I still remember the moment as if it were yesterday. As I was finishing my practice and I had done my 3 dropbacks, my teacher came up to me, looked at me with a smile, and said: “Pashasana?” And that was it. That was the start of the Ashtanga intermediate series for me.
My Ashtanga Intermediate Series Experience
I had been practicing Ashtanga yoga for around 4 years and had become quite comfortable with the Primary series. I’m going to emphasize the word QUITE as for any Ashtangi out there, you’ll know that it’s all work in progress! The more you progress the more you realize the work also needed in the foundational poses and sequences!
And so that was a long 6 years ago. Since then I have moved away from my beloved shala and teacher and became a home practitioner. Needing a connection to a teacher and community I traveled as much as I could and made annual pilgrimages to my 3 teachers:
Each teacher has their style and method and each has helped me along the way. I will say that I’m writing the article once a whole year since the pandemic started and so I haven’t practiced with any teacher in almost 2 years. And boy does it feel like a long time!
And this is one key point I would like to make here. For me at least, the more I practice and progress in the Ashtanga yoga world, the more crave practicing with a teacher. Even if it’s just a weekend workshop now and again. It’s that connection, not only with the teacher but also with the space and the community around the teacher. It is a source of energy, of light that is a sharp contrast to the lonely and lethargic practices I as a home practitioner often experience.
Of course, that is my experience and my thoughts.
I know many home yoga practitioners that love the solitude of a home practice. I wish that could be enough for me! So I’m counting down the days till we can travel again and I get to practice with one of my teachers.
Ashtanga intermediate series explained
The Ashtanga Intermediate Series is described in Sanskrit as nadi shodhana, which means the cleansing and opening of the subtle energy nervous system. The postures involve deep backbends, twists, leg-over-head poses, which together help open the energy channels and enable prana to flow more freely.
The Ashtanga Intermediate series follows on from the Primary series, which is also referred to as Yoga Chikitsa, or yoga therapy. And so the Primary series is there to help the body build strength though the many vinyasas, and also open up, thanks to the vast amount of forward folds and hips openings.
And so once the practitioner is ready, they may progress to the Ashtanga Intermediate series.
As Kino MacGregor mentioned in her book The Power of Ashtanga Yoga II: “The Ashtanga Yoga Intermediate series is one of the most demanding yoga practices; however, the rewards are proportional to the depth and difficulty of the practice”.
This is a wonderful YouTube video of the Intermediate series with John Scott that I love to practice along to sometimes.
The ashtanga intermediate series comprises a total of 41 asanas. These begin after the postures which are the same for all the Ashtanga yoga series (including the Sun Salutations and the fundamental postures till Pashvottanasana) as well as the finishing sequence (from Salamba Sarvangasana till Savasana).
If you are looking for a good visual resource of the Ashtanga intermediate series postures, then check out Ashtangayoga.info as each posture is photographed clearly.
And so if you are looking for a breakdown of the Ashtanga intermediate series asanas, as well as the function of each asana, then the following table may be helpful.
|Function of asanas||Ashtanga Intermediate Series postures|
|Back bending*||Shalabhasana, Bhekasana, Dhanurasana, Parsva Dhanurasana, Ushtrasana, Laghu Vajrasana, Kapotasana, Supta Vajrasana|
|Forward arm balance||Bakasana|
|Twisting||Bharadvajasana, Ardha Matsyendrasna|
|Leg behind head*||Ekapada Shirshasana, Dvipada Shirshasana, Yoganidrasana|
|Arm balance*||Pincha Mayurasana, Karandavasana, Mayurasana, Nakrasana|
|Hip and shoulder opener||Gaumukhasana|
|Twist||Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana|
|Headstands||Mukta Hasta Shirshasana and Badda Hasta Shirshasana|
You may have noticed an * next to some of the functions, namely the backbends, leg behind head, and the arm balance. According to Gregor Maelhe, in his book Ashtanga Yoga The intermediate series, these sets of postures are the essential parts. The rest are there to connect and prepare.
And it is no wonder, these are the poses where most people get “stuck at” and may take years to progress from or may practice till there.
When should I start my Ashtanga intermediate series?
As a rule of thumb, a basic requirement for someone to progress to the Ashtanga Intermediate series is that they have a consistent practice of the Primary series, six days a week for at least a year. In this time, we give the body and mind time to prepare for the channels of the intermediate series.
It is worth pointing out that there are several schools of thought concerning progression to the Ashtanga Intermediate series.
