Ashtanga yoga is also referred to as Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Following a set sequence of postures, the breath guides us in and out of each asana throughout the practice. What makes Ashtanga yoga physically challenging is that each seated posture is linked with a vinyasa. And so a common question is how many vinyasas there are in the primary series.
There are 35 vinyasas in the primary series. These refer to the jump back and jump through sequence practiced between each of the seated and the finishing sequence. And yet, if we refer to vinyasa as the breath count, then for the sun salutations and standing poses alone there are 88 vinyasas.
As you may be able to see, it is a little more complicated than you may have expected.
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So let’s have a more detailed look at what we refer to as vinyasa in the Ashtanga yoga primary series.
What is a vinyasa in Ashtanga yoga?
Ashtanga yoga has a series of vinyasas practiced mainly throughout the seated sequence. The vinyasa sequence involves an inhale jump or step back to high plank, exhale lower to chaturanga, inhale upward facing dog, exhale downward facing dog, and then inhale jump or step through to the next asana.
The purpose of the vinyasa is to link each asana in a dynamic manner. Each movement has its associated breath pattern.
Practicing the vinyasa between each asana is rather demanding, especially for beginners to the practices. For this reason, they can be modified so as to be suitable at all levels.
With time, however, you may start to notice that practicing the vinyasas between each of the seated postures becomes easier. The reasons are that both the body and mind start to get used to the sequence of postures and this allows the body to get stronger and build muscle.
I recently wrote an article Can Ashtanga Yoga Build Muscle? where I mentioned three different studies which found that Ashtanga yoga helped increase strength in 3 parts of the body:
- Upper trunk
And so for anyone who may have been practicing Ashtanga yoga for a while, you can probably guess that the many vinyasas are the reason for the increase in strength in the core and upper trunk in particular.
There are a variety of ways these vinyasas can be practiced depending on the level of practitioner. See the video below for a short and simple demo.
If you are looking for some drills to help you improve your vinyasas, then you may like this video by Purple Valley Ashtanga Yoga:
Is there another meaning for vinyasa in Ashtanga?
Ashtanga yoga follows a counted method. This method is also referred to as vinyasa, hence the name Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. And so each asana and each set of asanas has its associated vinyasa. For example, Surya Namaskara A has 9 vinyasas, meaning it has 9 corresponding asana and breath movements.
Let’s have a look at Sun Salutation A in more detail. In the table below you will see the vinyasa count for each corresponding movement, the breath associated with each movement, and what the actual movement is.
|Ekam (1)||Inhale||Hands up|
|Dve (2)||Exhale||Fold forward|
|Pance (5)||Inhale||Upward facing dog|
|Sat (6)||Exhale||Downward facing dog|
|Sapta (7)||Inhale||Jump through, lengthen|
|Astau (8)||Exhale||Fold forward|
|Nava (9)||Inhale||Hands up|
And remember, Surya Namaskara A is practiced 5 times in total.
Similarly, Surya Namaskara B is also practiced 5 times (and sometimes 3 times) and has a total of 17 vinyasas as it has several extra asanas.
John Scott who practiced with Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore in the 90s further explains the vinyasa method:
“Guruji called vinyasa “Counted Method”. The Vinyasa are all like beads, Choreographed breath/body movements, all to be counted and meditated on and it is the student’s requirement to learn this Counted method as a mantra for their own personal practice”.
And so if we were to refer to vinyasa as the counted method, then we can see that the number of vinyasas is much more than the 35 jump backs and throughs.
The sun salutations alone have 9 and 17 vinyasas, and then each of the standing poses has anywhere from 3 to 14 vinyasas.
See the table below where I detail the vinyasa count for each of the sun salutations and the standing postures.
|Set of poses|
|Surya Namaskara A||9 vinyasa|
|Surya Namaskara B||17 vinyasa|
|Prasarita Padotanasana||18 vinyasa|
|Uttitha hasta padangustasana||14 vinyasa|
|Ardha Badha padmotanasana||9 vinyasa|
As much as I love to geek out, it seems that the Ashtanga Yoga Project who I have followed ever since I started practicing Ashtanga seems to have taken it a step further.
In her article Brush Up On Your Sanskrit Counting and Pose Names, not only did Shanna Small list all the vinyasas of all the poses in the Ashtanga yoga primary series, she even went a step further and explains the Sanskrit meaning of the names of the Ashtanga poses.
And so doing a little arithmetic and hoping my logic was correct, there are a total of 630 vinyasas (counted breaths) in the Ashtanga yoga primary series (!).
There are two meanings for vinyasa in Ashtanga yoga. One meaning refers to the jumps back and through mainly in the seated postures and the other referred to the counted method of this practice.
If you are a beginner to Ashtanga yoga, you will most likely have heard the former meaning as this is most commonly referred to in class.
The more you want to explore the practice and try to understand it more, the more you can look into the counts and the patterns of poses.
If you would like a YouTube video of the Ashtanga primary series to practice with that makes a point of mentioning this vinyasa count, then look no further than John Scott’s Ashtanga yoga class at Purple Valley Goa: