What Is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga?

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, often shortened to simply Ashtanga, is a traditional style of yoga that gained popularity in the Western world in the 20th century.

Let’s take a deep dive into Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga to learn its benefits, how to practice it (with video tutorials), its primary poses, and more!

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Definition

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is based on the teachings of sage Patanjali and his famous work, The Yoga Sutras. The Sanskrit name of the practice (ashta – eight, anga – limb) refers to the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which Patanjali defined as the eight essential elements on the path to enlightenment.

The word Vinyasa is a reference to the connection between breath and movement. With the popularization of yoga practice, Vinyasa also became synonymous with the repeating sequence featured in Sun Salutations and often inserted between poses to “break up” the practice.

Related: What Is the Difference Between Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga Vinyasa has a set sequence of poses split into three series: Primary, Second, and Advanced Series (which is further broken down into four stages).

The poses and transitions get more challenging as you progress through the series, and the practitioner is expected to master the entire series before moving on to the next sequence. And although the Primary series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is considered the starting point, don’t let the name fool you. The Primary series is still very demanding physically and mentally. In fact, many people only turn towards Ashtanga practice after doing yoga for a while.

Benefits of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Benefits of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga include:

  • Physical fitness. Ashtanga Vinyasa is a very demanding style of yoga. It makes the whole-body work hard, which results in overall improved fitness. You can get stronger, more flexible, more balanced, and leaner by practicing Ashtanga.
  • Consistency. The poses stay the same each time you practice. That means you can gradually perfect your alignment in each pose and gain the strength and flexibility required for poses that are initially unattainable. Through this consistency, you can also clearly see your progress once you establish regular Ashtanga Vinyasa practice.
  • Independent practice. The fact that the sequence of asanas is unchanging, Ashtanga Vinyasa is a great candidate for practicing independently (e.g., at home or on vacation), especially for more experienced yogis.
  • Cardiovascular health. Due to the challenging nature of this yoga style and the continuous movement required by Ashtanga practice, your heart gets an excellent workout. Practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa strengthens your cardiovascular system and improves blood circulation in the entire body.
  • Lung function. Breathwork is a huge part of yoga practice and Ashtanga Vinyasa in particular. In this style of yoga, breath is systematically synchronized with movement. Therefore you learn to take control of your breathing. This, in turn, improves your lung function and contributes to your cardiovascular health.
  • Endurance. Ashtanga Vinyasa is a challenging practice, and an average class takes about 90 minutes. Getting through the entire series requires endurance and determination, which is useful in many other areas of life.
  • Room for improvement. When it comes to Ashtanga Vinyasa, there is an almost infinite opportunity for improvement. Many people practice the Primary series for years before they can venture into the Second series, and some don’t even progress that far. In short, Ashtanga Vinyasa suits those who like a challenge.
The Power of Ashtanga Yoga

The Power of Ashtanga Yoga

Price:
Buy Now on Amazon

Clicking this link to make a purchase may earn us a commission at no additional cost to you.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Poses

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a strict style that follows the same yoga poses each time you practice. The premise of Ashtanga is that you must master the series in its entirety before you can tackle the more challenging sequence. In fact, most people who practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga never move past the Primary Series. Let’s take a closer look to gain insight into Ashtanga Vinyasa.

The Primary series consists of 41 yoga poses that take approximately 90 minutes to complete. Ashtanga Primary Series is broken down into five sections: Sun Salutations, Standing postures, Seated postures, Finishing Sequence, and The Final Three. The practitioner is encouraged to practice the Vinyasa sequence between static postures, which works as a reset of sorts.

Sun Salutation A poses:

Sun Salutation B poses:

  • Chair Pose (inhale)
  • Standing Forward Bend (exhale)
  • Half Lift (inhale)
  • Four-Limbed Staff Pose (exhale)
  • Upward Facing Dog (inhale)
  • Downward Facing Dog (exhale)
  • Warrior I w. right foot forward(inhale)
  • Four-Limbed Staff Pose (exhale)
  • Upward Facing Dog (inhale)
  • Downward Facing Dog (exhale)
  • Warrior I w. left foot forward(inhale)
  • Four-Limbed Staff Pose (exhale)
  • Upward Facing Dog (inhale)
  • Downward Facing Dog (exhale)
  • Half Lift (inhale)
  • Standing Forward Bend (exhale)
  • Upward Salute (inhale)
  • Samasthihi or Mountain (exhale)

