Unlocking the Ashtanga Primary Series: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Welcome to our comprehensive guide to the Ashtanga Primary Series! If you’re a dedicated yoga practitioner or someone looking to delve into the world of traditional yoga practices, the Ashtanga Primary Series is a cornerstone you should explore. The Ashtanga Primary Series, often referred to as Yoga Chikitsa, is a dynamic and physically demanding sequence of postures that forms the foundation of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced yogi, this guide will provide valuable insights into this transformative yoga practice. Throughout this post you’ll find YouTube videos to assist you.

What is the Ashtanga primary series?

The Ashtanga Primary Series is a set sequence of asanas (postures) that forms the foundation of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, this practice consists of a specific order of postures that are linked together with vinyasas (movement-breath coordination). The primary series is known as Yoga Chikitsa, which means “yoga therapy,” as it is designed to detoxify and purify the body, mind, and spirit.

The primary series is a challenging and dynamic practice that focuses on building strength, flexibility, and stamina. It begins with sun salutations (Surya Namaskara A and B) to warm up the body and establish a steady breath. Following the sun salutations, there are a series of standing, seated, and finishing postures. Each posture is designed to prepare the body for the next, creating a flowing and continuous practice.

Ashtanga is normally practiced in the morning upon first waking up. You will usually find two options if you take Ashtanga classes at your local yoga center. There are traditionally counted guided classes in which an instructor counts in Sanskrit as the entire class practices the Ashtanga Primary Series in unison.

You can also take a Mysore class. In this type of class, students practice Ashtanga at their own pace. The teacher is present to answer questions and assist you when you are having difficulty with a pose.

Why should beginners try the Ashtanga primary series?

The Ashtanga primary series offers numerous benefits for beginners. Firstly, it provides a structured and systematic approach to yoga, making it easier to establish a regular practice. The set sequence allows beginners to progress at their own pace, gradually deepening their practice over time.

Additionally, the primary series helps to build a solid foundation in yoga postures. By repeating the same sequence each time, beginners can better understand the postures and their alignment. This repetition also helps to develop muscle memory, allowing the body to become more familiar with the movements and transitions between postures.

Another benefit of the Ashtanga primary series for beginners is its focus on breath control. The practice emphasizes coordinating breath with movement, which helps to calm the mind and deepen the connection between the body and breath. This can be particularly beneficial for beginners who may struggle with mental distractions or finding a sense of calm during their practice.

Furthermore, the Ashtanga primary series offers a holistic approach to yoga, addressing not only the physical aspects but also the mental and spiritual aspects. The practice can help beginners develop mindfulness, self-awareness, and a sense of inner peace. It can also be a powerful tool for stress relief and relaxation.

Tips for beginners practicing the Ashtanga primary series:

1. Start slowly: It’s important for beginners to listen to their bodies and not push themselves too hard. Begin with shorter practice sessions and gradually increase the duration as you build strength and flexibility.

2. Focus on alignment: Pay attention to proper alignment in each posture to avoid injuries and get the most out of your practice. If necessary, seek guidance from a qualified yoga instructor who can help you with alignment cues.

3. Use props if needed: Don’t be afraid to use props such as blocks, straps, or blankets to support your practice. Props can help beginners find stability and ease in certain postures.

4. Take breaks when needed: If you feel fatigued or overwhelmed during your practice, take breaks. It’s important to listen to your body and give yourself the rest you need. Pushing through fatigue or pain can lead to injuries.

5. Be patient: Progress in yoga takes time. Don’t compare yourself to others or get discouraged if you can’t do certain poses right away. Trust the process and enjoy the journey.

6. Breathe deeply: Remember to focus on your breath throughout the practice. Deep, steady breathing can help you stay present and calm your mind.

7. Stay consistent: Consistency is key in yoga. Try to establish a regular practice schedule and stick to it. Even if you can only practice for a short time each day, consistency will yield better results than sporadic, longer sessions.

