of YogaHow it applies to the Sequence?
Yama (Social ethics) and Niyama (Personal behavior)The lessons learned on the mat will provide a deeper and richer understanding of life off the mat. Read about how the Yama and Niyama apply to the sequence in detail here.
Asana (Postures)Several Postures of the sequence.
Pranayama (Breating Exercises)Ujjayi Breathing (ocean breath) that you are supposed to do while performing the movement and the postures.
Pratyahara (Withdrawing the senses)Withdrawing the senses by trying to listen to your own Ujjayi breath. Our senses are the food for the mind, so focusing the senses on your own sound helps to remove distractions.
Dharna (Concentration)Remembering to do focused Gaze (Drishti) and energetic locks (bandha) helps with the concentration practice.
Dhyana (Meditation)When you repeatedly practice the sequence and condition your body/ mind to follow the sequence without any thoughts in your mind you can achieve a flow meditative state, where you are not even thinking that “I need to do proper breathing or engage locks etc”, the flow state makes you move from one posture to other.
Samadhi (Absorption, Bliss)A state which you can achieve in Savasana, where you keep on meditating on the Third eye until you are completely absorbed in your being, a blissful state that is achieved after the practice.

Vinyasa– It is a way to breathe (either inhale, hold, or exhale) while performing a movement or getting into the posture. An easy rule would be to inhale while the chest is expanding like while lifting the hands or going into a back bend where the rib cage is expanding and an inhale would support this movement. Another rule would be to exhale while getting into a posture where your stomach is getting squashed, the exhale will create more space and allow you to get deeper into the posture (eg- seated forward bend). Based on these rules (and some other rules as well) proper Vinyasa needs to be followed while following the sequence for maximum benefits.

Vinyasa is not just moving from pose to pose, the specific breathing (inhale, exhale, or hold) is essential! Try to do one sun salutation as an experiment with contradictory breath and find out for yourself.

Where does the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga originate?

The Roots of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga can be found in an ancient Sanskrit text Yoga Korunta by Sage Vamana. This text was transcribed by Shri T Krishnamacharya and the Sequence in it was later popularised by Shi Pattabhi Jois, BNS Iyengar, Tkv Desicachar (Krshhnamacharya’s son), etc who were the direct students of Shri T Krishnamacharya. (The sequences from each of the above teachers have some small differences).

How is the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga sequence designed?

The Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga sequence is designed in the following way

  • Chanting Om three times followed by opening mantra
  • Starting Sequence – Sun Salutations A and B followed by the standing sequence
  • Primary series (or Second series, Advanced series could be added instead)
  • Finishing sequence
  • Savasana
  • Closing chant

Note:- If anyone is practicing the higher series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga all the above-mentioned parts remain the same except for the Primary series (Yoga Chikitsa- Yoga Therapy) the other series are added.

Download a free printable Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga sequence here.

Who should choose to practice the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga sequence?

There are so many different styles and traditions of Yoga Practice out there and depending upon who you are, you might be inclined towards choosing the one which works for you.

We cannot say that this sequence is better than others but we can help you understand the energetics and the mind and find out for yourself whether this Practice is for you.

  • The sequence is designed in such a way that it takes the energy up the spine toward the third eye and the crown chakra. The starting sequence works mostly on the first two chakras, the root and the sacral chakra (a particular posture might work more on one chakra but it doesn’t mean it might not affect the others). The mix of the postures in the primary series work on the sacral, solar plexus, and heart. The finishing sequence works mostly on the throat chakra, third eye, and crown chakra.
  • This is a very fast-paced practice so it is advisable to first gain an understanding of the body by doing some simple practices and reading at first so as to decrease the chances of injury.
  • It is an intense practice so if you are looking for an intense sweaty workout then this is for you.
  • This practice has a tendency to increase Vata which might lead to a subtle ache all over the body, clicky joints, and sleeplessness. Read more details about Ayurvedic Vata Dosha.
  • If are struggling with feeling lethargic and tired all the time then this can benefit you.
  • Those interested in understanding energy movement in the body on a personal level.
  • Anyone wanting to increase flexibility and strength in a balanced way (the practice can be slightly modified to your goal)
  • Anyone wanting to increase self-discipline and focus.
  • Some of you might think that it sounds boring to keep practicing the same sequence for years and years. The body understanding and benefits will be felt the most if you can dive into one practice thoroughly. However, if you are unable to stay motivated and maintain a practice it could be beneficial to keep trying different things and keep some creativity going on.

Read more – Ashtanga vinyasa yoga: resources