How to Build An Ashtanga Practice
Sessions 34-45 The Floor Series
When we finish the Standing Series, we move into the “Primary Series” or as it is also called Yoga Chikitsa - which means Yoga Therapy. The focus of this part of the practice is to focus on the gut - the internal organs and muscles of the torso. Most of the poses are forward folding with different iterations of the legs. This part of the series includes intense twists and hip work, which also works the muscles of the spine. There are aspects of balancing here too.
Yoga Therapy means working energy through the internal organs. It was believed that disease starts in the gut, and this practice systematically massages the organs that process and eliminate the food we consume. Think about what was happening in the time and place where yoga comes from - conditions were not as sanitary as we have now and food, if not digested properly, could kill you. As you learn this series, you will experience how the subtle focus of each pose takes you through the gut.
In our studies, we know that the Front Informs the Back, so the back and hips are stretched in these forward folding poses. David Williams recommends doing Up Dogs for five breaths in the vinyasa between the seated poses. Because many of the poses are bilateral, you may wonder where the vinyasa come in. You will take a vinyasa between poses and not between sides of poses. Back in the day when Westerners were flocking to India to learn Ashtanga, Guruji had them do vinyasa between sides as well as between poses to build more stamina. You may choose to do that in your own practice, however, when I lead classes, I do not direct those extra vinyasa.
Speaking of vinyasas after each pose, I also recommend trying a seated core pose as an alternative to more chaturangas if you are working on healing your shoulders or needing a break. Basically you draw the knees up and in toward each other and into the chest without using your hands. Arms are extended forward with flexed hands to build core heat and strength. I would recommend rolling forward into Up Dog to counter all the forward folding.
The Floor Series presents the some very difficult poses, some of which I am eliminating from this series as they are 1) dangerous for most yogis given our real lives off the mat, and 2) you won’t be able to do them and you will become discouraged. Don’t think that I’m being an Ashtanga elitist. I am being totally honest. I have practiced with a pretty flexible body, and the poses that I am eliminating have been out of reach in the more than 20 years I have been practicing. They have dropped my energy and make that part of the practice a real bummer. David doesn’t teach them either. If you are interested and ready for these poses at some point, I will gladly teach you how to safely navigate these poses.
The Floor Series in the Primary Series is the interchangeable sequence that differentiates Primary from Intermediate Series. The Intermediate Series Floor poses are focused on back bending and the series is named Nadi Shodhana - Nerve Cleansing. It is used to balance the nervous system by systematically elongating the front body with progressive back bending and hip opening poses.
The template for the seated poses in the Primary Series is Dandasana - the Staff Pose. It is the seated version of Mountain Pose - Tadasana. There are elements of Staff Pose in every seated pose.
Here is the list of the poses in the Floor Series and their session #
Session 34: Dandasna (Staff Pose)
Session 34: Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold) A, B, & C
Session 34: Purvottanasana (Reverse Plank)
Session 35: Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana (Half Bound Lotus Forward Folding)
Session 36: Trianga Mukhalkapada Paschimottanasana (One Leg Folded Back Forward Fold)
Session 37: Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Pose) A, B & C
Session 38: Marichyasana (Seated Twists and Folds) A, B, C & D
Session 39: Navasana (Boat Pose)
Session 40: Bhujapidasana (Shoulder Pressure Pose)
Session 41:*Kurmasana (Turtle Pose)
Session 41:*Supta Kurmasana (Reclined Turtle)
Session 41:*Garbha Pindasana (Embryo Pose Series)
Session 41:*Kukkutasana (Rooster Pose)
Session 42: Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) A & B
Session 43: Upavista Konaasana (Seated Wide Angle Pose) A, B & Supta Konasana
Session 44: Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Leg Stretches) A, B & C and the transition to balance
Session 45: Ubhaya Padangusthasana (Both Feet Raised Balance)
Session 45: Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana (Upward Facing Intense Fold)
Session 41:*Setu Bandhasana
*poses that will not be taught in this series - dangerous and not attainable for most
We will cover each of these poses in our live check in sessions. I will demonstrate, explain and offer modifications. Each check in session will be available from start to finish and the pose instruction will also be available as a stand alone instructional video in the Floor Series Channel.
As always, I encourage you to find where each of these poses meets you today as you are. Each pose is a journey of many practices. Rest assured that they are not mastered and put aside as a conquest. They are ways to bring energy to the body. With consistency and compassion, you will find yourself in these poses.
Session 40 - Bhujapidasana
This is an impressive pose and when it is in a flow, it is quite strong and cohesive. I will be demonstrating how to break down the pose and that's how I practice it myself. It's totally legal to practice in little bits - as much or as little as you can do compassionately, and mindfully. If you choose to do something else, Crow Pose is an excellent option. I'll show you crow pose and a variation that is available to everyone. For now, here is an example of Bhujapidasana.
Session 41- Not Going To Do These Poses
There are some poses that I don’t teach now. 4 of them are in sequence to each other and one is at the end of the primary series before you get to the Finishing Series. Basically, these poses are not safe and are out of reach for 99% of yogis. If you can’t do Kurmasana, you cannot safely move on to Supta Kurmasana. Garbha Pindasana in its fullest expression requires Lotus Pose/Padmasana an that pose is not available to about 90% of yogis - plus we do a similar rolling on the spine in the spinal warm up - so you are not really missing out here. Kukkatasana is, again, reliant upon Lotus for its fullest expression and if you are modifying with Tolasana, you get that in the Finishing Series. Setu Bandhasana is a pose that bears weight upon the head and stresses the neck. David Williams deems it unsafe and so do I. Most of us have degenerative disks in our necks from years of sitting and this is a risky pose.
I am putting links here so you can see these poses in their full glory. You must note that they require an extreme degree of flexibility, skilled abdominal strength and patience. They are beautiful to watch, but, remember, yoga is about how you feel and not how it looks. I have also removed them from the Primary Series that I teach and practice because they can be like hitting a wall of failure in your practice, and I don’t want you to feel like that. If and when you are ready to take on Kurmasana, let me know and I will teach you privately.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on these poses since they are irrelevant to what we are learning in this series. The links are for you to see the pose being executed. Doing these poses does not make you better or promise enlightenment!
Supta Kurmasana - This is a bound version of the pose and comes after Kurmasana