8. Listen to your body: If a pose feels uncomfortable or painful, modify it or skip it altogether. Always prioritize your safety and well-being.

9. Find a supportive community: Joining a yoga class or finding a community of fellow practitioners can provide motivation, support, and guidance. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can enhance your yoga journey. Joining Omstars will give you access to a vibrant online community of Ashtanga yoga practitioners who are willing to help you on your journey.

10. Enjoy the process: Remember that yoga is not about achieving a perfect pose but about the journey of self-discovery and self-improvement. Embrace the process, be kind to yourself, and enjoy the benefits that yoga brings to your mind, body, and spirit.

What are the main benefits of practicing Ashtanga primary series?

The Ashtanga primary series is a dynamic and physically challenging yoga practice that offers numerous benefits for both the body and mind. Here are the main benefits of regularly practicing the Ashtanga primary series:

1. Increased strength and flexibility: The primary series consists of a series of postures that systematically work on strengthening and stretching all the major muscle groups in the body. Through consistent practice, you will notice significant improvements in your strength, flexibility, and overall physical fitness.

2. Improved focus and concentration: Ashtanga yoga is known for its emphasis on breath control and drishti (gaze). As you move through the sequence of postures while synchronizing your breath, you develop a heightened sense of focus and concentration. This increased mental clarity carries over into your daily life, helping you to stay present and focused off the mat as well.

3. Detoxification and cleansing: The Ashtanga primary series includes a variety of twists and inversions, which stimulate the organs and promote detoxification and cleansing of the body. These postures help to improve digestion, boost the immune system, and remove toxins from the system, leaving you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

4. Stress reduction: The practice of Ashtanga yoga involves a combination of physical movement, breath control, and meditation. This holistic approach helps to calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote a sense of inner peace and tranquility. Regularly practicing the primary series can be a great way to manage stress and improve your overall mental well-being.

5. Increased energy and vitality: Ashtanga yoga is a vigorous practice that stimulates and energizes the body. The dynamic movements and deep breathing help to increase circulation, oxygenate the body, and release endorphins, resulting in a boost of energy and vitality.

6. Improved posture and alignment: The primary series is designed to align and strengthen the body, improving posture and overall body awareness. As you progress in your practice, you will develop better alignment and posture both on and off the mat, reducing the risk of injuries and promoting optimal physical health.

7. Balancing of emotions: The practice of Ashtanga yoga helps to balance and regulate emotions. The combination of physical movement, breath control, and meditation helps to release tension and negative emotions, allowing you to cultivate a sense of peace, happiness, and emotional well-being.

8. Cultivation of discipline and willpower: Ashtanga yoga requires commitment, discipline, and regular practice. By consistently showing up on your mat and dedicating yourself to the primary series, you cultivate discipline and willpower, which can positively impact all areas of your life.

9. Self-discovery and personal growth: Ashtanga yoga is a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. You will learn to listen to your body, connect with your breath, and cultivate mindfulness through the practice. This deep introspection can lead to a greater understanding of yourself, your patterns, and your true potential.

As a beginner, the primary series of Ashtanga yoga is a great place to start your journey. It is a set sequence of postures that are practiced in a specific order, allowing you to build strength, flexibility, and focus gradually. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

1. Find a qualified teacher: It is important to learn the primary series from a qualified and experienced teacher who can guide you through the practice safely and effectively. Look for yoga studios or teachers in your area who specialize in Ashtanga yoga or practice with online Ashtanga yoga classes on Omstars.

2. Start with the sun salutations: The primary series begins with a series of sun salutations, which are a sequence of flowing movements that warm up the body and build heat. This is a great way to start your practice and prepare your body for the more challenging postures to come.

3. Practice the standing postures: After the sun salutations, you will move on to a series of standing postures that help to strengthen the legs, improve balance, and increase flexibility. These postures also help to build heat in the body and improve overall circulation.

