sacramento california yoga:
ashtanga third series
"sthira bhaga" -- divine steadiness
Third Series (along with the Fourth,
Fifth and Sixth series) is also known
as the Ashtanga Advanced Series.
How many series are there in Ashtanga Yoga anyway?
Well, it depends on how you count and when you learned the system. Once upon a
time there was Primary, Intermediate and Advanced. The Primary series (also known
as First) and Intermediate (also known as Second) haven't changed much.
Advanced has undergone numerous changes. For a look at when it was first taught
to Westerners as "Advanced A&B" view David Swenson's Advanced Series video.
This is what was later rearranged and broken down into Advanced A, B, C and D. Or
as we prefer it: Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth Series. So depending on who you're talking
to Advanced A& B could mean either the current 3-4-5-6 or the current 3 and 4 only.
Note that in some cases (in addition to different sequencing), the poses are currently
taught differently. The seven headstands now taught at the end of second series
show up in Advanced B without vinyasas between. The 5 foot behind the head
variations in Third Series with a vinyasa between each are in Advanced A with all 5
done in a row on one side and then a vinyasa to the 5 on the second side. And so on.
What's wrong with the names of some of the poses?
Well, Krishnamacharya's 2 most famous disciples can't seem to agree on what to call
some of the poses. Who lost his notes? Even First and Second Series have a few
problems and many teachers have gravitated toward Iyengar's nomenclature as
students know the poses from other classes prior to coming to Ashtanga or from
Light on Yoga. We've generally favored the Iyengar yoga system names in the list
below but frequently give both. The first two poses in Third Series are an obvious
example of this problem, with the names flipped. Do we care? No -- it's just interesting
The Third Series class sequence
Invocation Surya Namaskara A & B Standing poses
third series poses--
Vasisthasana -- (aka Visvamitrasana) Dedicated to Vasistha, author of
From samasthiti, take a vinyasa to downdog. With an inhale lower into a
plank, roll over to the right and raise the left arm. Exhale with the left
foot still on top of the right. With an inhale raise the left leg, rotate it
externally, grab the big toe and stretch up for 5 breaths. Dristhi = hand.
With an exhale release the leg while still keeping the arm raised. Take
an inhale with the gaze still up at the hand. Exhale as the arm comes to
the side of the left thigh. Ease into chaturanga to finish the exhale.
Inhale for an updog, exhale to downdog. Inhale and roll to the second
side. Then another vinyasa to downdog after the left side of the pose.
Visvamitrasana -- Visvamitra was a ruler so impressed with Vasistha's
knowledge and contentment that he became a disciple. Pattabhi Jois
calls this second pose Vasisthasana.
From downdog, inhale and bring the right leg forward around the
outside of the right arm. Duck the arm more completely under the thigh.
Exhale as you lean onto the right hand to balance with the left arm on
the left thigh. Inhale as you then take the left arm upward. Hold for 5
breaths. Drishti = hand.
Eka Pada Koundinyasana II -- Dedicated to the sage Koundinya.
Pattabhi Jois calls this pose Visvamitrasana B.
From visvamitrasana, lower the left hand to the side with an exhale.
Inhale the left hand to the floor, swing the legs out to the right side and
lift the legs up for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose. Float back to chaturanga
with an exhale and take a vinyasa to visvamitrasana and koundinyasana
on the left. Then take a vinyasa up to samasthiti.
Bhairavasana -- Bhairava = formidable, terrible. Dedicated to one of
the six aspects of Shiva. Pattabhi Jois calls this one Kashyapasana.
From samasthiti, take a vinyasa down to a seated position. Place the
right foot behind the head with an exhale. Inhale and take the hands to
namaste. Exhale and lie on the back for 5 breaths. Dristhi = third eye.
Or just sit and do some foot behind the head prep.
With an inhale, come back up to sitting, lift up and balance (like
chakorasana except it's not held for this exit). Exhale back through a
vinyasa to sitting to the second side and another vinyasa to sitting for
Chakorasana -- Dedicated to a bird like a partridge, said to feed on
From sitting, place the right foot behind the head and take hands to
namaste during an exhale. Inhale, plant the hands on the floor, lift up
and balance for 5 breaths trying to get the hips as far forward as
possible and the left leg as high and straight as possible. Drishti = toes.
