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Proficient Primary.

If advanced asana can be endlessly promoted through Instagram then perhaps we can also promote Primary asana and the proficiency we can explore there, in postures that most can approach. 

Krishnamacharya 1938 (aged 50)

In Krishnamacharya table of asana in Yogasanagalu (Mysore 1941) he included three groups of asana, Primary, Middle and Proficient. Primary and Middle were turned into the Primary and Intermediate (2nd) series by Krishnamacharya's student Pattabhi Jois mostly following the order of the table. The proficient group with other asana Krishnamacharya was teaching at the time came to be taught by Pattabhi Jois as Advanced series A and B (later 3rd,4th, 5th and 6th series). I'm choosing in this project to think of proficiency as an approach to asana rather than a category of asana. Few will manage to practice all the asana Pattabhi Jois and Krishnamacharya presented, Krishnamacharya never thought it necessary that we should ( although perhaps a few of us). Krishnamacharya never it seems intended asana to be fixed in a series, most will never complete 2nd series, many will not complete Primary. However if we maintain our practice for a number of years, even if we practice only half the primary group or series of asana along with our pranayama we can still develop proficiency in our asana practice, explore the asana we have in ever more subtlety of breath and bandha and focus. Advanced practice can look like this.

It is not necessary to switch ones whole practice overnight ( if at all) to less asana with longer, slower breathing, longer stays and perhaps kumbhaka. We might begin by approaching just one asana from our regular practice this way, a different asana each practice. Regular Ashtanga of course already includes longer stays in finishing.

Sharath in baddha konasana

Advanced asana were fun and interesting to explore over a period of three to four year but at some point it  felt time to put the toys away and look for something more. Some manage to do both of course, play/explore/research the more intricate and physically demanding asana (and Krishnamacharya hoped a few would) and yet still go deeper into the practice. Personally I just wanted to breathe more slowly and this meant less asana, less asana at my age (52) meant less of the more Intermediate and Advanced asana.

I find it a useful reminder that it is challenging enough to remain steady and comfortable and focussed in even one primary asana and to carry that equanimity throughout the day and that this is considered proficient practice.... or just practice - no circus skills required.

2.46 The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable, and this is the third of the eight rungs of Yoga.

(sthira sukham asanam)

2.47 The means of perfecting the posture is that of relaxing or loosening of effort, and allowing attention to merge with endlessness, or the infinite.

(prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam)

2.48 From the attainment of that perfected posture, there arises an unassailable, unimpeded freedom from suffering due to the pairs of opposites (such as heat and cold, good and bad, or pain and pleasure).

(tatah dvandva anabhighata)

Pattanjali at Swamiji

It strikes me that no book is required for the above, no workshop on technique, no classes on alignment, no shala or studio pass, no journeys or pilgrimages, the 'source' is within us, me merely need to sit, breathe and focus our attention. At some point we may want to read more Patanjali and see what he suggests we do with the the concentration we develop.


Notes on practice

Update: see my new post on integrating Simon Borg-Olivier's approach in his new course on breath control (pranayama) with Krishnamacharya's asana instruction.

Update 2

Q: Did you create your own sequence?

A: NO! I didn’t ‘create’ my own individual sequence, I'm a little horrified at the suggestion (thus this update to clarify), certainly not in the sense of trying to develop my own style or teach a new sequence ( I don't teach). Pattabhi Jois mentioned in Yoga Mala that after fifty you can adapt the practice as you wish, choose the asana you find most beneficial along with how you wish to practice them. But that was ALWAYS Krishnamacharya‘s way, throughout his teaching 'career', the asana were not, it seems, fixed in a set sequence. Why wait until you are fifty........See the Appendix for more on this question

The Proficient Primary approach to practice is based on the idea of rather than 'progressing' to ever more 'advanced' postures we instead explore proficiency within primary postures, longer slower breathing in asana, kumbhaka (where and when appropriate) and longer stays with an appropriate internal point of focus ( in short, merely Krishnamacharya's original instruction in Yoga Makaranda written in Mysore 1934 when Pattabhi Jois was his student) .

For this reason it is unlikely that we would be able to practice a full primary series and I tend to recommend a modified, flexible half Primary.

Note: an alternative is to go through the series as normal but pick out a different asana or two to explore as a longer stay and emphasise the full slow count in finishing.

Because of the static nature of so many of the postures I recommend and practice full vinyasa ( however vinyasa could be skipped between sides or only included between groups of asana) as well as including some variations in the long inversions, sarvangasana and sirsasana.

Kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) can be practiced after the inhalation and/or after the exhalation.

Most of the asana and mudra below present the kumbhaka after the exhalation, however we may 'balance out' the kumbhaka throughout our practice.

When sitting up we might practice the kumbhaka after the inhalation or exhalation, when folding forward (into the asana for example) we might include a short kumbhaka of 2-5 seconds after the exhalation).