4. Move on to the sitting postures: Once you have completed the standing postures, you will move on to a series of sitting postures. These postures focus on opening the hips, stretching the hamstrings, and improving overall flexibility in the lower body. They also help to cultivate stability and grounding in the practice.

5. Learn the finishing sequence: The primary series concludes with a sequence of postures known as the finishing sequence. These postures include backbends, inversions, and seated forward folds, which help to cool down the body and bring the practice to a close. It is important to approach these postures with caution and listen to your body, as they can be more challenging and require a higher level of strength and flexibility.

6. Practice consistently: To fully benefit from the primary series, it is important to practice consistently. Aim to practice at least three times a week or as often as your schedule allows. Consistency is key to building strength, flexibility, and focus in your practice.

7. Be patient with yourself: As a beginner, it is important to be patient with yourself and not expect perfection right away. Yoga is a lifelong practice, and progress takes time. Embrace where you are in your practice and celebrate small victories along the way.

This modified class is a great way for beginners to get started with the Ashtanga primary series.

What is the correct breathing pattern for Ashtanga primary series?

The correct breathing pattern for the Ashtanga primary series is an integral part of this dynamic and challenging yoga practice. Known as “ujjayi breath,” it involves a deep, steady, and audible breath through the nose while constricting the back of the throat slightly. This technique helps to create internal heat, purify the body, and focus the mind.

As your yoga teacher guides you through the practice, they will give you cues so you know when to inhale and exhale. You can see examples in this primary series class.

Here are a few tips to help you develop a consistent and steady ujjayi breath:

1. Relax the muscles in your throat and jaw: To create the characteristic sound of ujjayi breath, gently constrict the back of your throat. This should not be a forced or strained action but rather a subtle engagement of the muscles in the throat. Keep your jaw relaxed and allow the breath to flow freely.

2. Breathe through your nose: In Ashtanga yoga, breathing through the nose is preferred as it filters and warms the air before it enters the lungs. It also helps to maintain a steady and controlled breath.

3. Find your rhythm: Each movement in the primary series has a specific breath pattern. Take your time to understand and memorize the sequence of inhalations and exhalations for each posture. As you become more familiar with the sequence, you will find a rhythm that works best for you.

4. Practice with awareness: As you move through the primary series, pay close attention to your breath. Notice any areas of tension or resistance in your body and use the breath to release them. Focus on the sensation of the breath moving in and out of your body, and let it guide and support your movements.

5. Stay present: The ujjayi breath is not just a physical technique but also a tool for mindfulness and presence. Use the sound of your breath as an anchor to keep your attention in the present moment. Whenever your mind starts to wander, gently bring your focus back to the breath.

6. Be patient with yourself: Developing a consistent and steady ujjayi breath takes time and practice. Don’t expect to master it right away. Be patient with yourself and trust that with regular practice, you will gradually improve. Celebrate each small progress and enjoy the journey of exploring and deepening your breath.

Remember, the ujjayi breath is not just a technique to be mastered but a lifelong practice. As you continue to practice yoga, your breath will evolve and change along with you. Embrace the process and allow your breath to be a source of strength, calmness, and connection in your practice.

What is the difference between the Ashtanga primary series and the Ashtanga intermediate series?

The Ashtanga primary series and the Ashtanga intermediate are two distinct sequences of yoga postures that are part of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system. While they both derive from the same traditional practice, they vary in terms of difficulty, intensity, and the postures included.

The primary series, also known as Yoga Chikitsa or “yoga therapy,” is the foundational sequence in Ashtanga Yoga. It focuses on purifying and detoxifying the body, building strength, and increasing flexibility. The primary series consists of a set sequence of postures practiced in a specific order and designed to open the body gradually. It starts with sun salutations, standing poses, and seated poses and ends with a set of finishing postures. The primary series is suitable for beginners as it establishes a solid foundation in yoga asanas (postures) and helps develop a strong and steady practice.

