Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series Download – The Blueprint of Ashtanga; A Safe, Effective Foundation

Download The Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series by Adam Keen

The Ashtanga yoga primary series will be the bulk of our practice for most of us if we stick with this system as taught in Mysore, which is as it should be. The postures are foundational, giving us a great range and scope of movement in our bodies. They are also (relatively) reasonable for the average individual to practice regularly. They sequentially open up the body in a progressive and methodical nature. This has been tested for over 50 years, at the very least.

This series is not just the gateway to ashtanga yoga; it is the bedrock. It works by leading individuals from having done no yoga to an excellent overall level of ability and fitness. Indeed, all other series is built upon the foundational knowledge developed in this one.

On the other hand, it must also be acknowledged that this may take some adaptation of the postures. The primary series also demands some pre-requisite of ability. This must also be made clear. It’s a blueprint, rough sketch, or, sometimes, an ideal. This is no magic spell; it is a practical and functional sequence that should be treated similarly.

short ashtanga practice


If you or your students don't have time to do a full practice, whatever that means for the situation, you can create authentic, valid short practices while respecting the tradition.

Download Ideas for Creating Short Ashtanga Practices by Adam Keen

We have to pay homage here to the originator of this idea David Swenson. His Ashtanga short forms have been invaluable to the Ashtanga community, as well as me, personally, in coming up with my framework of how to break the practice down into building blocks; ones that we can then move around skillfully when we don’t have time to do the whole thing.

Doing your whole practice every day is an ideal and not a prerequisite if you remain in doubt, or feel guilty about, not having the time to do a full practice consistently. What does this full practice even mean? The Ashtanga practice is, like any method or tradition, surely one defined by its’ effectivity and not simply doing the ritual exactly. This is the simple criterion I apply to practice; it works for us daily. To which end, sometimes less is, in fact, more in the first place.

Yoga is not dogma

Often, we don’t have the physical energy or inspiration to do a full series or everything we’ve been taught by our teacher (or in Mysore). Then, it is only physically depletive to push against the natural demands of our body, as well as emotionally/mentally so; dragging ourselves against our will through a long practice because we think we have to do everything (or can’t practice at all).

What a shame. Especially, as this was not the spirit in which Ashtanga was originally taught and practiced. I cannot prove this to be the case; but it is enough proof (for me) to see how Jois and his grandson Sharath Jois taught the Indian students who, until recently, always had separate classes in the afternoon. They taught them much more gently and pragmatically, knowing that they had a full day of work and responsibilities. A fact corroborated by David Williams to me in conversation regarding the way he saw Jois teaching the locals when he first arrived to Mysore.

I would suggest that the original conception of Ashtanga yoga as a method of asana practice was to use the sequences as a general blueprint as a framework to be adapted to the variables of daily life and not the other way around. Something which only makes sense when we consider that most of us are not career yogis, but rather ‘householders’ who don’t have the kind of time and energy to practice an idealized form of Ashtanga.

And, if one reads The Yoga Makaranda, the primary book on asana written by Pattabhi Jois’ guru Sri T Krishnamacharya, it is patently clear here that he wanted the yoga he taught to be available to everyone at whatever level of health they found themselves. Or, of course, regarding the time and inclination they had to practice.

Indeed, his teaching was incredibly democratic; to do something, once more, was infinitely better than doing nothing. A sentiment echoed in the fundamental philosophical text on yoga The Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna tells Arjuna that even the smallest amount of practice will never be lost and will only be useful in the future.

I take this as the precedent for using Ashtanga as we need – not being used by the practice! This means practicing suiting how we feel each day; both in mind and body. In the linked PDF, I hope to make it a little easier to envisage how this modified or amended practice might be regarded, by breaking it down into various sections with their various aims.

When this is understood, it is then remarkably easy to move the various building blocks around from day to day. I will say two final things, if you can do your whole practice – meaning, you feel okay in body and mind to do so; why not? The principle of vinyasa is best understood in repetition so, this being the fundamental tool of yoga, it is still ideal to follow each day in a similar format.

On the other hand, life isn’t ideal. Therefore, it is better to do some practice than none and leave feeling inspired and invigorated rather than wrung out and thoroughly bored by doing more than you really can or should do that day.