Kumbhaka tends to be avoided in twisting postures

Below, my typical practice

Built around 10 key asana  and mudra ( a Rishi Series?) with optional variations and preparations 
see below for an approach to each asana and mudra
Surya namaskara

1. Trikonasana 
2. Dandasana/Pascimattanasana/ Asvini Mudra 
3. Maha Mudra 
4. Bharadvajrasana
5. Padma Mayurasana or Vajrasana
6. Sarvangasana 
7. Bhujamgi mudra 
8. Sirsasana 
9. Baddha Konasana 
10. Yoga Mudra/parvatanasana/padmasana


Can it...., should it, still be considered 'Ashtanga vinyasa', there is still the vinyasa, the focus on the breath, drishti, bandhas.... , it hardly seems to matter but Jois talked about practicing less asana at some point and staying longer in those postures we believe are of most value, giving more attention perhaps to the later limbs and from fifty he gave us carte blanche to practice what and as we will.

.......we don't necessarily have to wait that long of course.


Practice framework

Kapalabhati - 36
Pranayama 6-12rounds



Short tadasana sequence of arm movements


Surya namaskara 3 A + 2 B 
( the first with 6 breaths at each stage, 12 breaths in Ardho Mukha Svanasana )

1. Trikonasana 
6 or 12 breaths each side

Optional extra standing posture(s) alternating each day

2. Dandasana/Pascimattanasana/ Asvini Mudra 
12 breaths
(followed by it's pratkriya purvottanasana)

One or more Optional Asymmetric asana approached as mudra 
(alternating daily) - 6 breaths each side

3. Maha Mudra 
12 - 24 breaths

4. Bharadvajrasana
12 breaths
(as an alternative to Marichiyasana)

5. Padma Mayurasana (optional )

Or Vajrasana with stomach lock.
6 -12 breaths
(Krishnamacharya recommended that we practice Mayurasana daily in Yoga Makaranda but it may depend on the strength of your wrists, I tend to avoid it these days due to a recurring unrelated wrist injury)

Tatka Mudra 
12 breaths


Dwi pada pitam
(sarvangasana preparation)

Urdhva Dhanurasana (optional)
6-12 breaths

6. Sarvangasana 
5 minutes
(Without variation, practiced as mudra)

7. Bhujamgi mudra 
6 -12 breaths
(as pratkriya to sarvangasana)

8. Sirsasana 
5 minutes as mudra - Viparita karani
5 minutes with variations

6 -12 breaths

approx. 5 minutes with variations


9. Baddha Konasana - 6, 12, 24 breaths

10. Yoga Mudra
6 -12 breaths

12 - 24 breaths

Bhastrika - 60 breaths
Nadi sodhana (6), 12, 24, 48 breaths

Formal Sit.
20, 40 minutes

Ideally practice A, B and C together early each morning.
If time is an issue ,A followed C might be practiced in the morning with B ( and perhaps C ) practiced later in the day.



Uddiyana bandha

Most if not all of the pictures I will be posting in the Proficient Primary Project will show a deep uddiyana bandha, this is to draw attention to the focus on the breath (long and slow) and in particular the kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out). Such a dramatic Uddiyana bandha as in the photos tends to be practiced on the hold at the end of the exhalation, however a more subtle, less dramatic, uddiyana may be employed and is perhaps advisable in the beginning stages of this approach to practice especially.

Exhale fully and before inhaling draw the belly, below and above the navel, in and up. Mula bandha will follow. Hold for 2-5 seconds.

Personally I tend to find the deep uddiyana a distraction from the stillness of the kumbhaka, bandhas should no doubt gain in subtlety, a background practice.

Krishnamacharya said that in the kumbhaka we see god.

I would go further and suggest that in the kumbhaka we see god... or the absence of god

Personally, when approaching my practice this way (and it's been around four years), I just find stillness, a quite profound stillness that on a good day joins up kumbhaka with kumbhaka throughout my practice, and stays with me for much of my day.

The photos tend to be screen shots taken from videos of my practice rather than being posed for, thus the poor quality.

Vrikasana / Bhagirathasana and Parvatasana (optional).

Vrikasana/Bhagirathasana (left).  Parvatasana (right).

The beginning and end of our practice.

If we don't wish to disrupt our standard Ashtanga practice too much by approaching all our asana through longer stays and reducing the number of asana we have time to practice, then we might begin and end our practice, either with mudra or asana with a mudra like approach. 

Vrikasana / Bhagirathasana. As the former it seems perhaps to have developed from or been a variation of the posture (Upasthana) in which yogi's and others since Vedic times would greet the rising of the sun (Sury Upasthana was standing to greet the sun). Was this perhaps the first asana? With the sun perhaps taking half an hour to fully rise, a long stay is required. As Bhagirathasana it is a Risi asana, named after King Bhagirath for his devotion to the practice of tapasya, (penance) often depicted as standing on one leg with his arms above his head in the hope of bringing back the Ganges.

If half lotus is currently too challenging, Uppasthana or Ardha Candrasana, with the sole of the foot on the inside of the thigh is a perfectly acceptable and perhaps even more traditional alternative.

Ramaswami referred to on one leg asana as tapas' postures.

We might then begin our practice with a stay of twelve breaths each side, the exhalation longer than the inhalation, a short kumbhaka after the exhalation, our focus of attention on Nasagra ( tip of nose), taraka (the horizon point and my choice) or bhrumadhya (between the eyebrows).

We might also introduce this asana as preparation or variation before binding in Ardha Baddha padmottanasana allowing us to steady the heart and breath perhaps after utthita Eka pasasana.

