What is Ashtanga Yoga?

Everything you need to know plus a basic routine

Ashtanga Yoga
ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is a traditional form of yoga that combines breath and movement into what could - and generally is - considered to be a fairly challenging practice. I’ll give it to you straight - the full Ashtanga Yoga sequence isn’t easy. Even as an experienced yoga teacher, I tend to find myself falling out of poses when practicing Ashtanga Yoga.


(And there is a big but...)

Ashtanga Yoga is a wonderful style of yoga that can be practiced by anybody. Of course, depending on your physical health and knowledge of yoga, you might need to start with a few of the more straightforward pose combinations before attempting a full practice. And that’s great! Because that’s what we’re going to teach you today - a simple Ashtanga Yoga routine that anybody can practice.

Download the exercises in PDF
Ashtanga Yoga routine PDF

What is Ashtanga Yoga?

La palabra “ashtanga” significa “ocho miembros”, y se refiere a las ocho formas diferentes de vivir un estilo de vida verdaderamente yóguico. Y sólo uno de esos “miembros” es la práctica física de las posturas de yoga. Así es. El yoga es mucho más que subirse al mat durante una hora: es un estilo de vida.

So what are the eight limbs?

ashtanga yoga

Today, we’re just going to look at the eight different limbs and what they translate to.

The eight limbs of yoga:

  1. Yama - attitude towards our environment
  2. Niyama - attitude towards ourselves
  3. Asana - physical postures/yoga poses
  4. Pranayama - controlled breathing
  5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of senses
  6. Dharana - concentration
  7. Dhyana - meditation
  8. Samadhi - total connection to Self

Ultimately, Ashtanga Yoga is a path towards practicing each of these 8 limbs. During our practice, most of the limbs will be targeted through the physical practice itself. But whilst moving, can you practice niyama by being kind to yourself and your body? Can you practice dharana by focusing only on yourself and your practice? And can you practice yama by being at peace with any noise and interruptions that you might experience during your class?

Sure, it can be difficult when you’re sweating, cramping, and listening to the student next to you huffing and puffing through the class. But embodying each of the eight limbs is the ultimate way to practice with joy and a certain lightness to your body.

What does Ashtanga Yoga look like?

Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic practice that will make you feel like you’ve worked yourself pretty hard. Each class follows a predetermined sequence of poses that are focused primarily on strength. Each class will last for 90 minutes - so you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be sweating by the end of it!

Saying that, Ashtanga Yoga is largely focused on the breath. So, in my opinion, if you can breathe, you can practice! The rest can be added step-by-step. Don’t be put off for life if you only manage to complete 25 minutes of your first Ashtanga Yoga class - it’s a journey. And just like anything, it takes time to learn something new.

Who is Ashtanga Yoga for?

We’ve already discussed the fact that Ashtanga yoga is challenging, but this style of yoga is great for anyone with a little experience in yoga and knowledge of the basic yoga poses.

It’s ideal for those who:

  • Want to work up a sweat
  • Want to increase strength
  • Enjoy learning sequences
  • Appreciate combining breath with movement
  • Want to take their yoga practice to the next level
  • Have already practiced yoga and feel confident in basic poses

An Ashtanga Yoga routine

Hoy te enseñaré una rutina sencilla de Ashtanga Yoga creada a partir de posturas tomadas de la “serie primaria” de Ashtanga Yoga. Aunque en última instancia lo que se busca es que te muevas con la respiración – es decir, moverte cada vez que inhalas y exhalas -, hoy vamos a tomarlo con calma y conocer algunas de las posturas.

Grab your mat, hop into something comfortable, and let’s get started!

First, let’s warm up with some sun salutations.

Every Ashtanga Yoga class begins with a few rounds of sun salutations. Below you’ll see the sequence as well as a short description of how to practice each pose. Start by flowing through this routine 3-5 times to warm up.

Sun Salutation (Warm-up) | Repeat 3-5 times

  1. Mountain pose
  2. Upward salutation
  3. Forward fold
  4. Half way lift
  5. Chaturanga
  6. Upward facing dog
  7. Downward dog
  8. Half way lift
  9. Forward fold
  10. Upward salutation
  11. Mountain pose

Mountain Pose

Start by standing at the front of your mat with your feet slightly apart, arms at your sides with palms facing forward, and reaching tall through the crown of your head.

Postura de saludo hacia arriba

Take an inhale to lift your arms overhead, reaching for the sky.

