If you’re interested in learning about the best Ashtanga yoga poses, you’ve come to the right place. Now, in creating this list, I pondered a couple traits: Which poses require consistent practice to achieve, which poses do yogis often state that they enjoy doing, and which poses have the most benefits for the average, healthy person.
Now, while this article may not contain poses for beginning Ashtanga yogis, I still recommend glancing over this article as inspiration for your future practices, as well as educational purposes, so you can learn yoga poses by name, as well as the anatomy involved.
For those ready to learn about the top Ashtanga yoga poses, let’s get started!
How Often They Should Be Performed
The most optimal way of practicing any Ashtanga Yoga practice is through the traditional Mysore Style. Using this method, you practice 6 days week, intuitively listening to your body. Naturally, from practicing poses 6 days a week, you’ll at times be sore, tired, or unmotivated.
On these days, you must still practice, but practice with ease and softness. Do not go deep into the poses. However, on days that you feel flexible, vibrant, and energetic, be sure to practice in a more challenging manner.
For instance, you may want to spread the legs wider coming into warrior 2, or instead of relaxing in child’s pose during an inversion, you may want to practice balancing on your hands and taking part in the inversion practice.
When you practice Ashtanga using the Mysore Style, you will notice quicker results of strength, flexibility, cardiovascular health, as well as inner peace, compared to practicing intensely 2 or 3 times a week. However, be sure to take a break from the Mysore Style and consult your doctor if you have any injuries, or illnesses that will worsen with your practice.
Who Benefits From Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga is a type of yoga that is enjoyable for those who like to move and challenge their body. If you have any mild injuries, but still daydream of the idea of doing Ashtanga Yoga classes, you can still practice, as long as your doctor approves. Yoga props such as blocks, straps, and blankets are useful to get into poses that may require a lot of flexibility, or poses that require you to put a strong amount of pressure on a body part, such as the knees or elbows.
It is also important to listen to your body, and not push yourself too much. Many new students feel they must copy other students, but yoga philosophy encourages that yogis modify poses based on their body’s needs. We all have different lifestyles and genetics that affect our abilities to do poses, so there’s no shame in variations.
If the idea of physical exercise is unappealing to you, Ashtanga may not be your favorite form of yoga, for movement is strongly focused. However, I do recommend having some form of physical exercise because it is a vital part of achieving and maintaining proper health.
That being said, there are various types of yoga that focus more on chanting, meditation, and breath work, so don’t give up on seeking yoga for healing and personal growth if Ashtanga isn’t right for you!
What Breath Technique to Use
During Ashtanga Yoga, ujjayi breath, also known as “ocean breath”, or more modernly, “Darth Vader breath”, is used to help the yogi move through the poses. It is a type of breathing that occurs through the nostrils, where the mouth is closed, and inhalations slowly fill the belly, while exhalations deflate the belly.
When the air goes in and out of the throat passage ways, a sound resembling the ocean occurs, hence the nicknames “ocean breath” and “Darth Vader breath”. The movement of the belly is caused by the usage of the the diaphragm, which is a muscle below the lungs and strengthens when this breath is regularly practiced.
Another important fact to mention is that the inhalations and exhalations are performed at equal durations, keeping the breathing smooth and easy to control.
Aside from Ashtanga Yoga, this breath can be used for any physical yoga practice, as well as in everyday life. Interesting fact: You cannot do ujjayi breath and cry, or hyperventilate at the same time, so try this whenever you’re upset.
Also, ujjayi breath is beneficial to regulate blood pressure and increase the amount of oxygen in the blood, which is important for a healthy, circulatory system. Feeling cold? It also builds internal body heat.
The Top 5 Ashtanga Yoga Poses
Now for the exciting part! Here are the top 5 Ashtanga Yoga Poses that made the list:
- Warrior III
Start off in a tall, standing position with your legs only hip width apart.
From here, put the weight into your leg left leg, and lift your arms up by your ears, keeping the arms straight, and the fingers together, while facing upward.
Raise your right foot from the floor, and while you move the right leg backward to straighten, tip your torso and arms forward until your right leg and arms are horizontal to each other. To keep your balance, focus on stretching from your fingertips to your right foot, and push your left foot into the ground to keep it stable.