Arms above the head postured are helpful when exploring uddiyana bandha by lifting the ribcage, our breath and heart rate slow, the kumbhaka stills the mind. For these reasons taking the arms above our head at the end of our practice may be considered beneficial before moving into our pranayama practice. 

Parvatasana is the final asana in Ashtanga Advanced B Series but it can perhaps be seen as the final asana of our practice, whichever series we may practice Manju Jois ends his led class with this asana. It can be practiced with a mudra like approach as with Vrikasana above ( longer exhalation than inhalation, kumbhaka after exhalation, focal point to unite the mind with the body) but with the focus perhaps on hrdaya (centre of the heart) and held for 6, 12, 24 breaths. 
Variation B, folding forward is optional but we might end our asana/mudra practice as Manju Jois does with Bhairava mudra, sitting in padmasana with one hand resting on the other, taraditionally the right above the left for men, left above the right for women.

Ardho Mukha Svanasana 
(Downward facing dog) with bandhas

Along with Tatakamudra, Ardho Mukha Svanasana is considered one of the best postures for working on Uddiyana bandha, best of all we practice the posture again and again in our Surya namaskara.

Krishnamacharya mentions in Yoga Makaranda that this posture may be held for fifteen minutes. 

"In this sthiti, the head should be properly bent inwards and the chin pressed firmly against the chest (jalandara bandha). After pulling the abdomen in and pushing it out, exhale the breath out. Holding the breath out firmly, pull in the abdomen. As a result of the strength of the practice, one learns to hold this posture for fifteen minutes."  Krisdhnamacharya Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934).

Practiced as a mudra, the exhalation may be twice as long as the inhalation followed by a 2-5 second kumbhaka. 

The aim of mudra is to unite the mind and body by employing dharana though concentrating on the appropriate 'vital point', internal drishti.

Nasagra, the tip of the nose is a default focal point with jalandara but explore also the preferred (in this case) Kantha (the throat). 

Best of all, we get to visit this asana several times in our Surya namakara, in fact Krishnamacharya recommended staying at each stage of the Surya namakara for a significant period, a mudra like approach to each.


"Irrespective of the point indicated, dharana is executed without moving the position of the head in an asana, mudra or pranayama. Let us specify once more that dharana is practiced by directing the eyes towards the vital point and not imagining that point". 
T.K. Sribhashyam. Emergence of Yoga (Krishnamacharya's third son).

1. Trikonasana
(post to come)

"The inhalation and exhalation of breath must be equal and slow. Practise this on both sides as described here. This asana must be practised for a minimum of 10 minutes. However slowly and patiently we practise this, there is that much corresponding benefit".
Krishnamacharya : Yoga makaranda (Mysore 1938)

Photo is of the Vinyasa Krama version with the feet facing the frount.
Krishnamacharya also demonstrates this asana with his hand resting on his foot.

Photo is of the Vinyasa Krama version with the feet facing the frount.
Krishnamacharya also demonstrates this asana with his hand resting on his foot as well as off.

2. Dandasana/Pascimattanasana/ Asvini Mudra

Asvini mudra locates between Dandasana and Paschimattanasana, before lowering into asana we may practice the posture as mudra. Krishnamacharya's third son T.K.Sribhashyam indicates that his father suggested practicing Kapalabhati here, 32 or 64 times. We may also practice 12 Ujjayi breaths, sama vrtti (equal) the same long slow inhalation, perhaps 8-10 seconds followed by kumbhaka (breath retention) as with the long slow exhalation and it's kumbhaka. After the exhalation we might engage uddiyana bandha more fully along with mula bandha. Jalandara bandha is engaged throughout.

As mentioned in the earlier post we might employ the default points of focus, Bhrumadhya (between the eyebrows) where the head is up or Nasagra (tip of nose) when the head is down as here with the jalandara bandha.

Mudras unite the body with the mind, internal points of focus and concentration may be employed, indeed they are recommended.

In Asvini Mudra we might shift the concentration on the inhalation from mula (perinium), to Sroni (centre of pelvis), to nabhi (navel), to hrdaya (middle of heart), to Kantha (back of throat). Focus on Bhrumadhya (between the eyebrows) on the kumbhaka after inhalation. Exhalation is always only one concentration point, here nabhi (navel).

Asvini Mudra is a recognised mudra however we might also take a 'mudra like' approach to Paschimattanasana itself. Given the deep fold, a longer exhalation is suited, kumbhaka and a deeper uddiyana bandha might be employed. On the shorter inhalation the jalandara bandha may be slightly relaxed we may even lift slightly out of the fold on the inhalation before folding back in on the next exhalation engaging jalandara fully again in time for the next kumbhaka.

Krishnamacharya suggests staying in Paschimattanasana for around ten minutes and indicates it is a key posture to be practiced daily along with its counterposture Purvotanasana.

For more on the practice of mudra and internal concentration points see T.K Sribhashyam's Emergence of Yoga.
see also this earlier post

 Asymmetric asana approached as mudra

The Vinyasa serves the asana, it should surely lead us towards the asana rather than away. Too often we focus on getting into the posture rather than inhabiting the asana, why seek steadiness and comfort if in five rushed breaths we hurry back to our beloved Vinyasa. Surely this wasn't Krishnamacharya's intention when he presented the Vinyasa approach nor any of his students either. Krishnamacharya wrote of longer stays, he indicated long slow breathing (as did his student Pattabhi Jois in interviews), kumbhaka in most asana he presented, more often than not he appeared to approach asana not unlike mudra.

