Yoga Therapy: Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series
The aim of practicing Yoga is to move towards a higher state of consciousness, but without a physically fit body which is strong and free from disease it is difficult for this to happen. When practiced correctly, asanas can heal and rectify imbalances to bring the body in a physically ready state to progress into the spirituality of Yoga.
Bhujangasana, a part of the sun salutation
This thought was central to Sri K Pattabhi Jois’ teaching, which he explains in his book Yoga Mala: “Physical strength, mental strength, and the strength of the sense organs - all these are very important. Without them, one cannot attain spiritual strength, body and mind are inseparably linked. If pleasure and pain are experienced by either the physical body or the sense organs, the mind will experience them as well…to learn how to achieve such concentration the body must first be purified and then mental strength developed. The method for purifying and strengthening the body is called asana.”
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a style of yoga codified and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois during the 20th century. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is made up of six series each of which has a set order of poses. Each series begins with 5 rounds each of Surya Namaskara A and B variations, followed by the standing sequence. All the series end with the same finishing sequence.
The six series are:
- The Primary series: Yoga Chikitsa, Yoga Therapy
- The Intermediate series: Nadi Shodhana, The Nerve Purifier
- The Advanced series: Sthira Bhaga, Centering of Strength
- Advanced A, or Third series
- Advanced B, or Fourth series
- Advanced C, or Fifth series
- Advanced D, or Sixth series
The Primary Series: Yoga Chikitsa
The primary series is the first series students learn, it is a foundational practice which provides the basis for the other five Ashtanga Vinyasa series. Jois called the Primary Series Yoga Chikitsa, meaning Yoga therapy. Although all of Ashtanga Yoga is generally therapeutic in nature, the Primary Series is given this name because it is said to purify and heal both, the body and mind.
Parsvottanasana, a part of the Standing Sequence of the Primary Series
The Ashtanga yoga method of practicing the primary series is to memorize the postures, and practice them six days per week, following the rhythm and counting of the yogi's own breath, rather than a teacher. This is said to encourage introspection and focus. Primary Series, being the first series, is considered by many to be the easiest. But it is said that it is actually the most difficult to perfect, with yogis practicing it for years before moving on to the Intermediate series or Nadi Shodhana.
This is because it is in the Primary Series that the mind and body get accustomed to the system of Ashtanga Yoga and the discipline of a 6-day practice. Once the mind and body are used to the rigour, it is relatively easier to progress to the next series.
Urdhva Dhanurasana, Part of the closing sequence
On a physical level the asanas of the Primary Series build strength and flexibility in the body, loosening tight muscles and realigning and detoxifying the body and nervous system. The series begins with forward bends, then twists and hip openers. These postures and the Vinyasa between them build internal heat. On a mental level, through regular practice focus, willpower, mind-body awareness and confidence are improved. On a subtle level the Primary series works therapeutically to clear obstacles in the energy channels in the body (known as Nadis). This clearing of obstacles allows the Prana (breath) to flow more freely so the body and mind are therefore allowed to work more effectively.
About the Yogi: The photos for this article are taken by Sonia Frydrych on Kosha Yoga Co's Foliage Mat. Sonia is a Polish Yogi who currently lives in India. Besides being one of the most talented yogis we know, Sonia is also an incredible photographer. Follow her journey @soniafrydrych on Instagram.