Breathe here for at least 5 breaths and then slowly lower the right leg with control, coming back to standing. Switch sides.
Benefits: Strengthens the whole body and improves balance as well as concentration.
- Garland Pose
Start off in a standing position. Bring your legs out a bit, so that they are hip width apart, and turn out the feet about 45 degrees.
After that, squat down, trying to keep the heels on the floor. If your heels don’t touch the floor, roll a blanket under to support them.
Once you’re here, bring your hands into a prayer pose, and have your elbows touch the inner part of your thighs. Use your elbows to push your knees out more and open your hips.
Next, try to lengthen and lift the spine, by stretching the spine vertically, and rotating your pelvis inward.
Stay here and breathe for at least 5 breaths and then relax your arms and come to standing.
Benefits: Reverses stiff hips from sitting, stretches lower back, hips, groin, sacrum, and achilles’ tendons, activates metabolism and digestive system, tones the stomach and improves posture.
- Wheel Pose
Start off lying on your back, your knees bent, and arms by your side with palms down.
Begin to lift your hands, bend them backwards, and then guide them to each side of your head, so that the ending result is with your hands palm faced down, fingers are pointing towards your toes, and arms are bent with elbows pointing towards the sky.
Next, with your knees still bent, bring your feet closer to your bum.
When ready, push up your torso and pelvis into wheel pose, straightening the arm. Choose to push up using your arm strength or leg strength. Either is fine.
Once here, let the head dangle and look between the arms, the direction away from your body.
Hold for a couple breaths, and then slowly release by lowering the pelvis first.
Benefits: Stretches the intercostal muscles (between each rib), stretches the hip flexors and psoas of the legs, strengthens shoulder muscles, arms, and thigh muscles, improves breathing ability, and decreases blood pressure and heart rate.
- Tripod Headstand
Start off on your hands and knees in an all fours position, hands directly under the shoulders. Hand should be firmly on the ground and fingers should be spread wide.
Bring your head down to the floor, not between your hands, but a few inches above your hands, so your head and two hands create a triangle shape (your head being the top of the triangle).
Next, lift your knees, so that your legs are straight.
From here, start to lift your heels, so that you are on your tip toes, and there is pressure on your head just above the forehead. If you feel pain in your neck, you’ve moved forward to far.
After that, bring one knee at a time onto your arms, just above the elbows. Use the strength in your stomach and push your hands and head into the ground to stay stable here.
Begin to raise your legs, maybe starting with bent knees, and then slowly straightening the legs to vertical. Try to bring your feet together.
Breathe and stay here for at least 5 breaths, and then try to come down slowly with the control of your abdomen. If your abdomen is weak, bring the knees to the arms above the elbows again, before bringing the feet down to the ground.
Tip: If you are new to this pose, practice against a wall, starting off with the “triangle shape” about an inch away from the wall.
Note: Do not practice away from the wall until you are confident you can balance in the pose, so you don’t risk a neck or back injury.
Benefits: Strengthens abdominal muscles, shoulders and legs; improves concentration and balance; reduces headaches, mild congestion, stress, fatigue, constipation and poor circulation.
- Crow Pose
Start of in a relaxed standing position.
On an inhale, raise your arms up by your ears, and then on an exhale, fold forward for standing forward fold.
Next, bend your knees as much as you can, come onto your tip toes, and then bring your arms and hands forward a couple inches (with fingers spread wide and planted on the ground), and try to bring your knees onto your armpits, or as high as you can on the back of your upper arms.
From here, start to bend your arms and tilt your torso and head forward, so that your gaze is looking right in front of your hands.
Lift one foot from the floor at a time, bending your knees and bringing your feet close to your bum.
Breathe and stay here for about 5 breaths and then bring the feet down first to come out of the pose.
Tip: If this is your first time doing the pose, place a block where your head can rest when you come into the pose.
Note: Falling on your face is a common part of practicing this pose in the beginning, so practice on a soft surface.
Benefits: Strengthens core, farms, wrists, hands, and legs, increases balance and coordination, and stretches the spine and upper back.
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