Mudra unites the mind and the body, in the previous post I presented Maha Mudra that we might inhabit before folding forward into the familiar Janu Sirsasana, where we also might remain longer; forward folding postures welcome the longer exhalation that characterises mudra.

Maha Mudra before folding into Janu Sirsasana

Just as with Janu Sirsasana we might pause before folding forward in other asymmetric asana and approach them as mudra, Tirieng Mukha Eka Pada Paschimattanasana and Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana for instance, maichiyasana also (see tomorrow).

Mudra approach to Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana 
Mudra approach to Tirieng Mukha Eka Pada Paschimattanasana

Above, mudra approach to Janu Sirsasana A, B and C

Pause the Vinyasa count before folding, slow the exhalation for the mudra to twice the length of the inhalation 8 -10 seconds for the former, 4 - 5 for the later, tuck in the chin for jalandara bandha, engage uddiyana bandha at the end of the exhalation which in turn activates mula bandha.

Alternatively take your kumbhaka after the inhalation, 5, 10, 20 seconds perhaps with mantra (pranayama mantra) stay for five minutes or 6, 12 even 24 breaths then fold forward into the more familiar asana and take the shorter kumbhaka after the exhalation. Repeat directly on the other side or take your Vinyasa and enter the second side following a welcome Urdhva Mukha Svanasana.
We might choose approximately 10 asana to practice this way or in our regular practice we might choose one asana only to inhabit longer, a different posture explored each day or perhaps each week.

see the permenant #proficientprimary project page at the top of the blog

3. Maha Mudra (great seal) 

Essentially the point of the Proficient Primary Project is to approach asana as mudra.
Traditionally hand gestures accompanying Mantras, Krishnamacharya's third son T.K. Sribhashyam informs us that mudras later entered yoga as full body postures, the intention was always the same however, to unite the body and mind.

Mudra have always been executed with Ujjayi breathing, the exhalation tends to be longer than the inhalation, the breathing is slower than in regular asana practice, a point of focus is maintained, kumbhaka is employed, traditionally after exhalation and bandha are employed. Maha mudra is called the great seal because mula bandha, uddiyana bandha and jalandara bandha are all employed effectively.

Ramaswami, following Krishnamacharya, encouraged us to practice maha mudra for five minutes each side every day, it was to be considered a key element in our daily practice. However mudra can be practiced at any time, I will often practice it in the evening followed by baddha konasana then settle into padmasana for pranayama and a Sit.

Maha mudra may also be practiced in regular Ashtanga practice, pausing the count for six, twelve perhaps twenty-four breaths before folding into Janu Sirsasana.

In the next ‪#‎proficientprimarypost‬ I'll present other asymmetric Primary postures that might be practiced/explored as mudra.

see perhaps my earlier full body mudra post.

4. Bhradvajrasana

Breaking my Primary asana only rule here to include Bhradvajrasana. 

In my defence it's no more challenging perhaps than Marichiyasana D which Krishnamacharya placed in his middle group of asana and that Pattabhi Jois shifted to Primary. With old injuries to my knees playing up I switched to Bhradvajrasana for the twist in my Primary some time ago and have been obsessed with the posture ever since Kristina Karitinou stopped me from treating it as a rest pose in the Ashtanga 2nd series.

Krishnamacharya takes a mudra like approach to the asana and talks of staying from 12 to 48 breaths and introducing both types of kumbhaka (so holding the breath in after inhalation and out after exhalation). He practice's it in the regular form with the head looking back over the shoulder but also, as in the picture, with the head to the frount and in jalandara bandha, perhaps on account of the kumbhaka.

At first, the position of the arm reaching around to hold the foot seems to stop the blood, it takes some settling into the posture for the blood to flow. The nature of the posture, the twist and double bind both in front and behind challenges the breath, the kumbhaka.

See this post which includes a video and photos of Krishnamacharya

See also the ongoing #proficientprimarypost blog page for the previous asana/mudra and notes.

5. Padma Mayurasana.
(or Vajrasana with stomach lock)

Padma mayurasana

Mayurasana, practicing on the toes or perhaps lifting up first one leg then the other would be perfectly acceptable.

Once again I break my own rules by including an asana outside of Primary in this project. However the Padma variation of Mayurasana might be considered more Primary than the regular version and Mayurasana is an asana Krishnamacharya recommended practicing daily, this will depend on the strength in your wrists, I tend to avoid the posture these days due to a recurring wrist injury. 

The important aspect for Krishnamacharya I believe was that the elbows dug into the belly, massaging the internal organs. If both Mayurasana and padma mayurasana are currently too challenging, mayurasana on the toes should be considered perfectly acceptable, perhaps lifting one leg from the ground for  six breaths before switching to the other leg for six breaths.

An alternative to mayurasana that I tend to practice is is the stomach lock that Krishnamacharya taught to Ramaswami. Take up virasana or vajrasna, press the heels of the palms into the lower abdomen a couple of inches apart, link the fingers and fold forward on the exhale, stay for six to twelve breaths. This perhaps has similar benefits/effect to mayurasana ( an no doubt nauli) and is I find excellent for digestion.

