Ashtanga yoga is one of the most popular styles of yoga. It can be considered to be a moving meditation, as we flow in and out of the Ashtanga yoga poses, always guided by the breath.
According to David Swenson in his book Ashtanga Yoga – The Practice Manual “The particular system of yoga described in this manual is derived from the teachings of K. Pattabhi Jois. He learned this dynamic method from his teacher, Krishnamacharya, and in turn, has handed it down to thousands of students around the world.”
If you are a beginner to this practice, definitely check out my article Ashtanga Yoga For Beginners: A Detailed Guide.
Below, you’ll find the Ashtanga yoga poses of the Primary Series, to give you an idea of what we practice! But keep in mind that it is best to learn under the guidance of an experienced Ashtanga yoga teacher.
As a side note, I added a variety of photographs of myself taken in Mysore, India as well as photos from other people, so as to give you a variety of body types and abilities.
We start every Ashtanga yoga practice with the Ashtanga opening chant. This is normally carried out in a call and response manner, which means that the teacher chants a line and the students then repeat.
The opening mantra offers a blessing of gratitude to all the teachers of the lineage that have enabled the practice to continue.
We then start off the practice with the two Ashtanga yoga sun salutations. Regardless of how experienced or not we are, each practice begins this way.
- Sun Salutation A – 5 times
- Sun Salutation B – 5 times (or 3 usually)
The Standing Sequence
Once the body is warmed up from the Sun Salutations, we then move on to the 13 standing poses and stay in each of these for 5 breaths.
These standing postures generally focus on balance and alignment, as well as gravity-assisted flexibility increasing postures.
Padangushtasana & Padahastasana
Foot big toe posture & Foot to hand posture
Once the body had warmed up from the sun salutations, it’s now time for the first of the standing Ashtanga yoga poses. Both help to lengthen the entire backside of the body.
In Padangushtasana we hold on to the big toe, while in Padahastasana we place the palms under the feet. Beginners are encouraged to bend their knees if they have trouble reaching for the toes.
Extended triangle posture
Uttita Trikonasana, also known as Triangle Pose, is the next Ashtanga yoga pose. Balance and alignment are the focus here.
Triangle pose can help strengthen the legs and also helps to open the hips.
Revolved triangle posture
Parivritta Trikonasana is the accompanying pose to Uttita Trikonasana, as it is the revolved version of Triangle pose. It is a wonderful spinal twist and it is the first twisting pose of the Ashtanga primary series.
Most beginners place the bottom hand on a block, especially if there is limited flexibility in the hamstrings.
Extended side angle posture
Utthita Parshvakonasana is the first of the next set of poses. It is a sideways stretch where we aim to keep the pine in a straight line. Aim to create length from the extended foot all the way up to the fingertips of the extended arm.
Revolved side angle posture
Parivritta Parshvakonasana is the second spinal rotation of the Ashtanga primary series and is the counterpose of Utthita Parshvakonasana.
We aim to use opposing forces between the arm and the leg, especially if we are in the full expression of the pose. This may help us create a more stable spinal rotation.
Prasarita Padottanasana (A, B, C & D)
Feet spread intense stretch posture
This pose has 4 variations: A, B, C, D. All are similar expressions of the pose, with a variety of different hand placements. Aim to keep the legs active and try to engage your bandhas.
Beginners are encouraged to avoid rounding the back by bending the knees if necessary.
Intense side stretch posture
In Parshvottanasana we square the hips and aim to lead with the sternum. Aim to create a firm foundation and press into the big toe of the front foot, as this may help with stability and balance.
Gaze at the toes of the front foot, as this may help encourage the lengthening of the torso.
Utthita Hasta Padangushtasana
Extended hand big toe posture
Utthita Hasta Padangushtasana is the first of the two balancing Ashtanga yoga poses. The previous poses help to prepare the body for this pose.
Aim to keep your hips level and your spine long. This pose is practiced with the top leg extended forward for 5 breaths, then it opens to the side for 5 breaths, and then it extends and is released by the hand in a hands-free lift version for another 5 breaths.
Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana
Half bound lotus intense stretch posture
Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana is a highly challenging balance posture that engages the entire body. It asks us to balance and fold forward while one foot is in lotus.
There are certain beginners versions. One focuses on balance and the other focuses on hip opening. Ask your teacher which one is best for your body.
Utkatasana is the start of the ‘Warrior Sequence’ of poses that then lead us to the seated sequence.
Think of sitting on an imaginary chair, and aim to keep your knees and big toes touching. Keep your arms straight and upright and gaze at your thumbs.
