Ashtanga yoga is a style of Hatha Yoga that is more traditional than other modern day forms of yoga. It’s steeped in history, tradition, Sanskrit and consists of set sequences of postures. Ashtanga yoga is a beautiful flowing practice that links each posture, or asana, with breath (vinyasa).
Ashtanga means eight limbs. The asanas, or yoga poses, that most people think to be yoga is the third limb of Ashtanga. The third limb is referred to as asana. Within the Ashtanga Yoga asana practice, there are practice six series to learn and master:
- Yoga Chikitsa or Primary Series
- Nadi Shodana or Intermediate or Second Series
- Advanced A, or third series
- Advanced B, or fourth series
- Advanced C, or fifth series
- Advanced D, or sixth series
Ashtanga Yoga Finishing Sequence
No matter which series you are working on, you will always end your practice with the Ashtanga Yoga finishing sequence. Today we will explore the asanas of the Ashtanga Yoga finishing sequence. If you would like to learn and practice the finishing sequence, check out our Youtube Video on the full Ashtanga Yoga finishing sequence.
In Ashtanga yoga, you take three backbends, also known as Urdhva Dhanurasana, at the start of your finishing sequence. If you are brand new to yoga you might take bridge posture instead. But once you’ve become more refined in your practice, you will add drop backs after you complete your three backbends. If you are lucky enough to study with a teacher, you will get assists in half backs and drop backs, after you’ve done your initial three backbends.
After you’ve taken your backbends, you would take chakrasana back to seated and then fold forward for ten breaths. From there, you take a Vinyasa back to seated and lie down to begin your inversions. The inversion sequence in the Ashtanga yoga finishing sequence always begins with Salamba Sarvangasana or supported shoulder stand.
You want to avoid this and all inversions if you have glaucoma or a detached retina, or you are on the heaviest days of your menstrual cycle. Be sure to check with your Doctor before starting inversions if you have neck issues as well. It is important with shoulder stand and all inversions that you press your head back into the floor as you lift your chin up towards the sky to leave room between your neck and the mat so as not to compress your cervical spine.
To learn how to take shoulder stand or any of the postures in the finishing sequence, check out our Youtube Video on the full finishing sequence.
In the Ashtanga yoga finishing sequence, you want to roll up into shoulder stand and support your back with your hands as you protect your neck by applying the concepts of tensegrity or opposition of force. You can achieve this by pressing your head into the floor as you lift your chin upward. You want to work up to sixteen full deep breaths in Salamba Sarvangasana. Go slowly to work up to the sixteen breath count, as it may be too much early on.
After your sixteen breaths in shoulder stand, you will slowly lower your feet to the floor for Halasana, or plow posture. Newer students may not immediately be able to get the toes to touch the floor and that will happen with practice. Eventually, you want straight legs with your toes touching the floor above you. If you can interlace your fingers pressing your hands towards the floor behind you. You will breathe here for eight deep breaths. As with all inversions, also be sure to protect your cervical spine by pressing your head into the floor and your chin towards the ceiling.
From Halasana, slowly lower your knees towards your ears for Karna Pidasana, or ear pressure posture. In the full expression of this posture, your knees are touching the floor and you are pressing your knees towards your ears. Hence the name of the posture. New students may find it difficult to bring their knees all the way to the floor and that’s ok. With consistent practice, you’ll be able to experience the full expression of this posture.
Gaze toward your nose, nasagrai drishti. Breathe in this pose for eight deep breaths. Be sure to stay focused on deep breathing with sound and engagement of your bandhas. For more on deep breathing, drishti’s and bandhas, check out this video.
As with all inversion postures, please be sure to protect your cervical spine by using opposition of force or tensegrity. You can do this by simply pressing the back of your head towards the floor while you press your chin up towards the sky. It will help ensure a healthy spine and longevity in your yoga practice.
After you take eight deep breaths in Karna Pidasana, you will lift your legs back up into Salamba Sarvangasana in order to enter ashtanga yoga finishing sequence posture, Urdhva Padmasana. In English, Urdhva Padmasana means upward facing lotus posture. While in Salambha Sarvangasana bring your legs into lotus posture. If you can, then bring your hands to the top of your knees and balance on your shoulders. For newer students, try this posture with your hands on your lower back for support.