Mayurasana is also a posture Krishnamacharya recommended practicing regulated breathing (kumbhaka is perhaps suggested by 'proper practice' of pranayama, I include a two second kumbhaka after both inhalation and exhalation).

"For maximum benefit Pranayama should be done for 5 minutes, when the body is held as a plank in the horizontal position. Proper practice of Pranayama is difficult, but becomes easy after practice".

"If at this stage, regulated breathing is practiced in Padma Mayurasana position, it becomes easy later to practice Pranayama even in the ordinary Mayurasana position". 

This is from the Mayurasana instruction from Yoga Makaranda part II. Interestingly Krishnamacharya doesn't mention employing kumbhaka in the Yoga Makaranda instructions from part I which is where we usually find kumbhaka indications. And in the main body of the Yoga Makaranda part II instructions he specifically says NOT to include kumbhaka ( but this fits in with the apparent introductory focus of YM2.). The reference to practicing pranayama and thus kumbhaka comes as an addition at the end.

How Long to spend in Mayurasana

Three durations are mention for mayurasana, the shocking...

"This asana sthiti should be held from 1 minute up to 3 hours according to the practitioner’s capa- ability".
from Yoga Makaranda Part 1

which thankfully is followed immediately by...

"If we make it a habit to practise this asana every day for at least fifteen minutes, we will attain tremendous benefits".

And finally in Yoga makaranda part II

"For maximum benefit Pranayama should be done for 5 minutes, when the body is held as a plank in the horizontal position". 

Which is attainable.

I choose to include Padma Mayurasa in my shortened practice at the expense of the other Primary series arm balances and following Simon Borg-Olivier practice it with a soft abdomen rather than firmed.

Tatakamudra (pond gesture)

Tatakamudra #proficientprimaryproject

Tatakamudra (pond gesture)

I tend to include Tatakamudra in any practice, usually before sarvangasana (shoulderstand). It can be practiced with the arms above the head, fingers entwined and turned palms outward or with the arms by the side palms downward.

As a mudra Tatakamudra can be practiced at any point in our practice or indeed, outside our regular practice.

Most of the pictures I'll be posting in the Proficient Primary Project will show a deep uddiyana bandha, this is to draw attention to the focus on the breath (long and slow) and in particular the kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out). Such a dramatic Uddiyana bandha as in the photos tends to be practiced on the hold at the end of the exhalation. 
Exhale fully and before inhaling draw the belly, below and above the navel, in and up. Mula bandha will follow. Hold for 2-5 seconds.

Drishti/concentration: Inhalation - from big toe to the top of the head. Exhalation - tip of the nose.

Uddiyana bandha doesn't need to be this fully engaged it can be a much more subtle engagement such that it becomes possible on the retention after inhalation, indeed subtle uddiyana banddha might be maintained throughout the practice as in Ashtanga Vinyasa, engaged more fully at times depending on the asana.

Tatakamudra mudra along with Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) are considered ideal postures for focussing on developing and exploring uddiyana bandha.

There's a video of my trying to explain how I approach and experience tatakamudra in my own practice from the Yoga-Rainbow Festival here

6. Sarvangasana (shoulderstand)

Krishnamacharya stressed the importance of including three key daily postures held for an extended period,Paschimattanasana(posterior forward bend), Sirsasana (headstand) and Sarvangasana (shoulderstand). On his Vinyasa Krama TT course Ramaswami would recommend spending five to ten minutes in Sarvangasana, the first three minutes or so with the legs relaxed.

We can employ sarvangasana as both a preparatory pose for Sirsasana as well as it's counterposture. On Ramaswami's advice I save the shoulderstand variations for the sarvangasana after the headstand.

Before sarvangasana preparatory postures are advisable, Dwi pada pitam (table posture) especially.

After the first long sarvangasana a counterposture is advised perhaps bhujangasana or its mudra equivalent Bhujamgi mudra (see tomorrow). Because of the longer stay a blanket or folded mat under the shoulders might be considered.

One of the key principles of sarvangasana is slowing the breathing, if sarvangasana is currently too challenging most of the postures mentioned earlier in this project, practiced as mudra may be suitable alternatives, so too laying with the feet up against a wall.

The breath may be slowed to two even one breath a minute, if a kumbhaka is included after the exhalation then it should be short, 2-5 seconds, if taken after the inhalation it may be longer.

See post and video here

Ongoing #proficientprimarypost page here

7.  Bhujamgi Mudra / Bhujangasana   

 Bhujangini Mudra: Stay in bhujangasana, stretch the neck out in front and according to vata sara krama, pull in the outside air and do puraka kumbhaka". 
Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda

Krishnamacharya/Ramaswami recommended practicing an asana like Makrasana / Bhujangasana / salambhasana as pratkriya (counter posture) to Sarvangasana (shoulderstand). Before practicing the asana we might practice it's sister mudra Bhujamgi or take a mudra like approach to makrasana, Slambhasana, dhanurasana

Bhujangini Mudra: Stay in bhujangasana, stretch the neck out in front and according to vata sara krama, pull in the outside air and do puraka kumbhaka". 
Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda

As Mudra

Bhujangi mudra can be practiced with the arms bent, hands beside the ribs, legs and feet on the floor, neck elongated, looking towards the horizon (trataka) rather than taking the chin forward, up and back.