The ‘intermediate series only after being able to come up after a dropback’ school of thought
There are those who follow the path of Sharath Jois’s teachings. Here a practitioner is allowed to progress if he or she is able to come up from a backbend. Of course, it goes without mentioning that Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana, Marichyasana D, and Supta Kourmasana should be practiced with ease. But it is the proficient backbend that is the key gateway requirement.
The ‘aim for balance and allow practitioners to experience the backbends of intermediate series’ school of thought
The other way of thinking doesn’t place that much emphasis on the ability to come up from a backbend. And so the teacher of this school of thought doesn’t want practitioners to spend most of their lives doing all the intense forward folds of the Primary series. And instead, aim to guide practitioners along with a more balanced approach of forward folds from primary series and backbends from Intermediare series.
I can see the benefits of both schools of thought. I was taught the first but the more I now teach, the more I see the advantages of the second. And so there really is no size fits all. It already does depend on the teacher, the student, whether there are any injuries or things to consider, and also, quite importantly, what the teacher is comfortable with teaching.
Ashtanga Intermediate series recommended books
Kino MacGregor – The Power of Ashtanga Yoga II
The Power of Ashtanga Yoga II is the follow-up from her primary series book and it is geared towards more experienced Ashtanga yoga practitioners.
In this book, Kino McGregor discusses when a student is ready to start the intermediate series of Ashtanga, as well as the purification aspects of the practice, pranayama techniques, and other interesting parts of the practice.
Additionally, she goes into great detail of each intermediate asana and through a series of over 250 photographs, demonstrates the entire intermediate series.
Gregor Maehle – Ashtanga Yoga The intermediate series
Ashtanga Yoga The intermediate series is a follow-up to Gregor Maelhe’s first book on the primary series. It is targeted at more experienced practitioners.
As with his first book, Gregor Maelhe goes into great detail explaining each and every pose and provides information on how to deepen your Ashtanga yoga practice.
He also explains how to use Indian myth and cosmology to deepen your practice, the importance of Sanskrit language to the yogic tradition as well as the mythology behind the names of the asanas in the intermediate series.
Petri Räisänen – Nadi Sodhana
Similar to the two books just mentioned, Nadi Sodhana is a follow-up to Petri Räisänen’s first book.
Aimed towards the more experienced Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Petri Räisänen illustrates the intermediate series, clearly explains each and every asana both individually and as a complete training system.
Additionally, Petri Räisänen also offers a very detailed description of the Ashtanga yoga philosophy and how it can be integrated into our everyday life.
As a side note, I wrote an article about the best Ashtanga yoga books. Be sure to check it out!
My tips for Ashtanga intermediate series
1. Learn with an experienced teacher
As a general rule, it is important to learn yoga with an experienced teacher. And so this becomes even more important as we dive deeper into the Ashtanga intermediate series. On both a physical level, but also on an emotional level, having an experienced teacher will help us overcome obstacles.
And these obstacles may be in a physical form, meaning we may need guidance with certain poses that may challenge us. However, it is also important to look at the emotional level. The deep backbends and hip openings of the Ashtanga Intermediate series may help us release any emotional blocks we may be experiencing.
And so having an experienced teacher who has also been through what you are going through may help enrich your journey.
2. Be patient
We all have our physical limits. And in any practice, we are able to get a good idea of where these limits are. The sad fact is that if we do push our physical limits and force our body into any position it may not be ready for, we will most likely get injured.
The Ashtanga Intermediate series is a very physically demanding practice, and so it asks us to be patient and practice consistently and with compassion.
Unfortunately, injuries are not that uncommon as we are learning our limits and learning our range of motion. And so with the experience, we learn to tap into our body’s natural intelligence and learn to take our body to where it is safe to go.
3. Focus on the closing postures
By practicing the Ashtanga Intermediate series we build up quite a lot of energy, especially through all the deep backbends. And so it is no wonder that this sequence ends with a series of seven backbends.
However, even if you have not reached them yet, try to spend a bit more time in the finishing postures. The reason being that they will help ground all that energy.
And the result? You may feel less on edge after your practice.
4. Don’t forget Ashtanga primary series
As we progress into the Ashtanga Intermediate series, it can be quite easy to forget about all the foundational poses in the primary series. Is it our ego talking? Probably!
And yet as any experienced teacher will tell you, as far as we progress into Ashtanga yoga, it is always important to come back to the Primary series. Perhaps that is why it is encouraged to be practiced once a week(for those who have progressed into further series).
This about janu sirsasana or supta kurmasana helping you open your hips for ekapada sirshasana. Or all the vinyasas helping you strengthen your arms for pincha mayurasana.
