Ashtanga Yoga, also known as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, is a combination of poses and movements that the body is following in complete harmony with breathing. This style of yoga is highly dynamic and therefore, you will definitely associate it with hot yoga. So far, it’s very sweaty!
The benefits of practicing Ashtanga Yoga are numerous, including stretching your muscles in a healthy way, increasing the blood flow to the brain, building strength and mobility in the entire body. Imagine bending quickly down to pick up the fork or running errands without being both physically and mentally exhausted. This is what Ashtanga Yoga does for you. In simpler words, it builds physical and mental resilience.
Disclaimer: Some poses can be seen as passive in the sense that you don’t necessarily need to engage many muscles, however there are some modifications or micro adjustments you can make in order to be more active and get more out of it. In addition, try to hold each pose for at least 5 breaths. This way you will fully understand the meaning embedded in the poses and on top of that, each time you come back into it, you will be able to hold it for 5 MORE breaths!
Quick content overlook:
1/ Standing Poses
2/ Sitting Poses
3/ Cooling Down Poses
1/ Standing Poses
Standing poses are great for testing your balance and constantly reminding you about all the muscles you need to engage in order to – not fall! Like any other controversial thing out there, it might seem very easy at the beginning, but once you give it a go, you will understand what I am talking about.
a. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Starting at the top of your mat, legs hips width apart, inhale in a tall standing still position (Tadasana). Pl
ace your palms on your hips and slowly descend while exhaling. Try to elongate your spine and expand from your waist rather than the hip joints. In this pose, we are looking for a straight spine, crown of the head reaching down, relaxed neck and activated kneecaps. If your tummy doesn’t touch your legs, take a bend into your knees and adjust accordingly.
As mentioned before, there are some options to activate this rather passive pose:
-pick your big toes with your peace sign fingers (if available) and try to elongate the spine even more. This micro-action might look like you are not actually doing anything, but internally you will feel it in your hamstrings. This is also a great stretch if you are on your splits journey.
-pick the back of your ankles with your hands and try to reach the ground with your head. This action will also activate your hamstrings and deepen the forward fold.
b. Extended Hand to Big Toe A (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana)
Although this pose it’s quite self-explanatory, I personally found it one of the most challenging ones. You will soon have a love-hate relationship with some of them. In often times, the exact poses you dislike the most, those are the ones you need in your life as they bring numerous benefits. It incorporates balance, strength and hip flexors – all in one show.
Making a start in Tadasana (standing still pose), engage your left leg as much as possible while lifting the right leg up. Grab the big toe with the peace sign fingers from your right hand. You probably had enough of peace already today. Moving forward, in this pose there are two opposite actions you will need to control – one is to straighten your spine, keep your left leg activated for balance and the other one is to lift the right leg up as much as possible without bending your right elbow. If you can’t fully extend the leg, keep trying and you will get there. Don’t forget to try the same thing on the other side!
As this yoga pose is recruiting so many muscles already, don’t attempt to make it more difficult unless you are up for a challenge!
In your Extended Hand To Big Toe A, when you’ve reached the maximum level of height in your leg, let go of the big toe and try to see if you can keep you leg extended without the use of hands. This exercise will strenghten your quadriceps muscles to a whole new level.
c. Warrior Pose A & B (Virabhadrasana)
If you want to wake up every morning and feel like conquering the world, try a Warrior pose. Start at the top of your mat in Tadasana with a big inhale. Lift your left leg up – exhale – and place it towards the back of the mat. Bend your right knee so as the right thigh is parallel with the ground while the back leg is on 45 degrees. Aim for an alignment between your heels and pelvis. Engage all the muscles in straightening the back leg, lifting your torso while gazing forward with your arms lifted by your ears. Inhale deeply and feel the power in your body. Feels good, right? This is your Warrior A or One.
From where you are, exhale and lower your arms, keeping them parallel with the ground and aligned with your legs. Find Warrior B or Two, keep your gaze just over your right hand fingers and breath 5 times or until you feel like a real warrior. Don’t forget to try it on the other side!