Vinyasa Sequence Poses:

  • Plank Pose (inhale)
  • Four-Limbed Staff Pose (exhale) or Eight-Point Pose
  • Upward Facing Dog (inhale) or Cobra Pose
  • Downward Facing Dog (exhale)

Ashtanga Primary series standing postures include:

Ashtanga Primary series seated postures include:

Ashtanga Primary series finishing sequence includes:

Ashtanga Primary series the Final Three poses are:

How to Practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa practice begins with an opening chant. It can be performed seated or standing.

Om Vande gurunaam chaaranara vinde /

Sandar shita swaatma sukhava bhode /

Nishrey yase jaangalika yamane /

Samsara haala hala moha shantye /

Abahu purusha karam /

Shankha chakraasi dharinam /

Sahasra shirasam shvetam /

Pranamaami patanjalim /

Om

The practice continues with five repetitions of Sun Salutation A and five repetitions of Sun Salutation B to warm up the body.

After that, the practitioner follows the set sequence of poses in the order they appear. Any asymmetrical poses (e.g., twists, one-legged standing balance, Warrior series) must be performed on both sides. Static poses are typically held for five full breaths.

Between the poses, the practitioner is encouraged to perform the Vinyasa sequence either in full or modified expression. It is also possible to forego Vinyasa if the body is too fatigued to perform it between each pose.

There are two common ways to practice Ashtanga Vinyasa with a yoga instructor. You can practice at the same pace, where the teacher dictates the rhythm of transition and counts the breaths. Alternatively, you can practice Mysore-style, which means you go at your own pace, and the teacher is there to advise the best alignment.

The poses from the Final Three are typically held longer than the rest (about ten breaths each). Once you enter Corpse Pose (Savasana), it is supposed to last upwards of 10 minutes.

The practice ends with a closing chant:

Om

Svasti praja bhyaha

Pari pala yantam

Nya yena margena mahi mahishaha

Go brahmanebhyaha shubamastu nityam

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

Om shanti shanti shanti

Om

The Power of Ashtanga Yoga

The Power of Ashtanga Yoga

Price:
Buy Now on Amazon

Clicking this link to make a purchase may earn us a commission at no additional cost to you.

Start Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at Home

If you can’t make it to a studio that offers Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga classes or simply want to try it out at home first, check out these follow-along videos.

1 1/2 Hour Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series with Jessica Kass

Ashtanga Yoga for Beginners – Half Primary Series

Ashtanga Yoga Full Primary Series with Ty Landrum

The Power of Ashtanga Yoga

The Power of Ashtanga Yoga

Price:
Buy Now on Amazon

Clicking this link to make a purchase may earn us a commission at no additional cost to you.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga FAQs

Is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Suitable for Beginners?

The short answer is no. The long answer is that this style of yoga is fast-paced and rather physically demanding, which is why many people opt for more beginner-friendly yoga classes when they are new to yoga.

It is also difficult to practice Ashtanga Vinyasa without comprehensive knowledge of the asanas involved, as the practice flows at a quick pace.

That said, if you are keen to try it out, check out our Ashtanga yoga for beginners tips to help you get started safely.

How Often Should You Practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga?

Some dedicated yoga practitioners practice Ashtanga 5-6 days a week, rarely breaking from that habit. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it is not only impossible but downright dangerous to start at that kind of pace. In order to see the results, it’s best to practice twice a week. As you get stronger and gain endurance, you can increase the frequency of your practice.

What Time of the Day Should I Practice Ashtanga Vinyasa?

Ashtanga Vinyasa is designed to be practiced early in the morning, evidenced by Sun Salutation sequences always taking place at the start of the practice. The practice is meant to awaken and energize the body and mind.

Important: Check with your doctor before trying Ashtanga Yoga for the first time if you have any injury, illness, pain, or are pregnant. If the doctor greenlights your practice, be sure to let your yoga teacher know about any physical injury or condition that may affect your practice.

Yogaanswered.com is reader-supported. Buying through links on our site may earn us an affiliate commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.