The Primary series of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is called yoga chikitsa, translated simply as yoga therapy. In combination with its healing elements, yoga chikitsa is designed to ground practitioners in the key elements of breath, drishti (focus), vinyasa (flow) and bandhas, building a strong foundation from which the practice of future series may grow (there are 6 altogether). Regular practice of yoga chikitsa has a cleansing and toning effect on the body and mind.
In yoga philosophy the body comprises of thousands of nadis. Nadis can be thought of as a stream or channel through which prana (life force) travels. Nadis often contain blockages called granthis which inhibit the flow of prana. Regular practice of yoga chikitsa helps to remove granthis, enabling the free flow of prana through the body, providing healing and cleansing effects.
Every movement within and between postures in the series, is combined with a specific breath, an inhale or an exhale. It is breath that moves the body and focus is directed towards breathing freely with a steady ujjayi (ocean sounding) breath. Often you may find that the breath is constricted or you have to take extra breaths to breathe through a sequence. This is fine, be mindful of your breath and body and perhaps take a step back, to allow you to come back to a more steady breath.
Every posture has a drishti, a focal point – there are 9 of these: the tip of the nose, eyebrow centre, navel, hand, toes, far right and left, thumbs and up to the sky. Though the drishti is an external point, it is designed to encourage the practitioner to look inwards and focus on the more subtle elements of breath and bandhas.
Bandhas are energetic locks, there are 3 types called Mulabandha, Uddiyana Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha which are used in the practice. When engaged they manipulate the movement of prana through the nadis. With inward focus, practice and consistency a connection with and use of the bandhas is developed.
The Ashtanga vinyasa yoga sequence begins with Sun Salutations A and B, moving onto a standing sequence. The primary series begins and ends with the first (Dandasana) and last (Setu Bandhasana) postures of the seated sequence. It is completed with the finishing sequence.
In my experience, with time of practising the primary series, I noted a key benefit. The sequence of postures became memorised and I no longer had to think about what pose comes next. This allows for a stillness in the mind and helps to facilitate an inward focus. This enabled me to better focus on the breath, placing of the body (vinyasa) and bandhas. With time, the practice of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga became a moving meditation.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois founded The Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. He taught this system of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga which he in turn learnt this from his teacher, Krishnamacharya. Many thanks to them for nurturing and sharing this practice. I will leave you with a quote from Pattabhi Jois himself:
“Practice and all is coming!”
Peace and love, Sky