There are many different ways to sequence a yoga practice. In Ashtanga Vinyasa we rely on an ancient system, a pre-set and time-tested sequence of postures, which has proven to work in miraculous ways again and again. Its’ beautifully calming, cleansing and strengthening effects quickly become apparent as soon as one delves into the practice. Within a short time-period, you can feel the body and its’ joints opening, becoming more flexible, the emotions settling, and the mind becoming clear.

‘But why practice always the same sequence of postures?’ – you might ask.

First of all it is a brilliantly designed sequence, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. It warms you up with reverence paid to the sun, a devotional aspect. Then come the standing postures, creating strength and flexibility, starting from the feet upward; legs, hips, and especially the lower back.

The middle section differs from yoga student to yoga student, depending on the skill reached so far. It usually comprises floor postures, which reach their maximum intensity somewhere in the middle of the practice, typically with intense twisting and forward bending combined with wonderful hip-openings. The effects are now felt more in the middle and upper spine.

In the finishing sequence you will at some point stand on your head, having worked all body parts from the base all the way up to the crown, leaving you strengthened, and bendy! Prana will have reached all areas of your body with its amazing cleansing and healing benefits. During this process your chakras or energy wheels will have been activated and energized from the base upward.

This end section brings you to a relaxed, calm and reflected place, cooling you down both physically and mentally.

The beauty of this whole process is that one posture prepares you for the next, followed by counter poses.

Always practicing the same sequence gives you a reference point, and each day you are in the position to gauge your state of being, and marvel at your progress. It also teaches us patience, as we have to face our challenges regularly; it demands and fosters courage. The biggest challenge of all is being in the present moment with your breath and bandhas, without distractions. This is the key to developing the necessary skills for meditation, and also what prevents you from getting bored; a great challenge for many of us.

Practicing AVY will leave you feeling balanced, as in every single session you will have moved your spine in all five directions possible, forward, backward, sideways, twisted/revolved, and inverted/upside-down. These movements, respectively, relate to emotional states such as calm, joy, decision-making, ‘going with the flow’, and being able to stay centred, also when the world around you appears a bit chaotic.

You will feel these effects to a certain degree, even if you have just practiced a part of the sequence e.g. 15-20 minutes only. As soon as you have completed the first few standing postures your spine will have already been moved into the five directions mentioned above.

The first, or ‘Primary’ series, works miraculously for us Westerners. With great focus given to forward bending, it helps us to stay relaxed and calm. It also assists us in coping with sitting on chairs most of the time, as the practice promotes much hip-opening, and the stretching of the hip-flexors, typically shortened and therefore having become stiff when sitting for a long time.

The ‘Primary’ is referred to as ‘Yoga Chikitsa’ meaning ‘Yoga Therapy’, with which we realign and detoxify the body.

When moving into the second series or ‘Intermediate’, the focus is on intense back-bending and forward-bending, as well as creating a very strong and balanced body. The effects of the ‘Intermediate’ series or ‘Nadi Sodana’, is the cleansing of the nervous system on an even deeper level than already achieved in the ‘Primary’ series.

The even more advanced series – which for most of us will need to be left until another life-time J – is called ‘Sthira Bhaga’ meaning Strength and Grace.

Coming back to the first series, although called ‘Primary’ this sequence is by no means just basic. It involves complex twists, crossing your feet behind your head, full lotus, challenging balancing postures, and more. Therefore very slowly we build up the sequence step by step, so the body can gradually open up in all different ways, also giving the mind enough time to ‘catch up’. This wonderfully designed sequence isn’t only pushing your body to its limits – wisely – but also challenging your emotions, and mind.

This is a very individual process, and it may take a life-time to master even just a part of the primary series without it ever becoming boring or the practice feeling insufficient. Even when we sometimes feel as if we are ‘plateau-ing’, seemingly not really progressing, there is a lot at work subconsciously. We might just need a bit more time – unbeknownst to us – to process a past trauma. In Yoga therapy we don’t have to ‘relive’ past experiences – or we might recognize only much later that during the seemingly ‘stagnant’ time, we were greatly improving in other areas like e.g. our breathing skills, the bandhas or our ability to stay mentally present throughout longer sections of the practice at a time.

When practicing the AVY sequence you are left in good trustworthy ‘hands’. It will teach you how to face the day-to-day challenges, improving your relationships with both yourself and others, and will help you live life to the fullest.

Sutra I. 14 – If you practice the correct method regularly, over a long period of time, with continuous effort, enthusiasm, and eagerness, you certainly will see amazing results – much more than you could have ever dreamt of.

Come and practice!

OM Shanti,