Ashtanga yoga is a chief-variant of Hatha yoga popularized by Shri K.Pattabhi Jois. A dynamic, intensive yoga practice synchronizing movements with the breath to produce internal heat designed to detoxify the body. Ashtanga yoga with its many vinyasas is great for strengthening and toning the body. The practice of Ashtanga yoga confers the practitioner with increased strength, flexibility, mental serenity enhanced focus and innumerable benefits.
The Mysore style of Ashtanga yoga consists of six series: Primary, secondary and four advanced series each one having a set order of yoga asanas. Each of the six series starts with the practice of sun salutation, followed by standing sequence and ending with finishing series. For a novice, dwelling in the primary series of asana is the best option.
Ashtanga Primary Series:
Ashtanga primary series is known as ‘yoga chikitsa’ meaning yoga therapy in English. It is aimed at purifying the mind and body from toxins thus preparing it for higher physical and meditation practices. On a physical level, the practice of yoga asanas builds core strength, tones the body, lubricates the joints and helps to build resistance. On a mental level, it improves focus, enhances confidence, calms the nervous system. On a subtle level, the primary series of asanas work towards the clearing of nadis (energy channels) from smooth flow of prana enabling effective working of mind and body.
The series begins with the practice of Surya Namaskar (A) followed by six standing poses followed by seated postures or inversions and ending the series in corpse pose.
Surya Namaskar A:
1. Samasthiti: Stand on a yoga mat with a straight spine, feet together and weight evenly distributed over the feet. Draw your abdominal muscles in, roll your shoulder blades back, open your chest and raise your arms up toward the ceiling. Take a deep breath and raise your hands up and fix your gaze at the thumbs.
2. Standing forward bend or Uttanasana: From the samasthiti, come to standing forward fold pose. Exhale; bend forward at the waist and bring your arms down. Place your hands on the back of the calves. Ensure your back and legs are straight.
3. Plank Pose or Kumbhakasana: Breathe out and step back with your legs and extend your arms in front of you. Curl your toes inwards, tuck your elbows to the side of the body and align your heart with the arms. Make sure your body falls in a straight line.
4. Upward Facing dog pose or Urdhva Mukha Asana: Transition to upward dog pose from plank pose by lowering your knees to the mat. Bring your chest and chin to rest on the mat. Now, pressing your hands into the floor lift your chest up as higher as possible and look up towards the ceiling.
5. Downward facing dog pose or Adho Mukho Svanasana: Upon exhalation; bring your knees on the floor. Pressing your palms into the ground. Extend your legs behind and come into a downward facing dog position. Keep your gaze fixed on your navel. Keep breathing in and out during the entire pose.
6. Samasthiti: End the sun salutation in the samasthiti pose. Upon exhalation; step to the front of the yoga mat. Inhale, bring your arms to the side of your body and erect spine.
Standing Yoga Poses:
1. Triangle Pose or Trikonasana: Stand on a yoga mat with feet hip-distance apart. Align your heels with each other. Turn your right foot out towards 90-degrees angle and left foot inwards at 45-degree angle. Raise your arms parallel to the ground and turn your body to your right side. Lower your right arm and place your right hand on the ground. Simultaneously, extend your left arm up towards the ceiling. Gaze at your right thumb.
2. Hand to toe pose or Padangusthasana: Stand upright on a yoga mat with hands on your hips. Exhale; bend forward at the hips and bring your arms to the floor. Now, grab the big toes of your feet and rest your forehead on your thighs.
3. Extended hand to big toe pose or Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana: Stand on a yoga mat and upon exhalation bend your right knee and hold the big toe with the right hand. While inhaling, extend your right leg keeping your fingers entwined with the big toe.
4. Warrior Pose or Virabhadrasana: Stand upright and tall on a floor. Spread your feet 3-4 inches apart. Turn your right foot out to form a right angle and form an acute angle with your left foot. Twist your body to the right and bend your right knee. Stretch your arms above and fold them in prayer position.
5. Chair Pose or Utkatasana: Stand on the floor with arms at your side. Gently lower your hips to the ground (as if sitting in a chair) and shift your weight to your heels. Raise your hands above and make them parallel to the floor.
6. Wide leg Forward bend or Prasarita Padottanasana: Begin in mountain pose and spread your legs 3-4 feet. Upon exhalation; bend forward at the waist and place your hands on the floor.
Sitting Pose :
1. Seated Forward bend pose or Paschimottanasana: Sit on a yoga mat with legs stretched in front of you. Breathe out and bend forward. Rest your forehead and chin on the thighs. Hold the big toes of your feet with your hands.
Corpse Pose or Savasana: Lie flat on the floor with legs stretched and arms by your side. Close your eyes and relax your body. Remain in this pose for five minutes.
Practice this Ashtanga yoga sequence to experience physical and mental relaxation.