Exhalation twice as long as the inhalation

The neck lengthened, kumbhakha after the inhalation
Focus of concentration Taraka (the horizon) or Bhrumadhya (between the eyebrows)

As asana, 


The chin can be taken forward and back

Throughout the project I've suggested full vinyasa following Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda instruction, there are only around ten asana/mudra after all. Given the longer stay in several forward folding postures I will often include postures like Makrasana, Bhujangasana, salambhasana, dhanurasana after the chatauranga.

8. Sirsasana

Sirsasana #proficientprimaryproject 

Sirsasana, no variations.

twenty five breaths, 
two breaths a minute. 
10 sec. Inhalation
5 sec. kumbhaka 
10 sec. Exhalation
5 sec. Kumbhaka 

1. Start with slowing the breath down to 8-10 seconds for inhalation and the same for exhalation.

2. Add 2 second kumbhaka (breath retention) after inhalation (can't employ full jalandhara bandha here with the chin lock so instead, swallow at the end of inhalation to close throat.

3. Once 5 second kumbhaka is comfortable introduce 2 sec kumbhaka after exhalation with Mula and Uddiyana bandha- build up to five second.

Followed by ten minutes of variations in Sirsasana with appropriate breathing.

9. Baddha Konasana 

If we can promote advanced asana through Instagram then perhaps we can also promote Primary asana and work on proficiency there. Ramaswami and his teacher Krishnamacharya suggest timing how long we stayed in a posture, then repeat it staying the same length of time but taking only half the number of breaths.

Here I'm working on 8-10 second inhalation, equal exhalation and a 2-5 second kumbhaka (breath retention, here retaining the breath out) at the end of the exhalation. Staying in that posture for five to ten minutes. Padmasana is a counter posture and feels much more comfortable following a longer baddha konasana. For this reason I tend to shift it to the end of my practice just before my Pranayama and Sit.

If you don't want to explore such long stays in regular practice this makes a nice pre-Sit evening practice. Five minutes each side in Maha mudra (janu sirsasana A without folding forward and long slow inhalations and exhalations perhaps with jalandhara banndha and kumbhaka 5-10 seconds after the inhalation), then baddha konasana, Siddhasana for some Nadi Shodhana pranayama perhaps and then padmasana (or other preferred meditation posture) for your Sit.

10. Yoga Mudra

Ashtanga Vinyasa includes mudra, here Yoga Mudra at the end of the practice. The stay is longer than usual, ten breath instead of five and yet it is practiced as an asana, there is no kumbhaka, the breath samavritti, equal.

To practice Yoga Mudra as mudra, to approach most of the Primary asana as mudra, merely lengthen the exhalation to twice the inhalation (4-5 second inhalation, 8-10 second exhalation) introduce kumbhaka ( here holding the breath out at the end of the exhalation with the three bandhas engaged, unite the body and mind through concentrating the attention at an/the appropriate focal point here the default with jalandara bandha of the tip of the nose (nasagra), and stay for a significant period of time (most likely 6 or 12 breaths due to the tight bind). I say 'merely' but this is proficient practice.

Krishnamacharya recommended we include asana, Vinyasa and mudra in our daily practice along with our pranayama and more formal meditation practice. While he may have a mudra like approach to many if not most of the asana he presents in Yoga Makaranda his instruction includes Vinyasa to and from the asana and/or Mudra, we may begin at Samatithi and end at Samatithi.

 Padmasana / Parvatasana / Bhairava mudra,

Arms above the head postured are helpful when exploring uddiyana bandha by lifting the ribcage, our breath and heart rate slow, the kumbhaka stills the mind. For these reasons taking the arms above our head at the end of our practice may be considered beneficial before moving into our pranayama practice. 

Parvatasana is the final asana in Ashtanga Advanced B Series but it can perhaps be seen as the final asana of our practice, whichever series we may practice Manju ends his led class with this asana. It can be practiced with a mudra like approach as with Vrikasana above ( longer exhalation than inhalation, kumbhaka after exhalation, focal point to unite the mind with the body) but with the focus perhaps on hrdaya (centre of the heart) and held for 6, 12, 24 breaths. 
Variation B, folding forward is optional but we might end our asana/musra practice as Manju Jois does with Bhairava mudra, sitting in padmasana with one hand resting on the other, taraditionally the right above the left for men, left above the right for women.

I tend to practice the pranayama routine taught to me by Srivatsa Ramaswami

Kapalabhati kriya

followed by

Japa Nadi sodhana

1 round consists of...

5 second inhalation left nostril
20 second hold with pranayama mantra
10 second exhalation ujjayi
5 second holding the breath out with bandhas
5 second inahation Ujjayi
20 second hold with pranayama mantra
10 second exhalation right nostril
5 second holding the breath out with bandhas
5 second inhalation right nostril
20 second hold with pranayama mantra
10 second exhalation ujjayi
5 second holding the breath out with bandhas
5 second inhalation Ujjayi
20 second hold with pranayama mantra
10 second exhalation left nostril

repeat for 6/12 or 24 rounds


see also as a support for practice...