With the foot still behind the head, exhale and fold the left leg back
between the arms to get to chaturanga. Vinyasa to second side and
then a vinyasa to sitting to enter kala bhairavasana.
Kala Bhairavasana -- Dedicated to the destroyer of the universe --
Shiva in his most destructive aspect. P.J. just calls this Bhairavasana.
From sitting, take the right foot behind the head, hands in namaste
during an exhale. With an inhale, lift up and swing the left leg back into
visvamitrasana position. Exhale and roll over onto the right and balance
with the arm along the thigh. Inhale and raise the left arm. Drishti = hand.
After 5 breaths exhale arm back to side. With an inhale, lower the left
hand to the floor and with foot still behind the head, swing the left leg
forward and up for chakorasana, releasing to charuranga on an exhale
for a vinyasa to the second side. Then come through to sitting for the
Ruchikasana -- Dedicated to the grandfather of an incarnation of
Vishnu, the sage Ruschika. Pattabhi Jois calls this pose Skandasana.
From sitting, take the right foot behind the head and hands in namaste
during an exhale. Inhale, place hands on the floor, straighten the left leg
so you're in a foot-behind the-head uttanasana. Gaze up. Exhale and
fold forward for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
Inhale and lift the lift leg up into chakorasana for the exit. Exhale back
through a vinyasa for the second side. Again come to sitting for the next
Durvasana -- Dedicated to the notoriously angry sage Durva.
Start like the last pose except after straightening the left leg, try to come
up toward a standing position -- all on an inhale. Work against a wall if
needed. If one is fully vertical, the drishti is upwards.
After 5 breaths, exhale the hands to the floor. Inhale and lift the left leg
up to chakorasana position, exhale back to chaturanga. After the
second side, take a vinyasa back up to samasthiti. From samasthiti, take
a vinyasa to downdog for the first of the 7 arm balances.
Urdvha Kukkutasana -- Urdvha = upward, Kukutta = rooster, cock.
A -- (From headstand) Inhale and hop into your headstand from
downdog. Exhale, swing the legs into lotus and bring the lotus down
onto the upper arms. Inhale and lift the head from the floor for 5
breaths. Drishti = nose. Inhale back up to lotus headstand, Exhale
during a vinyasa down to chaturanga and through to sitting.
B -- (Swinging through the trees) From sitting, place legs in lotus with
an exhale. Inhale and swing the lotus up the arms first one knee higher,
then the other until fully in place. Hold for 5 breaths. With an exhale, lift
the lotus up off the arms and send the legs back to chaturanga and
again come through to a seated position. Drishti = nose.
C -- (Sliding up the mountain) Bring the legs into lotus with an exhale.
Slide the lotus symmetrically up the arms with an inhale. Hold for 5
breaths. Drishti = nose. Exit with an exhale as you float the lotus off the
arms and take a vinyasa to downdog..
Eka Pada Galavasana -- Eka = one, Pada = foot. The sage Galava
was another pupil of Vasishta.
From downdog, hop into headstand on an inhale. Exhale and bring the
right leg into half lotus, perhaps using the bent left leg as an assist to
get the right leg in tighter. Inhale as you lift the head off the floor and
straighten the left leg. Take 5 breaths. Drishti = nose. We go back up to
headstand between sides: inhale the head back to the floor and
straighten both legs upwards. Exhale as the left leg comes down for the
second side. Inhale and lift the head. The exit is back up to headstand
on an inhale, vinyasa down on an exhale.
Eka Pada Bakasana A -- Baka = crane. We usually call it the crow, but
the correct Sanskrit for that would be Kaka rather than Baka.