Often a modified practice then is the best practice – not lesser in any way. Our yoga practice isn’t just about feeling good, but we have to also feel good in it to continue dedicating ourselves to it with energy and enthusiasm. This must always be kept in mind. If the practice isn’t serving you, however conventionally correct it is, it’s not right.

So, following on from this, we can’t go wrong in adapting our practice as we need to from day to day. Indeed, practice is our experiment. And, so long as we learn from our experiment, there is no wrong practice. Try different things then and see what works for you. Because, ultimately, this is the only thing that matters in your practice; that you can see the tangible, beneficial results in your daily life and relationships.


To move on to the more profound significance and benefits, some will say that the primary series is not enough; there is not enough variation as to the postures. Namely, there are too many forward folds. However, the principles behind yoga are not the same as Western callisthenics. Indeed, if we use it this way, we might better find a better exercise routine.

Instead, the continuous forward-folds of the primary series are not to be taken so literally. Here, somewhat different and deeper conditioning is being aimed at. Not just of the body but the whole nervous system. Therefore, the subtler aim makes sense that the method also is. Indeed, the clue is in the name of the first forward-fold that it might not be such a simple task; paschimottanasana – westward-facing stretch.

In the understanding that the yogis of old traditionally practised yoga facing the East. The yogis of old were instructed to do not to keep pulling themselves forward but rather to pull back. To flatten our chest on our thighs, constantly stretch and then over-stretch our hamstrings is ineffective. It is ridiculous to accomplish nothing but the obvious.


This is not the intention of the primary series; to achieve straight lines and long hamstrings. We discover something infinitely more valuable in pulling ourselves back out of the forward folds in the primary series. This is to talk of this ubiquitous term bandha in ashtanga yoga – an engagement of the core muscles in the postures.

The series facilitates a reasonable basis and balance of strength and flexibility. It is formulated along other lines than we may be familiar with in its underlying methodology. It needs to be approached with a fresh mind regarding how we aim to move our bodies. Not least, the endeavour is much more internally oriented.


Indeed, it is the lower-abdominal tonification facilitated by the application and work in banda that does two things in our bodies, one more practical, the other less so;

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    It resolves our digestive issues. An increasingly common problem in modern health, in all traditional systems of medicine, our gut has been said to be our second brain and the seat of our health.

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    Bandhaencourages a compression of the body's energy to be brought into the central nervous channel. It gathers energy towards the body, wherein the most important nerves of the body residing in the spine are stimulated.

So, although there might be more variation in the postures themselves, this is, in fact, not the point. The continuous pulling-back in the apparent ‘forward-folds’ of the primary series serves a different purpose.


As well as stimulating the spine's nerves through bandha, the purpose of the simple forward folds where the torso is attempted to be kept straight is to straighten our spines. Scoliosis affects us all and causes structural imbalances in the body that have more profound implications also.

So, as we attend to the limbs on either side, constantly moving to the left and right while keeping the spine straight, we are trying to re-balance the physical body. Yoga is a holistic system that does not separate mind and body as in our current medicine; physical imbalances represent deeper energetic blockages, providing an opportunity or way to address deeper, hidden issues.


We are beginning to realise by now in The modern West that the lotus demands of the primary series come a little early for us nowadays. We are different bodies living under conditions other than the system initially designed for us. Therefore, as we said in the beginning, it is worth noting that we may need to make amendments to this series to make adequate and happy progress with it. To repeat, it’s just a blueprint, tool for our use.

The most fundamental amendment we might make is to do with the lotus position. Supposing the hips are already pretty open, if they’re not, the series will almost inevitably take its toll on our knees. Because where the hip doesn’t move, the knee will be asked to accommodate. It may be mobilised as a more minor joint than the hip, so it is easier to force where the hip is not. On the other hand, the knee is not ball and socket joint as the hip is, so it will be damaged if we perform the position using knee rotation instead of the hip.

All this means we may make the following accommodation, remembering a stitch in time saves nine and that the quickest way to develop the whole posture is often to amend it, in the beginning, to find where the real work lies.


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    Cross the leg as opposed to putting it in the lotus.

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    Use a block to support the knee.

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    Take time getting in and out of the position (it’s in moving the knee is most vulnerable)

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    Take your time generally. As they say: Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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    Find some more basic hip-openers as a warm-up to developing the