Often portrayed as a bewildering selection of stick men or photos of guys in their pants (see below…!), the Ashtanga Primary Series is a specifically choreographed sequence of 72 asana, or postures, handed down through this traditional lineage of yoga.
After an opening chant in Samastitih (mountain pose) the series progresses through Surya Namaskara (sun salutations) A and B, the standing postures, seated postures, closing sequence, a closing chant and then relaxation in Savasana. The sequence builds in the flexibility and strength required for each posture so that the body is warm and suitably opened as each arrives.
The Primary Series contains all the necessary physical elements of yoga to establish all-round health in the body; sun salutations, forward bends, twists, back bends, lifting and core strength and inversions.
Although the seated postures change as you progress through the series (yep, after you’ve mastered Primary comes Secondary, then Advanced A, B and C!) the chants, sun salutations, standing poses and closing sequence always remain the same – a testament to their fundamental importance in our practice however our bodies change.
The series was originally composed by Pathabi Jois – affectionately known to many more senior Ashtanga practitioners who were able to go and practice with him in India, as ‘Guruji’. With the exception of Saturdays and ‘moon days’, Jois taught Ashtanga every day in Mysore until his death in X. Although the experience has changed dramatically since Jois’ time, it’s still possible to practice at the Ashtanga Institute (www.kpjayi.org) with his grandson, Sharath.
Yoga Chikitsa, as the primary series is formally named, translates from Sanskrit as ‘Yoga therapy’. Practised regularly, the poses work to heal our bodies of ailments and injuries. We build the strength and flexibility to take our yoga practice deeper – both physically and in seated meditation. The heat, or tapas, we generate in practice is thought to purify our minds and bodies.
The dynamic flow of the sun salutations is a foundation for the whole practice, which is interspersed with linked Vinyasa. This delicious, serpentine flow is fairly unique to Ashtanga. Each breath has its place and movement. When we learn these movements our knowledge of the practice goes from an intellectual to a kinestethetic understanding. One of the most beautiful things about the practice is catching the current of breath-movement flow, the one we all know from when we’re ‘in the zone’ with our sun salutations, then keeping hold of it for 90 minutes or more. Even slipping into this feeling for a few minutes lets us drop into ourselves in a way that’s often inaccessible in everyday life.
This link between movement and breath is integral. Without careful breath, we’d just be doing gymnastics. With careful breath, we invite ourselves to remember that this key to life, death and connection is not just within our reach, but within ourselves, every day.
Ujayi, or victorious breath, is one of the hallmarks of Ashtanga. It’s so effective at uniting our bodies and minds that it is now used across many styles of yoga and it’s this emphasis on the breath that turns our practice into a moving meditation. Once we’ve learnt a section of movement, we use the breath to bring grace and fluidity to our movements. It’s then that this slightly crazy series of bending, stretching, jumping actions becomes a dance.
As with any dance, it helps if you know the steps! Although students usually soak up more than they realize from class, sessions are often too short to run through the whole series in completeness. And – tradition and lineage, aside – it’s really fun! You’re (almost!) guaranteed to finish each full practice with a smile and sense of achievement. This Sunday (28th February) there’s going to be a workshop to explore the whole series in its traditional form, made accessible for all levels of student. The details are just below. If you can’t make this time but are keen to know more about future events, be sure to sign up to our mailing list by clicking the link.
Primary Series Workshop
Parish Rooms, St. Andrew’s, Penrith
10.30 – 12.30
2 hours practice, followed by tea, chat and deliciously healthy cake-ish snacks J
£12 – £8 concessions (or £4.50 + 1 stamp off 6-class pass)
EVERYONE WELCOME – all levels of student, including those who practice independently.
To book: use the form below, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 07554 441776