Again hopping into headstand from downdog on an inhale. Exhale the
right leg down into the armpit. Inhale and lift up into the pose for 5
breaths. Drishti = nose. Inhale head to the ground and legs back
straight into headstand prior to the second side. To exit after the second
side, inhale to headstand again and exhale back to chaturanga prior to
Eka Pada Bakasana B
Hop into your headstand again (don't you love doing that from
downdog?). Bring the right leg down into the armpit and left leg forward
on an exhale. Inhale as you lift the head and enter the pose for 5
breaths. No vinyasa, just back up to headstand prior to the second side.
Drishti = nose.
After 5 breaths on the second side, inhale the head to the floor and
straighten back up to your headstand. Exhale back through a vinyasa to
Koundinyasana A -- Koundinya = the name of a sage. The pose is
better known as Dwi Pada Koundinyasana. Dwi = two, Pada = foot.
Hop into headstand again. Take a leisurely exhale as you bring straight
legs down and off to the right. Inhale the head up and enter the pose for
5 breaths. Drishti = nose. Headstand between sides -- inhale head to
floor, legs back up, etc. Again a headstand after the second side and a
vinyasa back to downdog.
Koundinyasana B -- Aka Eka Pada Koundinyasana 1.
Hop into headstand, bring the legs down to the right again with an
exhale but take top leg back prior to inhaling up into the pose. Drishti =
nose. Again a headstand between sides and back to headstand for a
vinyasa down to exit. Come to headstand to enter the next pose.
Astavakrasana -- Ashto = 8, Vakra = crooked. Ashtavakra, author of
the Ashtavakra Gita, was a sage born "crooked in 8 places".
variation A -- (From headstand). Exhale the legs down and rest the
right thigh on top of the right arm. Inhale and lift the head so the left leg
can come between the arms. Cross the ankles, stretch the legs out to
the side and level and extend the spine forward for 5 breaths. Drishti =
nose. Inhale up to headstand prior to entering the second side. After 5
breaths, inhale back up to headstand, exhale take a vinyasa back to
downdog. Or you can do the pose from a seated position.
variation B -- (From handstand or downdog) Inhale and jump from
downdog directly into the pose -- or come down from handstand. Drishti
= nose. Take 5 breaths, exhale as you lift up and out to chaturanga and
a vinyasa. Repeat the pose on the second side. After 5 breaths, exhale
and disengage from the pose, landing directly in chaturanga. Take a
vinyasa up to samasthiti and then through to sitting for the next pose.
Poorna Matsyendrasana Poorna = full, Matsyendra = the name of a
sage (Lord of the Fishes) who supposedly learned the pose (as a
fish) by watching Shiva teach it to Parvati on the bank of a
From sitting, bring the left foot into half lotus, the right knee up in the
air (like marichy D) but then take the right foot on the left side of the
left knee. Twist and (if you can balance), take the left arm down to the
right foot, right hand back around to grab upper left thigh. Drishti =
side. Inhale to release after 5 breaths, take a vinyasa, lifting up and
having the lotus straighten out on the way back to chaturanga. Come
to sitting for the second side (shown here), then another vinyasa to
sitting for the next pose.
Viranchyasana A -- Known in some yoga systems as Omkarasana
(which in ashtanga is a name for a related arm balance at the end of
4th series) Virancha = a sage as well as another name for Brahma.
variation 1 -- (Hands in namaste) Bring the left foot into half lotus
while exhaling. Take the right leg behind the head with an inhale.
Exhale and take the hands to namaste for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
Or just cradle the left leg as preparation for the full pose.
variation 2 -- (Clasp around leg) With an inhale release the namaste
and take the right arm up, left arm down to encircle the foot. Note that
this clasp is the opposite direction from that used in buddhasana in
Take another 5 breaths. Drishti = upward. Over time, try to lengthen
variation 3 -- (Arm balance) Exhale from variation 2 and take the
hands to the floor. Inhale and lift with the foot still behind the head.
Hold (if possible) for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose. Exhale and release the
legs back to chaturanga.
Take a vinyasa through to sitting for the second side of these 3
variations with the right leg in lotus and the left foot behind the head.