Don’t try to force your legs into lotus while inverted if you are a new practitioner. Instead, keeping your hands on your lower back for support, just cross your legs for the time being and slowly work towards balancing on your shoulders to enter the posture while protecting your neck. As with all inversions, it is imperative that you protect your cervial spine in this posture. To do that, simply lift your chin towards the sky as you press the back of your head into the floor beneath you.
Breathe here for eight deep breaths. Gaze to your nose, known as Nasagrai drishi. And as always, maintain active engagement of your bandhas.
From Urdhva Padmasana, slowly drop your lotus legs or cross legs down towards your face. If possible, wrap your arms around your crossed or lotus legs like you are giving yourself a hug. This posture is called Pindasana or embryo posture.
Breathe here for eight deep breaths. While in this posture, focus on your breath, your bandhas and gaze toward your nose. This is a tricky balance posture requiring that you balance on your shoulders. Due to the nature of the pose, you may find you are compressing your neck into the floor. Try to be mindful to keep pressing the back of your head down and you lift your chin up to avoid cervical compression.
If you would like to practice the postures of the finishing sequence, follow along with us on our youtube video.
After you take eight breaths in Pindasana, remove your hands from your knees, or the lower back, and bring your hands to the floor. From there, start to slowly roll down out of Pindasana, one vertebra at a time. Keep your legs in lotus or cross leg position while you do this. Once your back is on the floor, and your legs in lotus or crossed, press your elbows on the floor to help you arch your back to bring the crown of your head on the floor.
When you find balance on your head, bring your hands to your feet and breathe for eight deep breaths. It is important to focus on opposition here by pressing the crown of your head down into the floor as you work to press your chest towards the sky. Also focus on squeezing your lotus tighter as your grip your hands around your feet and use your arms to pull your feet tighter. There are a lot of great oppositions in this posture, so have fun exploring them!
This is Matsyasana. The English translation of this pose is Fish posture. Breathe here for eight deep breaths and gaze towards your third eye. In Sanskrit, this is known as Bhrumadhya drishti.
From Matsyasana, you will maintain the position of your head as you slowly bring your legs apart and stretch them up and together. Also work to stretch your hands up and together. This is Uttana Padasana or raised leg pose. As with most of the inversions in the Ashtanga finishing sequence, you want to work towards eight deep breaths here. Like Matsyasana, you will gaze towards Bhrumadahya drishti, known as your third eye gaze point.
This Ashtanga yoga finishing sequence posture is harder than it might look. You have to balance on your head and tailbone with the weight of your arms and legs extended away from you. The easies way to find steadiness in this pose is to focus on tensegrity by pressing the crown of the head towards your mat as you really work to extend your arms and legs in the opposite direction.
Once you take eight breaths in Uttana Padasana, slowly release the pose by lowing your arms and legs and then relaxing your head down into the floor. From there you will either sit up and take a vinyasa or take Chakrasana. Once you get to down dog, or Adho Mukha Shvanasana, your will drop to your knees and prepare for Sirsasana (head stand).
From your knees, bring your forearms in front of you and interlace your fingers. Then bring the back of your hands to the floor and your forearms into a v shape. Next, bring the crown of your head to the floor and abut it to your interlaced fingers.
If you are new to this posture, simply bring yourself up into a down dog position while your hands, forearms and head are on the floor. Don’t try to come up yet, but instead work to build up the stamina in this modification. Over time you’ll be able to walk your toes closer to your body and work to stack your hips over your shoulders. Before you know it, you’ll find your toes float off the ground and you can easily press into your forearms to lift your legs up in to Sirsasana.
Once you are in the full expression of the posture, try to work up to twenty (20) breaths in head stand. And if you have mastered 20 breaths here, you can start to work on ardha sirsasana or half headstand for up to fifteen breaths. Whenever you are ready to come out of headstand, simply lower your legs to the floor.