5. Consider doing some extra work
As our physical body progresses through the Ashtanga Inetremrdiate series, it is also important to cultivate the other 7 limbs of the Ashtanga yoga practice.
And so there are so many well-written books by some of the most experienced Ashtanga yoga teachers out there. And so my advice would be to focus on studying and uncovering other parts of the practice that you feel can complement your asana practice.
It may be chanting, it may be meditation, or pranayama, or studying the sutras.
And so if you are looking for the best ashtanga yoga books, then you may find my article helpful: The 23 Best Ashtanga Yoga Books 2020 (Beginners & Home Practitioners)
6. Be nice to yourself
We often have an internal dialogue that goes on during our practice. More often than not it is negative thoughts about ourself and about our practice. So imagine what its like when there is nobody else there to speak encouraging words or something there whose presence motivates us to push beyond.
And so especially if you are noticing your physical limitations in your practice, try to stay away from guilt. This is easier said than done of course! Instead, try to focus on the things you could do and the things you are finding easier to the things that you seem to be improving on.
And change the voice in your head to one that is your biggest fan.
7. Don’t give up
Saying to yourself, just do it can be very powerful. It doesn’t really matter whether you could put your foot behind your head or whether you were able to lower down in karadavasana and come up unassisted. Just doing what you could on that day is powerful.
And for a quote that you probably know by now but may help:
Do your Practice and All is ComingSri K Pattabhi Jois
8. Try to only practice Ashtanga Intermediate series in the morning
There really is something special about starting your day with yoga. Your mind tends to be quieter so you may feel more grounded. Your body may be stiffer, but that feeling of starting your day in such a positive way can work wonders on your mood for the rest of the day.
That is how I felt with my morning Ashtanga practice. Yes, it took several sun salutations to get over the initial morning stiffness, but it was very easy to be in the zone.
In a morning yoga practice, you may want to include many energizing postures. Start off with sun salutations and add in backbends and perhaps even some inversions.
Regarding Ashtanga Intermediate series specifically, due to all the intense backbends, our energy levels may go through the roof! And so you will find it rather hard to fall asleep after all that intense back bending.
Aim to practice in the morning, and that way you get to enjoy your day with all that beautiful energy you built up in your practice.
Frequently asked questions
What are the Ashtanga intermediate series names of poses?
- Pashasana – Noose Pose
- Krounchasana – Heron Pose
- Shalabhasana A, B – Locust Pose
- Bhekasana – Frog Pose
- Dhanurasana – Bow Pose
- Parsvadhanurasana – Side Bow Pose
- Ustrasana – Camel Pose
- Laghu Vajrasana – Little Thunderbolt Pose
- Kapotasana – Dove Pose
- Supta Vajrasana – Sleeping Thunderbolt Pose
- Bakasana – Crow Pose
- Bharadvajasana – Bharadvāja’s Pose (name of a sage)
- Ardha Matsyendraasana – Half Matsyendraasana’s Pose (name of a sage)
- Ekapada Sirsasana A, B, C – One foot behind the head
- Dwipada Sirsasana B – Two feet behind the head Pose
- Yoga nidrasana – Yoga Sleep Pose
- Tittibhasana A, B, C – Firefly Pose
- Pincha Mayurasana – Peacock Tail Pose
- Karandavasana – Himalayan Goose Pose
- Mayurasana – Peacock Pose
- Nakrasana – Crocodile Pose
- Vatayanasana – Horse Face Pose
- Parighasana – Iron Bar Pose
- Gomukhasana A, B, C – Cow Face Pose
- Supta Urdhvapada Vajrasana A, B – Sleeping Elevated Vajra’s Pose
- Mukta Hasta Sirsasana A, B, C – Open Hand Head Stand
- Baddha Hasta Sirsasana A, B, C, D – Bound Hand Head Stand
How many Ashtanga series are there?
There are 6 series of Ashtanga yoga. The first is the Primary Series (Yoga Chikitsa), the second is the Intermediate Series (Nadi Shodhana), and then it is the Advanced series (Sthira Bhaga), which is made of Advanced A, B, C, and D. All series start with the sun salutations and standing postures.
Is Ashtanga the hardest yoga?
As a general rule, Ashtanga yoga is a physically demanding practice. You will get tired and you will sweat. There are other physically demanding yoga practices, such as power yoga and vinyasa flow. What makes Ashtanga considered to be one of the hardest is the constant flow and the many vinyasas.
For more information, check out my article: Vinyasa vs Ashtanga: Which one is harder?