The vinyasa after the arm balance on the second side takes us back
to downdog for the launch into viranchyasana B.
variation 1 -- After jumping to sitting on an inhale, bring the right foot
in like janu sirsasana C but roll the heel all the way forward (if that's a
comfortable thing for you). Sit on the foot as you exhale and grab the
foot of the straight leg. Inhale, keep the arms straight, lift the heart
(but take jalandhara bandha) and stay extended upward for 5
breaths. Drishti = nose.
Exhale, fold forward onto the leg for another 5 breaths, leading with
the chin. Drishti = toes. To exit come up to a straight arm position
again on an inhale. Exhale as you release the rest of the way and
bring the straight left leg into half lotus. Twist to the left and you're in:
variation 2 -- Hold this strange variant on bharadvajasana for 5
breaths. Drishti = side. Inhale the gaze around to the front to start the
exit. Exhale as you take hands to the floor and float back through a
vinyasa (lotus releasing in mid-air) and on to the second side of these
two viranchyasana B variations.
For the second side we bring the left foot in to sit on (as shown in
variation 1 photo above) and end with a twist in variation 2 off to the
right. Unwind on an inhale after the second side twist. Take a full
vinyasa up to samasthiti to celebrate and then on to downdog.
Viparita Dandasana A -- Viparita = flipped over, Danda = staff or
walking stick represented by the straight legs. Also known as Dwi
Pada Viparita Dandasana. Dwi = two, Pada = foot.
From downdog come onto the knees, place hands behind the head
and inhale up into a headstand. Drop over into a backbend with an
exhale. Inhale, lengthen the spine and walk the two feet out as far as
is comfortable. Drishti = nose.
Inhale and kick back up to headstand for a vinyasa exit to downdog.
Or skip the headstand entrance and start on the back and lift up into
your pose. The exit could then be just releasing down to the mat and
rolling into your vinyasa to downdog.
Viparita Dandasana B -- Also known as Eka Pada Viparita
Dandasana. Eka = one.
Again inhale up into a headstand. Exhale and drop back. Inhale and
raise right leg for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose. Try to move the heart
toward the wall you're facing and get the vertebrae of the upper spine
moving into the back. Exhale the leg down and inhale the left leg up
for 5 breaths.
Exhale as you release the left foot to the floor. Inhale and kick back to
headstand. Exhale on a vinyasa down to chaturanga. Or just release
down onto the mat from the backbend. In any case, we somehow get
back to downdog.
Viparita Salabasana -- Viparita = flipped over, Salabha = locust.
Exhale as you come to the belly from downdog, working arms
underneath the torso, chin on the floor and palms facing up. Inhale as
the legs lift up for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
Exhale down and reposition hands as you enter chaturanga. Inhale for
an updog, exhale back to downdog.
Hanumanasana A -- (Namaste) This pose is dedicated to the king of
the monkeys, Hanuman. The pose is supposed to feel like one of his
famous feats, the 28 mile leap between India and Sri Lanka to rescue
Sita from the demon Ravena.
From downdog, swing the right leg forward on an inhale. Exhale, try to
square the hips as the hands come to namaste for 5 breaths. Drishti =
nose. Try to get the back leg spinning internally. The pelvis should try
to tilt back to decompress the low back so the spine can extend
Point the toes on both feet. Smile. Or do your monkey face Hanuman
Hanumanasana B -- (Stretching up)
From version A, inhale and stretch the arms up for 5 breaths. Drishti =
hands. Again trying to get pelvis tilting back. Heart lifts, shoulder
blades release down the back. Maybe it turns into a bit of a backbend
in preparation for a 5th series pose, kroukachasana.
Hanumanasana C -- (Forward fold)
From version B, exhale and come forward toward the foot or around it.
Inhale and look up with straight arms, exhale and surrender into the
pose. Drishti = toes. Continue to try to bring the back hip forward and
rotate the back leg internally.
After your 5 breaths, inhale and gaze up. Exhale, plant the hands and
(try to elegantly) get the right leg back to chaturanga. From downdog,
inhale and swing the left leg through for the 3 variations on the
second side. After the second side inhale to release, exhale to
chaturanga, inhale updog, exhale downdog and then jump through.
