What is Ashtanga Yoga? Benefits and Poses

  • In Ashtanga yoga, you perform the same set of poses, in the same order, for the same number of breaths.
  • The benefits of Ashtanga yoga include improved well-being, increased strength, and a calmer mind.
  • Ashtanga yoga poses include the forward bend, extended side angle, and extended triangle.
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Among the many forms of yoga, Ashtanga has a reputation for being one of the most athletic.

Founded in India by K. Patthabi Jois in 1948, a classic Ashtanga routine requires physical fitness, flexibility and focus, which can create a calming but sweaty form of movement.


If you’re interested in practicing, here’s what you need to know, how often you should practice, and the supposed benefits.

What is Ashtanga yoga?

Like Vinyasa or power yoga, Ashtanga yoga involves poses derived from it.

However, what sets Ashtanga apart is that you perform the same poses, or asanas, in the same order, for the same number of breaths, every time you practice. Vinyasa yoga, in comparison, is more flexible and involves different poses in different orders.

The complete routine, called the Primary Set, takes approximately 90 minutes. Every movement you make has a corresponding inhale and exhale as well as a visual focal point called Drishti.

For example, before starting a forward bend, breathe out completely as you bend down, looking past your nose as you go, and holding the pose for exactly five breaths before moving on to the next pose.

The combination of intense movement and focus helps stabilize your mind and mood, says Karen Kelley, a licensed Ashtanga teacher and owner of Mysore Phoenix, a yoga shala or studio.

Because the Primary Series can be difficult to learn and practice, even if you are in good shape, beginners should start with classes called Mysore. During a Mysore class, people can show up at any time and browse the series at their own pace while a teacher makes edits, says Michael Joel Hall, certified Ashtanga teacher and founder of Functional Ashtanga, a studio in virtual yoga.

You should strive to practice six days a week at home or in a studio, even if you are not able to do the full routine at first.

Five Ashtanga poses to try

These poses are part of the Ashtanga Primary Series sequences, which is the full 90 minute flow.

As you practice, switch between poses, exhaling as you bend down and hold each pose for five full breaths.

Use the suggested modifications to make the poses less difficult if you are just starting out.

1. Front curve

fold forward

You can also grab the opposite elbows and let your hands hang down.

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How to do:

  1. While standing, place your feet parallel and hip-width apart.
  2. Bend down from the hips.
  3. Place your hands on the floor next to your feet.
  4. Focus your eyes towards the tip of your nose.

2. Extended triangle

Extended triangle pose

If you cannot reach the ground, you can gently put your hand on your shin.

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How to do:

  1. While standing, place your feet 3.5 to 4 feet apart, with your right foot facing outward and the left foot facing slightly inward.
  2. Extend your arms out to the T-shaped side.
  3. Bend your hips to the right, reaching your right toe.
  4. Focus on the fingertips of your raised hand.

3. Extended side angle

Extended side angle

You can also rest your arm on your right thigh.

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How to do:

  1. While standing, place your feet about 3.5 to 4 feet apart, with your right foot facing outward and your left foot facing inward slightly.
  2. Bend your right knee at a 90 degree angle.
  3. Lean to the right and place your right hand on the outside of your right foot, or gently on the right thigh.
  4. Swing your left arm above your head, in line with your body.
  5. Focus your eyes on the fingertips of your raised hand.

4. Wide leg front pleat

wide-legged forward pose

Possibility of joining the hands behind the back to stretch the shoulders.

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How to do:

  1. While standing, place your feet parallel about four feet apart.
  2. Lean forward at the hips.
  3. Reach the hands behind the back with an option to tie your fingers together.
  4. Keeping your back straight, continue to lean forward until your head is pointing to the floor.
  5. If your hands are clasped behind you, let them hang over your head.
  6. Focus your eyes on the tip of your nose.

5. Intense side stretch

Intense side stretch

You will feel this pose in your hamstrings.

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How to do:

  1. While standing, place your right foot 2.5 to 3 feet in front of your left and about hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your hips over your front leg.
  3. Keeping your back as straight as possible, extend your hand toward the floor on either side of your right foot with both hands.
  4. Focus your eyes on the toes of your front foot.

Insider takeaways

Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic and defined sequence of poses, breaths, and focal points. A typical 90-minute routine requires a high level of strength and flexibility, but you’ll be rewarded with increased focus, fitness, and well-being.

Beginners can tap into a unique group class style called Mysore, where everyone does as much of the routine as possible at their own pace. Because it’s a fixed routine that you can memorize, Ashtanga is a great practice for people who enjoy doing yoga independently or at home.

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