Yoga Journal’s Ashtanga Yoga: Introductory Poses with Nicki Doane (60 minutes) and Yoga Journal’s Ashtanga Yoga: Beginners Practice with Nicki Doane (67 minutes)


By Richard Rosen  |  

Both from Gaiam; www.gaiam.com; both VHS.

K. Pattabhi Jois–style Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, along with its various “power yoga” knockoffs, is certainly one of the more popular forms of practice in this country. Over the past few years, there has been a steady stream of instructional audio- and videotapes from the teachers associated with this school, usually treating either the first or second series as a whole. These two videos have a different angle, teaching only bite-size portions of the full primary series. The first focuses just on the introductory poses, which means two Sun Salutations (A and B); the beginner’s practice revisits the Sun Salutations and adds the first half of the Ashtanga standing-pose sequence to the mix.

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This is a very reasonable way to learn the Ashtanga primary series, which is usually daunting to beginners. Instead of trying to absorb the entire series in one big gulp, students can learn the positions step by step; each position is thoroughly investigated before progressing to the next. This teaching method is similar to that of the Iyengar school, in which poses are first broken down into their constituent elements, then the elements are practiced, and finally, the elements are reassembled, like a jigsaw puzzle, into the full position. Unfortunately, though, there are evidently no plans for additional videos to complete the primary series, which sort of leaves practitioners hanging.

Each video begins with the traditional invocation to Patanjali, credited as the founder of the classical Ashtanga school. The introductory video then breaks down the movements of the A and B Salutation sequences, starting with the opening standing position (Samasthiti) and gradually adding one position after another until the sequence is completed. Doane does not provide many physical details about the performance of the individual positions; she mostly calls out the numbers (in Sanskrit) assigned to each of them. Each of the sequences take about 25 minutes to complete. This video ends with a short (four-minute) breathing practice and an equally short Savasana.

The second video begins with a very straightforward run-through of the two Salutations (taking about 30 minutes to do so), then moves on (for the next 20 minutes) to the first half of the standing-pose sequence. This includes two standing forward bend variations, Triangle and Revolved Triangle, Side Angle Pose, four variations of Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend (lettered A through D), and Intense Side Stretch Pose. Because of the slower pace of this sequence, Doane is able to expand on the performance of the poses, including instruction–so important to this school–on Mula Bandha (Root Lock) and drishti (gaze). Like the first, this video ends with a short breathing practice and Savasana.

Doane has an appropriately methodical approach and is an outstanding model. If you’re a beginning Ashtanga student and want an at-home coach for at least the opening part of the primary series, you’ll certainly want to have these two videos.

Richard Rosen, who teaches in Oakland and Berkeley, California, has been writing for Yoga Journal since the 1970s.