Virabhadrasana (A & B)
Virabhadrasana marks the end of the Standing Sequence. We practice two versions of warrior pose, A and B.
In Warrior A we extend the arms up straight, while in Warrior B we open them wide to the side.
The Seated Sequence
Stick or Staff Posture
Before moving to the seated forward folds, we stay in Dandasana for 5 breaths. We aim to form straight lines with the arms, legs, and back.
Even those this pose may look easy, if practiced with awareness it is actually more challenging than it seems as there are many opposing forces at work.
- Lift through the crown of the head while grounding the pelvis
- Shoulders back and down with the palms firmy on the ground
- Chest opens and lifts
- Enegage the legs by pressing the heels of the feet to the floor. Aim to keep this action in particular throughout the rest of the forward folds.
Western intense stretch posture
Paschimattanasana has 3 variations, each of which works on a variety of hand placements.
This pose helps to stretch out the entire back side of the body. Beginners are encouraged to bend the knees, especially if there is any discomfort in the lower back.
Eastern intense stretch posture
Purvatanasana is a counterpose of the previous forward folding. it is sometimes referred to as reverse plank.
Our aim is to left up and keep the toes on the floor. If this is too challenging, bend the knees and lift the hips up.
One tip is to bring the hands quite back when preparing to enter this pose so that when you lift up, your wrists are under the shoulders.
Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana
Half bound lotus western intense stretch posture
Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana can be seen as the seated version of the second balancing posture, Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana.
With gravity on our side, we can experience the intense stretch.
Trianga Mukhaekapada Paschimattanasana
Three limbs face one foot western stretch posture
Trianga Mukhaekapada Paschimattanasana is a counterpose to the previous posture, where the bent leg is folded transversely.
Most beginners find this pose rather challenging and may find that their body falls to the side as they fold forward. One way to help is to square the hips by placing a yoga block under the pelvis.
Janu Shirshasana (A, B & C)
Head to knee posture
There are three versions of Janu Sirsasana, each with different foot placement. Aim to keep the sternum facing forward as you fold so as to avoid rounding the back.
For more information on how to do it, check out my article: Janu Sirsasana: Step-by-step Guide for Beginners
Marichyasana (A, B, C & D)
Dedicated to Marichi
As far as Ashtanga yoga poses are concerned, there are four variations of Marichyasana, the first two are forward folds, while the second two are spinal rotations.
For more information, check out my guides on each version:
Navasana helps strengthen the spinal region. Aim to keep the lower back lifting and bring your shoulders back. If this pose is too intense, then a beginners’ version is to keep the knees bent.
Interestingly, this pose generally marks the end of the Half Primary Series. If you are practicing a shorter version of Ashtanga yoga, then this is where you will be stopping to then move on to back bending.
Arm pressure posture
Bhujapidasana is the first arms balancing posture of the Ashtanga primary series.
The aim is to bend the elbows so that the elbows are above the wrists. This helps to create a shelf for your thighs to rest on top of the elbows.
The full expression of the pose asks us to bind the feet, left them from the floor, and then fold forward and bring the chin to the floor. Most beginners work on finding the strength and balance to stay upright.
With time this balance can become less tiring than it may initially seem.
Kurmasana resembles the shape of a tortoise, and that is where this posture gets its name.
This can be a very challenging posture, especially for those with tight hamstrings. For those who have enough flexibility, aim to place your chest and shoulders on the floor.
Sleeping tortoise pose
Supta Kurmasana is practiced just after Kurmasana, which can be considered as a gatekeeper to this pose. And so if Kurmasana is too advanced for you, then avoid ding this version.
Here we aim to bring the hands behind the back and cross the feet above/behind the head. It is an advanced posture that can take many people years to slowly open up into.
This is one of the most challenging Ashtanga yoga poses and is best practiced under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
Garbha Pindasana and Kukkutasana
Womb embryo posture
In order to practice the full expression of these postures, it is important to be able to bring both feet in lotus pose. Alternatively, you can practice a variation of this pose with legs in a crosslegged variation.
For Garbha Pindasana, if we are in lotus, then slide your arms through the legs. If lotus is too much for us, then bring legs into half lotus or simple cross-legged variation, and reach around the thighs.
We then roll back and up 8 times and on the last inhale we come up to Kukkutasana as is shown in the image above.
Bound angle posture
Baddha Konasana can be seen as a counterpose to the two previous postures.
It is a wonderful hip opener and I think this is one of my favorite Ashtanga yoga poses!
Seated angle posture
Upavishta Konasana is the seated version of the standing Prasarita Padottanasana variations.
This pose can help to stretch the spine, the lower back, and the waist.
Sleeping angle pose
Supta konasana is the first of the inversions of the Ashtanga yoga poses and can be seen as a preparation for shoulder stand.
We first lie back with our legs over our head and stay there for 5 breaths. On an inhale we lift up (as is shown in the image) and then exhale lower down.
Lateral sleeping thumb to foot pose
Supta Padangushtasana can be seen as the lying-down version of the first balancing posture. It can feel easier, as now the focus is not on the balance.
Aim to keep the hips level as you open the leg to the side.
Both thumbs to feet pose
Ubhaya Padangushtasana is practiced the same as Supta Konasana, only this time the legs are together.
We start by lying down and bringing our feet up overhead on the floor. Hold on to your big toe. Inhale and come up and stay for 5 breaths.
If done correctly, this pose can help strengthen the waist and stomach.
Urdhva Mukha Paschimattanasana
Upward facing western intense stretch posture
Urdhva Mukha Paschimattanasana is similar to the previous posture, only this time we hold on to the outer edges of the feet.
It can be challenging to come up to this pose with the legs straight, and so at first work on coming up with bent knees.
Setu Bandhasana can help to strengthen and stabilize the neck. Though I will openly admit that that is by far my least favorite Ashtanga yoga pose.
Best practice this particular posture under the guidance of an experienced Ashtanga yoga teacher.
Elevated bow pose
Urdhva Dhanurasana, also known as Wheel Pose, is a physically demanding yoga pose where the spine goes into extension. In Sanskrit, it is called Urdhva Dhanurasana, translated as Upward-Facing Bow. It can be helpful to consider Wheel Pose as a full front stretch rather than a backend, given that it stretches the entire front body.
If you are looking to learn how to properly practice Wheel pose (and find out its many benefits) check out my article Wheel Pose: Tips & Tricks for Urdhva Dhanurasana.
Western intense stretch posture
Give yourself (and your lower back in particular) a little release from backbends, next up is Pashimatanasana, and stay here for 10 breaths.
The Finishing Sequence
Whole body supported posture
Salamba Sarvangasana is the first of the finishing sequence. We now begin to slow down the breath and stay here for 10 breaths.
Our weight is distributed between the shoulders, arms, and elbows. If this pose seems too challenging for you, then consider using blankets to help elevate the shoulders and arms and keep only the head on the floor. This will help to lift the weight from the neck, which can be very uncomfortable for many students.
Halasana is the next pose in the shoulder stand series. Here we bring the legs over the head and point the toes. Our hands come behind our back and if possible, clasp the fingers behind your back.
Ear pressure pose
Karnapindasana is also referred to as the Ear Pressure pose as we can press the knees on the ears while practicing this posture.
Keep in mind that in Ashtanga yoga, we would normally keep our hands clasped behind our back, as opposed to how it is shown in the above photograph.
Upward lotus posture
Urdhva Padmasana is the lotus version of shoulder stand. If you have trouble entering lotus, you can bring your legs into a cross-legged variation.
For Pindasana we bring the knees to the chest. Most beginners lie on their back and hug their legs.
Matsyasana is the counter posture to the previous shoulder stand variations. It can be practiced with legs in a cross-legged variation. Additionally, if your neck is sensitive, rest the entire back on the floor.
Extended leg posture
Uttana Padasana is the next version of the previous posture, where the arms and legs are now extended.
Head standing posture
Shishasana can be considered the king of all asanas. Here, we stay upside down, with little to no weight on the head.
Most beginners practice this with the help of a wall, though it is advised to learn this pose with an experienced teacher.
For more information on how to do it, check out my article Salamba Sirsasana: Step-by-step guide to headstand
Baddha Padmasana & Yoga Mudra
Bound lotus pose & Yoga gesture
Bringing the practice to a close, we now enter bound lotus or any cross-legged variation. Fold forward and allow your head to come to the floor and stay here for 5 breaths.
This is now the time to sit comfortably and focus on the breath. I like to take my time here and focus on counting my breath.
In Ashtanga yoga we generally practice lotus pose with our right foot on top. If you are curious about why we do this, check out my article: Why Right Leg First In Lotus Pose?
One thing to mention is that in Mysore, Sharath now guides us through Nadi Shodhana Pranayama before entering Uth Pluthi.
Uth Pluthi is the last bit of effect you need for the practice before finally relaxing in Savasana.
In this final pose, aim to lift up for at least 5 breaths.
Everyone’s favorite yoga pose, Savasana marks the end of the Ashtanga yoga poses.