Ashtanga Yoga, as it is taught by K. Pattabhi Jois, is meticulously consistent. If you're new, you begin by learning the Primary Series and practicing that sequence every time until your teacher deems you ready to advance. Then you work on the Intermediate Series—doing the same poses in that series in the same order—until you've mastered it and can move on to the next. Longtime Ashtanga Yoga teacher David Swenson values this approach. "Doing something regularly is the key to advancement, and yoga is no exception," he says. But Swenson also breaks free from the mold and varies the practice when necessary. "The truth is that many people aren't able to practice for 90 minutes every single day," he says. "So I've created shorter routines to make yoga more accessible to them."
Swenson's short sequences, like the one that follows, follow the basic blueprint of the Primary Series and include standing poses, seated forward bends, twists, backbends, and inversions. But the most important aspect of the practice—even more important than the asanas and the order in which you do them—is the breath. "If you don't focus on breathing regularly and deeply," Swenson says, "yoga is the same as gymnastics or any other workout. But when you focus on the breath, you can start to control the mind."
Before You Begin
Breathe Use Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath) throughout the sequence. To try it, inhale deeply, and as you exhale, whisper "hhhaaa." Halfway through the exhalation, close your mouth and let the air exit through your nose but continue to make an audible sound. Try adding a gentle smile, which will help the air swirl around the back of the throat. This action creates a unique sound, often compared to the wind in the trees, the ocean, or even Darth Vader in Star Wars.
Salute the Sun For this shortened practice, Swenson recommends doing two or three A or B Sun Salutations.
1. Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose)
Step your feet hip-width apart with your hands on your waist. Inhale, lift your chest, and look up. Exhale and fold forward, clasping your big toes with the first two fingers of each hand. (If you feel strain in any of the forward bends in this sequence, modify the pose by bending your knees.) Inhale and look forward, lengthening your spine. Exhale and fold, gazing at your nose. Stay for 5 deep breaths.
2. Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
Stand sideways on your mat, inhale, and step your feet one leg's distance apart. Stretch your arms out. Turn your right foot out and your left foot in slightly. Exhale as you clasp your right big toe with the first two fingers of your right hand. Gaze up at your left hand. Stay for 5 breaths, then inhale and come up. Exhale and do the other side.
3. Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose)
Step your right foot out and left foot in so that the feet are underneath your wrists, and stretch your arms out. Bend your right leg deeply, keeping your knee directly above your heel. Lower your right hand to the floor outside the right foot. Reach your left arm alongside your ear. Lengthen and rotate your torso toward the sky. Stay for
5 breaths, then inhale to come up. Turn your feet parallel and exhale into the other side.
4. Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
Inhale, raise your right foot, grab your big toe, and straighten your leg. (You can also hold your knee with both hands for this whole pose.) Place your left hand on your hip and fix your gaze on the horizon to help you balance. Exhale as you bring your right leg toward your chest and your chest toward your leg. Stay for 5 breaths, then inhale to come up. Exhale, lower the leg, then do the other side.
5. Paschimottanasana A
(Seated Forward Bend)
Sit with your legs extended in front of you in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Exhale as you fold forward, clasping your
big toes. Inhale, lengthen your spine, and lift your chest slightly up. Exhale and fold. Stay for 5 breaths.
6. Marichyasana C (Marichi's Twist C)
Exhale, bend your right leg, and place the heel slightly to the outside of the right sitting bone. Place your right fingertips on the floor behind your right hip. Hug your knee with your left arm. Lengthen your spine as you inhale, and take your gaze over the right shoulder. Stay for 5 deep breaths. Inhale to unwind and then do the left side.
7. Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose)
Sit in Dandasana. Inhale and lift both legs so that your whole body forms a V. Keep your arms parallel to the floor with the palms facing each other. (Bend your legs and hold the back of the knees if necessary.) Stay here for 5 breaths. Then exhale and bring your hands to the floor outside the hips. Inhale, cross your shins, and lift your hips off the floor. Exhale and lower down. Return to Navasana. Repeat this sequence 3 to 5 times.
8. Upavistha Konasana
(Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)
Sit with your legs spread wide apart. Hold on to your feet and fold halfway forward (as in photograph). Keep your knees pointing up toward the ceiling—don't let the legs roll in. Inhale, lengthen your spine, exhale, and fold all the way forward, gazing at your third eye. Stay for 5 breaths.
9. Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Inhale and press your hips up, interlacing your hands underneath your hips. Next, place your hands under your shoulders and lift into a backbend. Lower yourself down after 5 breaths. Press up 2 more times, resting for
a breath between each backbend.
It's essential that you maintain the natural curve in your neck when doing Shoulderstand. This Half Shoulderstand variation will help you do that. From Halasana (Plow Pose), place your palms on the back of your pelvis with fingertips pointing toward the ceiling. Inhaling, lift both legs three-quarters of the way up with your toes pointed. Gaze at
the tip of your nose. Stay for 15 breaths. To come out, roll down slowly, supporting your hips with your hands.
After You Finish
After Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand),
do Matsyasana (Fish Pose) as a counterpose. Then meditate in Padmasana (Lotus Pose) in a simple cross-legged position, or in a chair if you need to. Rest on your back in Savasana (Corpse Pose) for five minutes or more.