Ashtanga yoga is a set sequence of poses that is practiced the same all around the world. It is generally taught in a Mysore style setting, where each student slowly memorizes the sequence of poses and does need the teacher to guide the class. And so most beginners to Ashtanga yoga wonder how long it takes to remember all the poses.
It can take an average of 1 month of consistent practice to learn the poses of the Ashtanga yoga primary series. Naturally, this depends on how often you practice. Ashtanga yoga is generally taught in a Mysore style setting, which is the best place for beginners to gradually learn the poses.
As a side note, it’s important to point out that this article is about how long it takes to memorize the sequence. It can take a lifetime to really learn the poses.
I have students who come to one or two Mysore classes a week, and as expected, it takes them much longer to learn the sequence. And of course, on the flip side, I have students who come almost every day and they were able to memorize the poses much faster.
Yoga-tip: An informative book on Ashtanga yoga can really help you understand more about the practice, learn the poses, and may even motivate you to never give up. If you are looking for an Ashtanga book by the most experienced and dedicated Ashtanga yoga teachers out there, check out the best Ashtanga yoga books on Amazon now!
- Simple Tips For An Ashtanga Yoga Home Practice
- 10 Wonderful Benefits of Ashtanga Yoga
- Ashtanga Yoga For Beginners: A Detailed Guide
- The 23 Best Ashtanga Yoga Books 2020 (Beginners & Home Practitioners)
If you are an Ashtanga yoga beginner and you are wondering how to remember the poses of the primary sequence, then have a look at my 10 top tips to help you out.
1. Learn with an experienced teacher
Learning with an experienced teacher can make all the difference to your practice and also to your understanding of the practice. Your teacher will be able to offer you guidance and any advice you may need.
I consider myself lucky as my teacher had been practicing and teaching for a decade when I started learning. She also went to Mysore to study with Sharath Jois every year and then became Authorized, as did I several years later. And it was thanks to her and her dedication to the practice that I then made my own pilgrimage to Mysore on a yearly basis.
And so an experienced Ashtanga teacher will have a good understanding of the practice and will be able to explain aspects that may confuse you. They will also understand how certain poses are meant to feel and will also be able to guide you in and out of postures in a safe manner that will also allow for your progression.
2. Go to a Mysore class
There are two ways Ashtanga yoga is typically taught. One is a led class setting and the other is a Mysore style class. Both can be suitable for beginners, however, if you want to learn the poses, then I would recommend you go regularly to a Mysore style class.
The reason is that in a led class the teacher guides the class and calls out each breath and each posture, generally in Sanskrit. This is great to learn the rhythm of the practice and flow through the poses with the other students in the class.
However, the truth is that you are not very likely to learn the poses in a guided class as our brains tend to switch on to autopilot and instead follow what the teacher is guiding rather than think what pose comes next.
And so in a Mysore style class, the teacher does not instruct the class. Instead, the students start to slowly and gradually learn the sequence of postures. And so in a Mysore style class, everyone practices the set sequence of the Ashtanga yoga postures following the rhythm of their own breath.
You will be surprised at how fast you learn the postures if you start attending Mysore style classes!
And so if you are a beginner and are not sure if this is the right class for you, ask your local Ashtanga studio or the teacher and follow their advice. They may instruct you to first attend a beginner’s workshop or a few Ashtanga half primary classes.
However, if the studio does indeed have Mysore classes, they will most likely advise you to gradually start coming there.
3. Practice regularly
“Practice and all is coming” is one of Pattabhi Jois’s most famous quotes. And it really can be applied to many aspects of the practice. Even regarding memorizing the sequence.
Practice really does make perfect. And in this case, practice will help you learn the Ashtanga postures, as difficult or as daunting as it may seem at first.
Ashtanga yoga is generally practiced 6 days a week. And so in essence, this is asking us to be consistent with the practice and make it part of our daily routine. You may even notice that once you do have a consistent practice, it will become easier to learn the poses.
With time you will start noticing that if you practice once in a while, your practice will not really progress, and will have trouble remembering the poses. If 6 days a week is too much for you, then try to practice at least twice a week but try to be consistent.
4. Build up slowly
Ashtanga yoga follows the same sequence of postures. And each sequence begins with the sun salutations. If you are working on remembering the poses then aim to learn the correct breathing (‘Ujjayi breath’ or ‘Breathing with sound’) and then learn to add on the movement in the sun salutations, always in sync with the breath.
By spending time at first on the foundations of the practice, the correct breathing, and then how to link that to movement, this will help you remember the poses.