Update Nov. 2017

It fascinates me how my practice always seems to settle back into the same old Ashtanga that seeped into the marrow of my bones through all those years of daily practice. It may be a Richard Freeman inspired, Simon Borg-Olivier informed, slightly Vinyasa Krama modified, soft, slow, half Primary/half Second Series Ashtanga but Ashtanga all the same.

I still start my practice with Simon's Spinal movements before moving on to five sury's ( 3 A/ 2 B). Most of standing though, seems to have elbowed it's way back in and it's pretty standard fare up to Navasana (though Bharadvajrasana in place of Marichiyasana D, as Manju suggested once), before slipping into a YogaSynergy Fundamentals/Vinyasa Krama Bow half 2nd Ashtanga.

The inversion vinyasa's below are fun and I've kept them for now but suspect I'll end up going back to longer static sarvangasana and sirsasana.

Whatever I practice before pranayama strikes me as MOSTLY unimportant ( it could be tai chi, Qi Gong or a long swim just as well as Ashtanga), I'm under no illusion that this was designed as a series or particularly that old, rather a wonderful accident of circumstance but I might as well allow the practice that stole my heart all those years ago to settle back into it's rightful place.



See also the Ashtanga Rishi Series
'Then, once one has mastered all of the asanas, one can practice "the rishi series", the most advanced practice. One does the 10 postures that one intuits will be the most beneficial and appropriate for that day, holding each posture for up to 50 comfortable breaths'. David Williams loosely quoting Pattabhi Jois.


Q: Did you create your own sequence?

A: NO! I didn’t ‘create’ my own individual sequence, I'm a little horrified at the suggestion (thus this update to clarify), certainly not in the sense of trying to develop my own style or teach a new sequence ( I don't teach). Pattabhi Jois mentioned in Yoga Mala that after fifty you can adapt the practice as you wish, choose the asana you find most beneficial along with how you wish to practice them. But that was ALWAYS Krishnamacharya‘s way, throughout his teaching 'career', the asana were not, it seems, fixed in a set sequence. Why wait until you are fifty.

Even though I spent a little time with Ramaswami (Vinyasa Krama), I always seemed to settle back into Ashtanga, the shape of the practice I had become most familiar with, comfortable with. I would adapt the practice, perhaps, take a more 'vinyasa krama' approach, add some extra preparation postures or more advanced versions, developments, but the shape of the practice was basically the same, it was always, to my mind at least, still Ashtanga.

As I explored, in practice for a couple of years, Krishnamacharya's old Mysore texts (following the line by line  close reading module on Ramaswami's TT) I spent longer in certain asana, exploring Krishnamacharya‘s kumbhaka options. That took more time so I cut out asana, reducing my practice down to to ten key asana from the Ashtanga series, a Rishi series if you like ( Pattabhi Jois had mentioned a Rishi series idea to David and Nancy in the 70s, choosing ten postures and practicing them for longer, 25-50 breaths each). 

In blog posts I referred to that as 'Proficient Primary', not to promote my own series but rather to indicate that you didn't need to practice 'Advanced asana' to have an advanced practice, you could practice primary series in an 'Advanced' way, or rather in a more proficient way, not only in how we approached our alignment but in how we worked with the breath, with drishti. If you could only do half primary or just a few seated (perhaps in a chair), even just the supine postures you could have an advanced/proficient practice, no deep backbends, arm balances, headstands necessary.

I tended to still do most of Ashtanga standing before moving into those ten asana. Recently I explored some of Simon Borg-Olivier's spinal movements before moving into my asana and finished with some handstand variations to go into asana 'hands free' (to avoid pulling limbs into postures), but it still feels like Ashtanga to me, I personally can still see the shape but it was perhaps the furthest I moved away from straight by the book Ashtanga. It was always about my own home practice, adapting the practice to my needs and what I sought to explore in practice, never to teach to anyone else. Were I to teach (and I have NO intention to do so) it would be to encourage somebody in their own home practice. I feel strongly that a good teacher has NO students, or very few, who will move on to their own personal practice (this of course doesn't mean you can't hold a room, in which case you are not necessarily a teacher but perhaps merely a facilitator - Note: I have no intention to hold a room either).

Personally I feel we should drop the whole Parampara, guru, teacher/student model altogether and let the practice do the work. Be a facilitator, a resource, that a practitioner can reach out to if and when they so choose. The only to time to impose ourselves perhaps is to offer safer practice options, the practice will take us deeper on it's own.

In the end I settled back into a pretty standard approach to Ashtanga because ultimately I found that practice I had worked with for ten years, comforting, just comforting. Now I just do a quick (depending on time) Simon Borg-Olivier style spinal warm up before move into a pretty regular Ashtanga Primary plus a little 2nd, just picking one or two asana a practice to stay longer and explore the kumbhaka options? 