Once you bring your legs to the floor, bring your arms to your side and drop your head to the floor for ten breaths. This is Balasana or Childs posture. It will help to calm your heart rate, rest your shoulders and balance your energy.
No need to focus on opposition of force here, simply allow your body to relax in this pose. But do keep steady deep breathing with sound and keep your eyes open gazing towards your nose (nasagrai drishti). After your tenth breath in Balasana, slowly bring yourself through a Vinyasa back to seated position.
From seated position, bring your legs into lotus posture, half lotus posture or a simple cross leg position. If you are a new student, maybe start with simple cross legs and then bring your arms behind you and hold on to your elbows. For more experienced students, if you are able to safely get into lotus pose, try bringing your hands behind you and binding your fingers around your toes. This is Baddha Padmasana. It translates to bound lotus posture. You will not hold this posture, but keep Baddha Padmasana as you move into Yoga Mudra.
Once you are safely in one of the modifications or the full expression of Baddha Padmasana, gently lower your head towards the floor. Regardless of if you are taking the full expression or a modification for this posture, try to breathe here for eight (8) deep breaths. Remember to engage your bandhas, breathe deeply from your throat through your nose, and gaze to your nose.
Once you take your last breath in Yoga Mudrasana, slowly sit up. Keep your legs in cross legged position, half-lotus or lotus. Bring your thumb and index fingers together and place the back of your hands onto your knees. Drop the skin of your chin towards the skin of your chest to engage jalandhara bandha (chin lock).
This is Yoga Mudrasana or yogic seal posture. Stay here for eight deep breaths. Gaze towards your nose (nasagrai drishti). Deep breathing with sound.
From Padmasana, lift your head up and bring your hands to the floor beside you. On an inhale, lift your lotus, half-lotus or cross legs off the floor. This is Utplutih, or sprung up posture. Work up to ten (10) deep breaths in this pose. It is a very challenging posture so build up to the full expression over time. After your last breath, slowly lower your body back down to the floor. From there, take a Vinyasa. This is our last finishing sequence posture in the Ashtanga tradition.
Many practitioners enjoy chanting the Ashtanga Closing Mantra before taking rest. If you have no interest in chanting, simply take your last Vinyasa back through to seated. Then turn around the face the back of your mat and lie down to take rest.
If you do enjoy the closing ashtanga mantra, from Utplutih, take a Vinyasa to down ward facing dog position. Then jump your feet to your hands and finish your Vinyasa back to standing. At the top of your mat with your hands in prayer, or Namaste position, begin reciting the mangala mantra, or peace prayer that is the Ashtanga Yoga closing mantra. (If you’d like to learn how to chant this mantra, or learn more about it’s meaning, check out Olotita’s YouTube video on the Ashtanga yoga opening and closing mantra. Once you finish reciting this beautiful prayer for world peace, take one last Vinyasa back through to seated. Then turn around, lie down, and take rest.
This is the time in your practice that you truly let go. Close your eyes. Relax your body, limb by limb. Return to normal, rhythmic breathing. Release Uddiyana and Mala Bandha. Just allow your body to completely rest into the floor. Please take rest for at least three minutes and up to ten so you can fully balance the energy that you have gained and exerted in your practice.
After taking rest for several minutes, you will find that you get up from your rest and enter the day with more clarity, alertness and energy. I hope you enjoy your practice! If you’d like to experience a guided full finishing sequence class with me, head over to our YouTube channel where we’ve posted a free guided full finishing sequence video for you to enjoy.
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❤️ If you would like to learn the Ashtanga yoga finishing sequence online with me online, you can do so through my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@olotita
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Krista is a level II authorized Ashtanga Yoga teacher and she is passionate about sharing these teachings with all who wish to learn.
If you want to join Krista in person she teaches daily classes at The Yoga Shala in Winter Park, Florida. She also offers virtual sessions in Yoga, Meditation, Breath-work, Nutrition, Life Coaching and Mentorship. Check out www.theyogashala.org for more details.
If you do not live in Central Florida and want to find an authorized teacher in your area, check out my teacher Sharath Jois’ website for a list of all teachers authorized and certified by his yoga centre in India. https://sharathyogacentre.com/authori…
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