On the other hand, the intermediate series, also known as Nadi Shodhana or the “nerve cleansing” series, is a more advanced practice that builds upon the foundation established in the primary series. It introduces more challenging postures, including arm balances, deep backbends, and advanced inversions. The intermediate series focuses on purifying the nervous system and stimulating the energy channels in the body. It requires a deeper level of strength, flexibility, and concentration than the primary series. It is recommended to have a consistent and stable practice of the primary series before attempting the intermediate series.

How long should each Asana be held in the Ashtanga primary series?

In the Ashtanga primary series, each asana (yoga pose) is traditionally held for five breaths. This duration allows for a balanced practice that combines strength, flexibility, and breath control.

However, it’s important to note that the length of time for holding each asana can vary depending on individual factors such as physical ability, experience level, and personal goals. Beginners may find it challenging to hold each pose for the full five breaths initially. In such cases, it is recommended to start with shorter durations and gradually increase the holding time as strength and flexibility improve.

The primary series consists of numerous asanas, each with its own unique benefits and challenges. Some poses require more stability and strength, while others focus on stretching and opening certain areas of the body. By holding each asana for a consistent duration, you give yourself an opportunity to explore the pose, deepen your awareness, and experience its full benefits.

To maintain the integrity of the practice, it is essential to practice with mindfulness and respect for your body’s limitations. Listen to your body and adjust the holding time accordingly. It is better to hold the pose for a shorter duration with proper alignment and breath awareness than to force yourself into a longer hold that compromises your form and breath.

What are the yoga poses included in the primary series?

The primary series of Ashtanga Yoga consists of a specific sequence of yoga poses that are practiced in a specific order. The sequence is designed to create heat and purify the body, while also building strength, flexibility, and focus. Here are some of the key poses included in the primary series:

1. Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara A and B): These sequences of poses warm up the body and prepare it for the rest of the practice. They involve a combination of forward bends, backbends, and downward-facing dog poses.

2. Standing Poses: The primary series includes a variety of standing poses, such as Triangle Pose (Trikonasana), Warrior Poses (Virabhadrasana), and Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana). These poses build strength in the legs and core, while also improving balance and stability.

3. Seated Poses: The majority of the primary series consists of seated poses, which are held for longer durations. These include poses such as Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana), and Lotus Pose (Padmasana). Seated poses help to increase flexibility in the hips and hamstrings, and also promote grounding and introspection.

4. Primary Backbends: The primary series includes a few backbend poses, such as Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)and Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). These poses strengthen the back muscles and open the chest and shoulders.

5. Finishing Poses: The primary series concludes with a series of finishing poses, including Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) and Corpse Pose (Savasana). These poses provide a final opportunity for relaxation and integration of the practice.

Are there any specific dietary restrictions for practitioners of Ashtanga primary series?

Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic and physically demanding practice that focuses on synchronizing breath with a series of postures. While there are no specific dietary restrictions for practitioners of the Ashtanga primary series, maintaining a balanced and nourishing diet can greatly enhance your practice and overall well-being.

To optimize your performance on the mat and support your body’s needs, here are some general dietary guidelines that can be beneficial for Ashtanga practitioners:

1. Hydration: Staying properly hydrated is crucial for any physical activity, including yoga. Drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to ensure that your body is hydrated before, during, and after your practice.

2. Whole Foods: Emphasize whole, unprocessed foods in your diet. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds to provide your body with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

3. Balanced Macronutrients: Aim for a balanced intake of macronutrients, which include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Carbohydrates provide energy, proteins support muscle repair and growth, and healthy fats aid in nutrient absorption. Customize your macronutrient ratio based on your individual needs and consult a registered dietitian if necessary.

4. Adequate Protein: Ashtanga Yoga can be physically demanding and may require additional protein for muscle recovery and repair. Include sources of lean protein such as tofu, tempeh, legumes, and quinoa.

