The BIG Difference Between Half & Full Primary Ashtanga Series

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The BIG Difference Between Half & Full Primary Ashtanga Series

Ashtanga yoga follows a set sequence of postures, commonly referred to as asanas. These asanas are designed in such a way so as to help the practitioner build strength and flexibility. The most common sequence practiced around the world is the primary series (mainly the Full primary Series), while most beginners practice the Half Primary Series.

Half Primary series is a short form of the Full Primary Ashtanga yoga series (around 30 minutes less). In Half Primary we practice all the seated postures till Navasana. Then we finish with the 3 Closing Postures or the entire Closing Sequence starting from back bending, or Urdhva Dhanurasana).

And so even though we follow a set sequence of Ashtanga yoga poses, you can adapt the length of the practice depending on your energy levels and also how much time you actually have.

Definitely check out my Ultimate Guide to Ashtanga yoga if you are looking for more information on this practice.

And so we follow the set sequence of poses in a linear fashion. What this means is that regardless of our level or ability, we always start our practice with the 2 sets of sun salutations:

  • Sūrya Namaskāra A
  • Sūrya Namaskāra B

And then we always close our practice with the last three closing postures:

  • Baddha Padmāsana
  • Yoga Mudrā
  • Utplutiḥ

What is practiced in between will determine whether we are practicing full or half primary series.

In my opinion, there is not one, but three big differences between the Full Primary and Half Primary Series.

Half primary series takes less time

The Full Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series takes around 90 minutes to complete, while the Half Primary series can last 60 minutes. It is an ideal practice for beginners who may not have the strength and endurance for the full 90-minute practice. It is also perfect for those short on time.

Even if you are an advanced practitioner, there may be some days when you don’t have the time to do your full practice. And so half primary series is a great way to keep up with your practice, without needing to spend the full 90 or more minutes on your mat.

I sometimes practice half primary when I’m feeling a little tired or if I don’t have the time for my full practice. Interestingly, sometimes I don’t push myself as much as I know that I’m taking it easy and other times I push myself harder and do all the jump backs and jump-throughs as I know it is a shorter practice.

It really is up to you how you want to tailor the practice to your needs, mood, and energy levels. If you are looking for a guided half primary led class, this is one that I like to practice along to. Here Laruga Glasier will guide you all the way up to Navasana and then move on to back bending.

Half primary as an Ashtanga Short Form

By reducing the time of practice, we can practice a short form of the primary series. We maintain the sequence but practice less so as we have the stamina and then focus on key asanas. So if you want to focus on backbends, you shorten the practice and add on some chest and back opening asanas.

Naturally, we don’t want to dilute our Ashtanga yoga practice too much and lose the overall set sequence. However, if it feels right to focus on key elements of the practice on certain days, then why not do that?

Use variety, allow yourself the freedom to mix things upon some days get creative, for example, place emphasis on a category of asanas (back or forward bends), stay longer in your postures, do fewer asanas, or go faster and do more asanas.

David Garrigues

At the end of the day, when we stay within the limits of the practice, by focusing on Drishti, bandhas, and breath, then there is no right and wrong. Just what is right for you in that given moment in time.

In his book Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual David Swenson sets out 3 short forms of the practice. More specifically, he describes 3 short practices that are 15, 30, and 45 minutes long.

And so short form is an alternative way of referring to half primary series. Although actually, the half primary is a short form of Ashtanga, while short-form isn’t always half primary. If that makes sense!

And so taking the 30-minute example of a short form ashtanga yoga practice, the Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual shortens the practice by focusing on certain postures. Here is the full seated sequence and what is practiced and what is skipped in the 30-minute short form.

Ashtanga Seated30′ Short Form
Paścimottānāsana A B C DPaścimottānāsana A
Ardha Baddha Padma
Triyang Mukha Eka Pāda
Jānu Śīrṣāsana A B CJānu Śīrṣāsana A
Marīcyāsana A B C DMarīcyāsana A C
Example of Ashtanga Short Form

And so if this is a practice you would like to try out, then YouTube has this very practice with David Swenson for you to practice along to.

Half primary series is ideal for beginners

As a yoga studio owner and an Ashtanga yoga teacher, believe me when I tell you that I have taught many beginners.

And I have taught and lived and learned from all my mistakes!

When I first started teaching Ashtanga, I would allow most people to come to my full Ashtanga-led class. Especially if someone said that they work out or are in a good physical condition, then they could join.

Ashtanga yoga is a demanding practice. Both physically and mentally with all the counting and the focus on breath, bandhas, and drishti.

And so those very people that came to my full primary series as complete beginners, as fit as they said they were, and as eager as some of them claimed to be.. well, they never came back.

Then I became strict. I made it a rule that beginners had to first attend my Half Primary Ashtanga class. And that is where I saw that half primary offers a more bitesize form of the practice, which is, in fact, more suitable to beginners’ needs, strength, and flexibility.

And surprise surprise, those who attended by half primary series class were much more likely to stay and even join my Mysore classes.

And so for beginners, it really is more important to learn the correct breathing and then move on to adding on the movement in the sun salutations, always in sync with the breath, rather than physically exhaust themselves with all the poses of the primary series.

Most studios offer a beginner’s Ashtanga class. This generally lasts 1 hour where the teacher guides the students along the set sequence of postures. There will most likely be a lot of explaining so as to help the students into each pose. This can be all the way up to Navasana or it may be a short form practice with key postures.

If you are looking for a gentle video for beginners to Ashtanga yoga then you may like this YouTube video to practice along to:

If you are looking for a short and sweet Ashtanga practice, then check out my video:


Even though Ashtanga yoga is a set sequence of postures, it still offers some flexibility about how it is practiced.

It is up to you to practice what is right for you. And at the end of the day, a short practice every day is better than a long practice once in a while.

For more information on Ashtanga yoga check out my YouTube video:

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