Here is one of my 30-minute practice videos you could start practicing with:
5. Right side first
In Ashtanga yoga, one of the rules is that it is the right side first. And so we notice this even in the sun salutations. More specifically, in Surya Namaskara B, after the first downward-facing dog, on an inhale we step the right foot forward, and then the left.
And then in the seated postures, this may become more obvious. And so in each posture, we bring in the right foot first and then the left.
Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana – right leg first
Tiryam-Mukha Eka-Pada Paschimottanasana – right leg first
Janu Shirshasana A, B, C – right leg first
The exception to this rule are two poses: Marichyasana B and D. And the reason is that in these poses we bring the left foot into lotus, but the focus is on the right leg.
6. Become familiar with the groups of postures
One thing that might help you learn the poses is to think of them in groups of postures rather than one big chunk of postures. And so the Ashtanga yoga primary series can be divided into 4 distinct groups of postures:
- Sun Salutations
- Standing postures
- Seated postures
- Finishing sequence
Let’s have a look at these in a little more detail.
Regardless of how experienced or not we are, each practice begins with the Sun Salutations.
- Sun Salutation A – 9 vinyasas – This is typically practiced 5 times
- Sun Salutation B – 17 vinyasas – This is typically practiced anywhere between 3 and 5 times 5 times
Sun salutations help us link our breath with the movement and also help heat the body up and prepare it for the following standing poses.
In a Mysore style class, the teacher may ask you to just focus on memorizing the sun salutations, as this is fundamental to the entire practice.
Once the body is warmed up from the Sun Salutations, we then move on to the standing postures, some of which act as gravity-assisted flexibility increasing postures.
If you pay close attention, you may notice that some of these come in groups of 2 (e.g. Trikonasana and Parivrita Trikonasana) while others come in a group of 4 (e.g. Prasarita Padotanasana A, B, C, D).
We stay in each pose for a total of 5 breaths.
The next part of the Ashtanga Yoga sequence involves the seated postures. The way I like to think of these (till Nasvasana) is that they come in groups of 2, 3, and then 4.
The group of 3 is Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana and then Tiryam-Mukha Eka-Pada Paschimottanasana
The group of 3 is Janu Shirshasana A, B and C.
The group of 4 is Marichyasana A, B, C and D
I like to teach the exposures as clusters and I have found this to help my students remember them.
The finishing sequence takes us through an energetic culmination, which then ends in savasana. Here we are encouraged to slow our breathing. We stay in these postures for around 8 to 10 breaths (depending on the postures).
With time, you may notice that learning the poses and breaking them into smaller groups, may help you memorize them easier.
7. Practice patience
Ashtanga yoga teaches us to be patient, whether we like it or not! And so taking baby steps, especially at first, is very important. The main reason is that it is very easy to get overwhelmed by all the poses and all the different elements of this practice. And by taking baby steps you will make the learning process much easier.
So for example, at first you may start with the Sun salutations. And when they feel comfortable, move on to the standing poses. And with time take it from there.
8. Do your homework
There is a growing number of books on Ashtanga yoga nowadays, all written by very experienced and dedicated teachers and practitioners. And so you may find that studying these key texts may help you understand the deeper parts and intentions of the practice.
And in turn, this will make it easier for you to understand how Ashtanga yoga works, which in turn will give you the motivation you to continue practicing and continue learning.
See also: The 23 Best Ashtanga Yoga Books
9. Write down the names of the postures
With time, especially when we mainly practice guided classes, the names of postures may become very familiar to us. That is of course till someone asks us to name a posture!
One tip you could try is to write out the name of each posture. This may help you remember them. And you could even take it a step further and write their meaning in English also!
10. Use a chart or cheat sheet
Charts or cheat sheets are sometimes given to beginners in Mysore classes. It shows that set sequence and so it is a little guide for beginners to slowly learn the postures.
I remember my teacher gave me one in my first few Mysore classes. She told me not to rely on it. And this is something I do too. I give my newer students a cheat sheet and then once in a while I’ll ask them which poses come next. if they seem to have memorized the poses, I gently slide the sheet under their mat.
My students always laugh when I do this. But I have found that this helps them not rely on the cheat sheet. And so you may notice that not all teachers use cheat sheets. I do but I make a point of making sure my students don’t rely on it.
If you are looking to purchase a cheat sheet for your practice, Kino McGreggor has recently published practice cards that may help your home practice.
If you like analysis like this, and want support getting started with Ashtanga Yoga, my new course, Ashtanga Yoga for Beginners, might be just the place for you. Click here to get on the waiting list!