5. Mindful Eating: Practice mindful eating by paying attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Eat slowly, chew your food thoroughly, and savor each bite. This can help prevent overeating and promote better digestion.

6. Listen to Your Body: Everyone’s dietary needs and preferences are unique. Listen to your body and make adjustments as needed. If you have any specific dietary restrictions or concerns, consult a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized advice.

Remember, the most important aspect of your yoga practice is to listen to your body and honor its needs. By nourishing your body with a balanced diet, you can optimize your performance, enhance your well-being, and support your journey on the mat. Happy practicing!

Note: The information provided in this blog post is for general informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized advice based on your specific needs and circumstances.

What are the common mistakes to avoid when practicing Ashtanga primary series?

Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic and challenging practice that follows a specific sequence of postures known as the primary series. While it can be an incredibly rewarding and transformative practice, it is important for beginners to be aware of common mistakes to avoid in order to practice safely and effectively. Here are some common mistakes to watch out for when practicing the Ashtanga primary series:

1. Skipping the warm-up: One of the key components of the Ashtanga primary series is the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar). These sequences warm up the body and prepare it for the more intense postures that follow. Skipping or rushing through the warm-up can increase the risk of injury and prevent the body from properly opening up and gaining flexibility.

2. Sacrificing proper alignment for depth: Ashtanga yoga is often associated with deep and advanced postures. However, it is important to prioritize proper alignment over achieving extreme depth in the poses. Sacrificing alignment can lead to strain on the joints, muscles, and ligaments, increasing the risk of injury. Focus on maintaining a stable foundation and gradually work towards deeper expressions of the poses.

3. Holding the breath: The breath is a fundamental aspect of Ashtanga yoga. It is important to synchronize each movement with the breath and maintain a steady and smooth breath throughout the practice. Holding the breath or breathing shallowly can reduce the effectiveness of the practice and create unnecessary tension in the body. Remember to breathe deeply and fully into each posture to maximize its benefits.

4. Overexerting or pushing too hard: Ashtanga yoga can be it is important to listen to your body and not push beyond your limits. Overexerting yourself or trying to force your body into a posture can lead to injury. It is important to respect your body’s limitations and practice with mindfulness and patience. Modify poses as needed and take breaks when necessary.

5. Neglecting rest and recovery: Rest and recovery are essential aspects of any yoga practice, including Ashtanga. It is important to give your body time to recover and restore after each practice. Neglecting rest can lead to overtraining, fatigue, and increased risk of injury. Listen to your body and incorporate rest days into your practice to allow for proper recovery.

6. Comparing yourself to others: Ashtanga yoga is a personal practice, and it is important to remember that everyone’s journey is unique. Comparing yourself to others in the class or on social media can create unnecessary pressure and hinder your progress. Focus on your own practice, listen to your body, and honor your own journey.

7. Not seeking guidance from a qualified teacher: Ashtanga yoga is a complex practice that requires proper guidance and instruction. It is important to learn from a qualified teacher who can provide guidance on alignment, modifications, and progressions. A teacher can also help prevent and correct any mistakes in your practice, ensuring a safe and effective experience.

By being mindful of these common mistakes and taking the necessary steps to avoid them, you can ensure a safe, effective, and enjoyable journey as you embark on your Ashtanga yoga practice. Remember to start with the primary series as a beginner, focusing on building a strong foundation and gradually progressing at your own pace.

In conclusion, starting a yoga practice, particularly Ashtanga yoga, can be both exciting and challenging. By being aware of these common mistakes and taking the necessary precautions to avoid them, you can set yourself up for success on your yoga journey. Remember to approach your practice with patience, mindfulness, and respect for your body’s limitations. Seek guidance from a qualified teacher, prioritize rest and recovery, and most importantly, enjoy the process of learning and growing in your practice. With dedication and consistency, you will soon experience the numerous physical, mental, and spiritual benefits that Ashtanga yoga has to offer. Namaste.