Each series starts with Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutations). 5 of each A and B variations are followed by the fixed sequence. The ending sequence is the same for all series. The middle section has a different set of asanas depending on which series it is. Traditional poses were taught in a Mysore style, where the teacher would give the practitioner a new position when they felt ready. Learn more about Ashtanga Yoga’s history.
The Ashtanga Primary Series
Yoga Chikitsa is the name of the Ashtanga Primary Series. Its cleansing and toning effects on the mind and body are called Yoga Chikitsa. The Primary Series asanas (poses) increase strength and flexibility and loosen tight muscles. They also realign and detoxify the body and nervous system. Start the series with forward bends, followed by twists and hip openings. Each asana is followed with a vinyasa.
Mentally, regular practice improves focus, willpower, and awareness. We also gain confidence as we overcome mental obstacles. The Primary series is a gentle therapy that clears blockages in the body’s energy channels (known by Nadis).
Clearing obstacles allows Prana to flow more freely, allowing the body and mind to function more effectively.
The Ashtanga Intermediate Series
Nadi Shodhana, Nerve Cleansing, is the second Ashtanga Intermediate series. Because of the emphasis on backbends, this is possible. Backbends maintain the spine’s flexibility and open up the energy channels to allow Prana to flow freely. Nadi Shodhana also refers to Alternate Nostril Pranayama.
Although some of the older asanas may be familiar (Locust Pose, for instance), the Intermediate series moves on to more intense backbends, and hip opening poses.
Each pose has its benefits and challenges, but the combination of poses can have a different effect on your body than dynamic yoga classes or the Primary series. As you begin to practice the Intermediate series, you must end your practice with an extended Savasana.
How about when it’s time for the Intermediate Series to begin?
Although the Primary series is complex, practitioners might stay with it for many years before moving on to the Intermediate series. Traditional Ashtanga Yoga students were told by their teacher when it was time to move on to the next series. But what if you don’t practice under the supervision of a teacher?
David Swenson, an Ashtanga Yoga teacher, says it’s not about “mastering” the Primary Series to move on to the Intermediate Series. It’s not about being able to do all the poses to their full expression but rather knowing how to approach them. We should never stop learning and growing. David’s goal is for you to practice the Primary Series without having to stop and not need to refer to any external resources, such as a book or video, before moving on to the Intermediate Series.
Whether you’re just starting Ashtanga or advancing through the Intermediate Series, practicing with awareness and patience is essential. Also, always return to your breath.