Mountain pose

Standing forward fold

As you exhale, bend your knees and hinge at the hips to bring your tummy towards your thighs and hands to the ground (or blocks). Let your head hang heavy.

hatha yoga
Forward fold

Half way lift

Inhale to bring your hands to your shins, lifting the spine to look just in front of your mat.

Half fold


Exhale to fold, bringing your hands to the ground and stepping your feet back into plank pose. From here, bend the elbows to 90 degrees as you lower the chest towards the floor.


Drop the knees before lowering the chest to make this more accessible).


Upward facing dog

Take an inhale as you push into your hands to straighten your arms, reaching your head up to the sky and lifting your hips and knees away from the ground - resting only on your palms and the tops of your feet.

Upward-facing dog

Downward dog

Exhale as you lift your hips towards the sky and let your head hang between your arms. Keep a bend in the knees here if it feels better, bringing your heels to the ground only if it feels comfortable.

Downward-facing dog

Half way lift

Inhale as you step or jump to the front of the mat, bringing your hands to your shins to find a halfway lift.

Half fold

Standing forward fold

Exhale to bring the palms to the floor and belly to the thighs, letting the head hang heavy.

hatha yoga
Forward fold

Postura de saludo hacia arriba

Inhale to roll up to standing, lifting through one vertebra at a time, finishing by reaching your hands up towards the sky.

Extended mountain pose

Mountain Pose

Exhale to bring your hands to your sides with palms facing forwards in Mountain Pose.

Mountain pose

Repeat the sequence at least once!


Now that we’re warmed up, let’s move on to some juicier poses. I’ll be taking you through these poses nice and slowly so that you can spend time getting to know each asana and reaping the benefits that they’ll provide your body and mind.

Triangle pose (Trikonasana)

Stand facing the side of your mat with your feet about one leg distance apart. Turn the right toes forwards and reach your arms out to either side of your body as you inhale. Take an exhale to shift your hips towards the back of your mat as you reach forwards with the right hand, tilting the entire torso and bringing the hand down to rest on the ground or a block.

Keep reaching the left hand up towards the sky as you look up towards the left hand or down to the ground - depending on what’s more comfortable for your neck!

You should be feeling a great stretch in the inner right thigh, as well as a gentle opening through the chest as shoulders.

Stay here for 3-5 breaths before repeating on the other side.

Wide-legged forward fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)

Wide-legged forward fold is a great pose for opening the hips, the hamstrings, and the inner thighs and can help to reduce and prevent lower back pain.

Come back to standing with your feet about one leg’s distance apart.

Take an inhale to bring your hands to your hip creases, then exhale as you hinge forwards from the hips, bringing the hands below the chest and shoulders to rest on the ground or blocks. Let the head hang heavy and stay here for 2-3 breaths.

From here, we’re going to bring the hands to interlace behind the back, pulling the hands away from the body as you inhale to open the chest - ensuring that your head and neck are still relaxed.

Exhale, and bring your hands to the ground in front of the head, using a block underneath the hands to make this pose more accessible. Stay here for 2-3 breaths.

Inhale to stretch further through the arms, before exhaling to bring the hands to hold onto the ankles, letting the torso get really heavy. Stay here for 2-3 breaths before slowly rolling up through the spine to come back to standing.

Yogi Squat (Malasana)

Malasana is a wonderful pose for creating space in the hips and opening the chest.

Start from a standing position with your feet a little wider than hip-distance apart. Bring the hands to a prayer position at your heart, and exhale as you drop the hips down into a squat. You might like to bring a block under the sit bones for more comfort!

Keep your forearms parallel to the floor and try to keep your knees apart by opening from the hips as opposed to pushing them away from each other with the elbows.

Stay in this position for 5-10 breaths..

So there you have it! Your very own Ashtanga Yoga routine that you can practice at home. Don’t skip the sun salutations as these will make your practice so much more comfortable and a lot safer for your body.

It's on Ashtanga Yoga is a wonderful practice that can help us to advance in yoga - both physically and mentally. Take your time with the poses, adding on a new pose each time you feel ready for it! When you’re ready to expand your Ashtanga Yoga practice, why not head to a local or online class?!


Keira is a mother, certified yoga teacher (250h vinyasa +30h yin yoga), yin yogaand writer from the UK, now living in France with her partner and 3 year old daughter. She loves sharing yoga as a way to connect with your body and relax. 

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