What do you consider the first pose of Ashtanga’s First Series?

When I was making sure I was spelling the names of poses from Second Series correctly, I used the handy ashtangayoga.info site as my reference.

And while there, for the first time, I noticed that it has the standing or fundamental poses end after Parshvottanasana. First Series begins with Utthita Hasta Padangushthasana.

Say what?

I’ve always thought of Dandasana as being the intro, so to speak, to First. Although I know that Parshvottanasana often is where folks “split” if they are going to do a longer practice involved Second and maybe more poses.

So… I’ve looked around (not being at home to check Yoga Mala; Update: It just runs through the standing and seated poses, which I had forgotten) and I see a David Swenson poster that just includes all of the poses as “Primary”; there are a few more that seem to follow its lead; there are others that delineate between the “standing” sequence and the “seated” one; a Matthew Sweeney poster also seems to just group all of it together; there’s a David Williams “complete” poster that groups standing and Primary together, but it seems like more of a design choice than anything else. And there’s one with Sharath on it — but I can’t find a clear enough image to see if it delineates things in a particular way.

Anyone out there especially insistent on when Primary begins? Do you feel like it matters? As I’ve said, I am 99% sure I’ve always been taught the Dandasana is the first pose.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

20 thoughts on “What do you consider the first pose of Ashtanga’s First Series?”

  1. I’ve always understood primary to begin with Uttita hasta pandangustasana. You don’t do that pose if you are doing a complete intermediate, third or more advanced sequence.

  2. I’m just starting with intermediate and I was told it begins after Parshvottanasana. However my teacher advised me to do all the standing poses (finishing with Virabhadrasana II) and then start the intermediate poses with pashasana where you would do utkatasana if you were doing primary. Hope this helps!

  3. Wouldn’t the first pose be Samastiti? To assign a pose to the primary series would negate all beginners of Mysore. Does that mean that anyone who doesn’t touch the floor with his palms in Uttanasana with straight legs is not doing the Primary Series… Not a jab here, just saying that the over analysis that we tend to do can lead us into a mind trip that perhaps is not aligned with what the series was intended toward. Sharath has said many things that give me pause, like when you breathe you must breathe so as to affect the nervous system. Like, what a mental loop of thoughts that can take you into… does that mean that we aren’t practicing good Ashtanga when we aren’t affecting the nervous system, and what is the basis for knowing we have done that effectively, or at all? Another teacher (non-Ashtanga) says yoga starts when we start breathing something like 4 breaths a minute. As an asthmatic, I guess I have only been doing yoga when I was taking Tim M.’s pranayama classes…. I understand that these are sign posts, but when the sign leaves you to believing that you have no direction to go, I know where I am going…

    1. I’m not sure how you get “over analysis” from this? I’m more commenting on a different interpretation of the practice than the one I’m familiar with. If anything, these sign posts say that up ahead, you’re entering the Twilight Zone.


  4. I am doing a YTT200 in Ashtanga ish Training Our first after Samasthitih is Padangusthasana and Padhastasana

  5. I guess the logic is that Second starts after parsvottanasana, that is, you would not do the remainder of the standing sequence if you were practicing Second series, but start it at that point.

    Here’s another thing I’ve been told regarding the balancing postures: that they originally were taught after supta hasta padangustasana, at the end of Primary, but that after “more research” it was felt they were more logically placed in the standing sequence!

    I also have heard (perhaps both of these came from Nancy Gilgoff) that the actual start of Primary begins when you begin taking vinyasa. Which means that Primary technically begins at Utkatasana!

    Regardless, I don’t think it really matters, as long as you do your practice every day. 🙂

    1. Agreed. This really is all just a reaction to my reaction of being surprised to see it so different from what I’d learned. But, no surprise — as you note (and I know we have here), it’s changed and evolved throughout the years. I am curious if a particular “starting point” is the current norm.


      1. Exactly, i thought every single movement in Ashtanga Vinyasa is a vinyasa i.e. movement contained in a breath.

      2. On second thoughts perhaps she was referring to the suryanamaskara type motion that gets equated with vinyasa in modern studios. That starts with Utkatasana.

      3. She was referring to the Suryanamaskar as “vinyasa” and yes, I am aware that each breath is considered “vinyasa” – but Nancy Gilgoff taught me. And she would say before Utkatasana “take vinyasa”.

        As Nancy herself has retiterated many times, she teaches Ashtanga as Guruji taught her, using his words and transmitting his teaching – not her “variation” or “adaptation”, but as close as possible to what he said and taught.

      4. Thank you for the explanation, Michelle. Some time back, Nancy made a copy of the 1973 typewritten syllabus that she received from Guruji available online. The first asana listed under the heading “primary asanas” is “Padangustasana”. The number of vinyasa for this asana is indicated as 3. While it is not clear that these primary asanas on Nancy’s syllabus are synonymous with the current term primary series, there is no indication – on the syllabus, at least – that the primary series begins with utkatasana.

      5. @Michelle.
        Nancy was sick (and physically weak) when she met Guruji. Guruji actually “performed” asanas with her body.
        Guruji used Yoga was therapy to help people and hence Nancy learnt it differently.
        Now to take that and apply it across the board to everyone in a dogmatic way is doing disservice to Guruji.

      6. In my handful of experiences with Nancy, what she teaches isn’t dramatically different from others, and I don’t think reflects too much her initial experience with Guruji when she was sick. And I think she is a bit more about “the spirit” of how she was taught (while, I know, having a streak of strictness). I also think she’s moderated that stance in the past few years. But others have more experience with her than I have. But I would definitely disagree that she’s doing any disservice to Pattabhi Jois.


  6. I don’t know of any hard-and-fast rule here, either.

    Typically I consider Utkatasana to be the first Primary Series position. The Vinyasa is the same for Pasana to enter the second series, and also the same to enter Vasisthasana of the third series. It is a natural break-point.

    However, it also seems to be generally accepted to begin either series 2nd or 3rd after Parsvottanasana.

    Some teachers have instructed me to do Ardha Baddha and then branch into whichever series. Others, Parsvottanasana. For third series, there is even precedence of beginning after Surya B, though most teachers seem to prefer through Parsvottasana.

  7. I agree with some of the other people here. I consider Utthita hasta padangusthasana to be the firs pose because if you are doing any other series in full, you drop off after parsvattonasana

  8. If you are past the split of intermediate, to be then just starting with intermediate, yes, parsvattonasa is the last of standing. However based on stamina of the practitioner, I have seen in the pre split version of intermediate in conjunction with primary, some do all of primary and then add on intermediate, others doing a split, alternating the first half of primary through navasana, then doing their intermediate poses, and alt days doing second half of primary, starting with bhujapidasana going to the end and then adding intermediate. As well I’ve been to shalas where all standing through the warrior sequence is completed before entering intermediate. I think the process has evolved, but last year in India, the first three methods I described were “correct method” 🙂

    1. Given this information, a reasonable answer to Steve’s original question appears to be that the series (any) begins with Surya Namaskara, but the first asana unique to the primary series is Utthita hasta padangushtasana. 
      The first six asanas of the standing sequence are often referred to as the “fundamental asanas”. Presumably, this is because they, as a group, are followed by a brief summary paragraph in Yoga Mala. Could this be why Parshvottanasana, the last of the six, is also the last asana shared among the series?

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