Ashtanga is just comforting for me, no doubt because I’ve practiced it for so long now (actually, ten years is not so long), even though I may have explored it through adapting and modifying over the years. I think the potential to adapt the practice to our needs is built into the practice, it was always Krishnamacharya‘s intention. Jois lost his way a little perhaps when he introduced Led classes (madness to try and rush 80 to 300 students into Marichiyasana D on the count) and made it more and more fixed (although we might understand  if not agree with his argument for doing so). Sharath, no doubt, just tries to continue what he saw as his grandfathers legacy but perhaps really we should be going back to early Ashtanga (Manju?) or even further, to Krishnamacharya himself, we have Krishnamacharya's early texts. Pattabhi Jois may have lost his way in more ways than one, when I see video of his led advanced class in the garage on YouTube, his adjustments, on those who clearly aren’t ready for Advanced (possibly not even 2nd) are frankly insane. 

Pattabhi Jois didn't invent the Ashtanga vinyasa approach to practicing asana. The instructions for practicing the asana, the drishti, the vinyasa count...., it is all in his teacher Krishnamacharya's early text Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934). In Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu (Mysore1941) we even find the asana mostly in the order Jois presented them for his four year Sanskrit college course. Pattabhi Jois merely passed along his teacher's teaching. We can question how he passed it along, how he taught, how he behaved without that necessarily questioning what it was he was teaching, the practice stands up on it's own - we can question it separately and we should. We can question Pattabhi Jois' adjustments, how extreme as well as how sexually abusive they were  at times, we can question the introduction of Led classes, how practice was speeded up to accommodate a fixed practice, how kumbhaka was lost along the way, how flexible Krishnamacharya seems to have been in his approach by contrast, we can question Pattabhi Jois' judgement. But even if we remove Pattabhi Jois from the equation altogether we still have Krishnamacharya's texts, the vinyasa, a shape/framework to practice, if not a set sequence (though the asana is presented in almost the same order as Jois, Krishnamacharya seems to have resisted teaching the asana as fixed sequences), we still have the practice as well as encouragement to explore the practice and adapt it to our own needs and preferences.

However much it may be tempting, given the allegations of sexual abuse, to airbrush Pattabhi Jois out the timeline altogether, I recognise I wouldn't have this practice that I'm so grateful for had he not opened his doors, with such generosity, to those early teachers and taught tirelessly for decades. In brushing over Jois we also brush over those who's trust was abused by him and the dynamics, the environment and power structures that allowed it to happen and that are still in place however much we may feel that Sharath, for example, would never behave in the same way. It would also ignore those whose lives were, they feel, transformed for the good through his teaching.

Krishnamacharya stressed that the practice of asana should be explored on a grounding of the yama/niyama, the moral code (and most if not all cultures no doubt have their own 'version' as well as contemplative traditions and worthy texts - there is no actual need to run off to India),  the moral code comes first and foremost as well as accompanying our practice to help us avoid losing our way, to be there to fall back on when we slip (and Patanjali reminds us that we will constantly), to support our practice and what arises out of it. The asana too, for Krishnamacharya, is always in the context of pranayama and pratyahara, it is always a meditative and spiritual practice of radical enquiry in which, for Krishnamacharya, and he would hope for us, God or at least Love is sought. 


  1. Great post; thanks for the inspiration.

    I have a question. When the three bandhas are set with the depth & strength that your photos infer, have you personally, ever experienced any post-practice unpleasant side-effects?

    Some of the stuff that i've read, and heard, suggest that leaning into these areas (bandha traya) too often, or too strongly, can rattle a few nerves, cause unpleasant sensations in important internal organs and/or even carry emotional consequences.

    That said, I'm also sure that they work, so personally, I like it a lot, but keep an eye on the yellow flashing light.

    Any thoughts?

    1. Hi Steve.
      I've never experienced any problems myself.

      I think I say in here somewhere that it is not necessary to engage uddiyana as deeply as the photo suggests. That will be more stressed in the book.

      I imagine if you were suddenly to begin engaging the bandha that deeply on every exhalation in ten asana or more over an hour or two you might feel some muscle strain.

      This approach is not aimed at beginners, it's a more proficient approach to primary, avoiding the pull to use 'advanced ' here, it7s expected that one would have practiced primary asana for some time and are now either considering progressing to another series, more challenging asana or deepening the practice of those one has already been practicing.

      In my own practice I engage the bandha more fully in some, more subtly in others and of course I'm employing full vinyasa so the bandhas are relaxed somewhat in the progression to and from the asana/mudra.

      I'm also wanting to stress that it's not necessary to switch ones whole practice to this early Mysore approach of Krishnamacharya perhaps one or a two asana practiced this way during regular practice will be enough.

      In one of the posts I'm adding to this I'll be including the reminder that Krishnamacharya encouraged the practice of Asana , Vinyasa and mudra. While it's possible perhaps to practice ten Mudras one after another, one or two mudra, a couple of asana practiced as mudra, vinyasa and a few less static asana might make up a more rounded practice. I tend to include mayurasana ( K. thought it was K in Makaranda) and several vinyasas in shoulderstand and headstand after practicing them as mudra.

  2. I've been following your blog for many months now, and just want to say how much I appreciate the time you put into your writing. This latest project is great, and is providing me with much inspiration for my own practice. Long may you continue to share your practice, in whichever format that may be. Thank you. Joe

  3. I've been following your blog for many months now, and just want to say how much I appreciate the time you put into your writing. This latest project is great, and is providing me with much inspiration for my own practice. Long may you continue to share your practice, in whichever format that may be. Thank you. Joe


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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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