The surprise challenge is up for this pose as well. In an ideal Warrior pose, you bend your front knee on a 90 degree angle, however I rarely see students keeping that angle through the entire practice. Next time you try a warrior, aim for a deeper bend by bouncing your torso up and down to see what areas of your flexibility your can further explore.
2/ Sitting Poses
Those poses are great for strengthening the back muscles, improving your posture and flexibility. It may look like you’re sitting on your arse, when you’re actually doing real work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
a. Boat Pose (Navasana)
Starting in Corpse Pose (Shavasana) – laying down on your back, take a big inhale – lift your shoulder
s off the mat and hover your legs by recruiting the quadriceps and abdominal muscles. Hold in there by taking big inhales followed by equally big exhales to stabilize the body in this position.
After all these exercises, if you still want to add some spiciness in your practice try to alternate a high boat with low boat. Following your breath, lift your body up by pulling the knees into your chest (without hurting yourself) and descend into low boat until your abs are talking to you.
b. Head to Knee Forward Bend A (Janu Shirshasana)
Sitting in an L-shape on your mat with the body upright and straight spine, take your left foot into the inside of your right thigh, similar to what you are doing in a tree pose. Lift your arms up and slowly descend towards your right leg and see how far you can go keeping your back straight. You’ll soon feel your hips open a bit more and your hamstrings activate.
If you wish to take this pose to the next level, grab your right foot or ankle and try to pull the crown of your head forward, elongate your lower back, push the chest and find that micro-action of sticking your bum out. Again, this might look like nothing from the outside, but on the inside you will find more depth so as the next time you jump in this pose, you will find your head closer and closer to your foot. On the same note, if you had enough of sitting in your chair and want to take a short and effective break for your back, try this pose. More importantly, do it when you are at home because it might look weird if you are in an actual office. And of course, try it with your left leg extended.
c. Half Bound Lotus Seated Foward Bend (Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana)
If you are confused about this pose, don’t worry, you are not alone. Just think about Head to Knee. Start with an L-shape and this time place your left foot on top of your right leg as close as you can to your hips. Now we already now where to go. Lift your arms up and descend towards your right leg. Hold there, it’s getting interesting now. Grab your right ankle with your right hand and left hand will reach behind your back to find the left foot. If you can’t find it, it’s completely fine, this is the beauty of the process.
Similar to Head to Knee, if you aim to elongate your spine and stick the bum out, you may find yourself a funky Instagram pose for your yogi account.
3/ Cooling Down Poses
Well done, your practice has come to an end and we are ready to slow down. Those are the ultimate ways to finish off any yoga flow and to thank yourself for setting some time aside for your body and mind. There is so much beauty in building heat and cooling down. Pause and acknowledge the progress.
a. Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
Laying down on your back, hug your right leg into the chest. That’s right, you can start hugging yourself, not just your friends. Slowly place the right leg on the left side of your body and try to touch the floor with your knee. Extend your right arm on the right side of the mat and look towards it. The ultimate stretch is when your right shoulder touches the floor. You may hear some cracks, but don’t worry, this is the spine, especially the lower back saying thank you. Hold in there for 5 breaths and then try on the other side. It feels exhilarating, right?
This stretch feels so amazing that it would be a shame to change it or to add anything else.
b. Corpse Pose (Shavasana)
Lay down on your back, place your legs and arms slightly towards the outside of your mat. Close your eyes, find a steady breath and try to relax. If I tell you that relaxation is an art, you wouldn’t believe me. However, I am wondering why not that many people find time to just rest.
As you have guesses, there is no extra challenge for this pose, but try not to fall asleep even though is so tempting.
Surprise Practice Video
Check out this 30-minute flow with Lesley from FightMaster Yoga!
She will take you through a few Sun Salutations to warm up the body and she’ll help you find the essential Ashtanga Yoga poses described above. Her calm and soothing voice will convince you to explore even more.
Some final words are useless, as all that matters now is what actually happens and feels in your body. Observe how the energy shifts in your neck, back, arms and legs. Observe if any parts feel more open, more alive. This is the beauty of yoga, discovering your mind through body movement and breath work.
Please comment below and let me now how you found those 8 Ashtanga Yoga poses and the practice video as well!