Supta Trivikramasana -- Supta = reclining, Tri = three, Krama =
steps. Trivikrama was a dwarf incarnation of Vishnu who took three
gigantic steps to reclaim the world for the good guys.
Exhale after your jump through and stretch out on the back. Inhale and
bring the right leg up and grab the foot with the elbows straight. Exhale
and lower the leg towards the floor for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose. Inhale
and straighten the arms -- again holding the leg up at 45 degrees.
Exhale and release the right leg to the floor. Repeat on the second
side. The exit is via chakrasana up to samasthiti.
Dikasana A -- Dik = a bird. The pose is better known as
From samasthiti, inhale and stretch the arms up, exhale and fold down
to uttanasana. Inhale and take the gaze up. Exhale as you raise the
right leg, the torso and the arms up to a horizontal position. Take 5
breaths. Palms push together. Focus on extension and levelling the
hips. Drishti = hands.
Dikasana B -- Exhale arms wide for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose. Then
inhale to repeat version A for another 5 breaths.
Exhale back to uttanasana after a total of 15 breaths standing on the
left leg (A-B-A) Repeat on the second side. Then inhale and roll up to
samasthiti to go directly to the next pose.
Utthita Trivikramasana -- Utthita = extended.
From samasthiti, inhale as you raise the right leg with both hands.
Pause with the elbows straight and the leg up in the air about 45
degrees. Exhale as you bend the elbows and bring the leg in toward
the right ear. Take 5 breaths. Drishti = nose. The exit starts with an
inhale as the arms again straighten.
Release the leg to the floor on an exhale. Repeat on the second side
and release to samasthiti again.
Natarajasana A -- (Two hands) Nata = dance or dancer, Raja = king.
This pose is dedicated to Shiva, the king of the dancers.
From samasthiti, inhale as you extend the right leg up in front and grab
the big toe with the right hand. Exhale as you extend the leg out to the
right side (as in utthita hasta padangusthasana) and continue around
to the back. Elbow swings up, left hand reaches up to help bring the
foot toward the back of the head. Use a strap to work toward the full
pose. Take 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
Natarajasana B -- (One hand)
From the first side of version A, bring the left hand around to the front
and stretch out the arm horizontally with an inhale. Take 5 more
breaths. Drishti = hand.
Release on an inhale, swinging the right leg all the way back around to
the front and lifting it up. Exhale as to put the foot back on the floor.
Repeat these two variations on the second side ending in samasthiti
Rajakapotasana -- Raja = royal, Kapota = pigeon. The pose is also
known as Raja Bhujangasana, the royal cobra pose.
From samasthiti, inhale the arms up, exhale to uttanasana. Inhale gaze
up, exhale to chaturanga and release to the floor. Walk the hands
back toward the hips, bend the knees and work the feet toward the
back of the head for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose. If you want more fun,
then try taking the feet to the shoulders for an additional 5 breaths.
Exhale as you release to chaturanga. Inhale into an updog, exhale
back to downdog for the next pose.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana -- Not to be confused with Eka Pada
Kapotasana in fourth series.
Swing the right leg through from downdog on an inhale. Exhale with the
hands on the hips. Inhale as you bring the back foot up and grab the
toes (or the ankle). Exhale and enter the pose for 5 breaths. Drishti =
Inhale back up to vertical to exit. Exhale again take the hands to the
hips. Inhale as the hands go to the floor and you lift up. Exhale back to
chaturanga, up dog, downdog, and into the second side.
After the second side exit in the same manner but this time take a full
vinyasa up to samasthiti to celebrate the end of the third series.
...and then on to fourth series.
...or on to the finishing poses if you're done for the day.
Third Series Resources
Light on Yoga is the yoga book with the most printed information on these poses. David Swenson's Ashtanga
Yoga: The Practice -- Second & Third Series is the best instructional video. There's also a home video of
Pattabhi Jois leading a class through Third and part of Fourth in Encinitas which is available at mauiyoga.com.
Matthew Sweeney's booklet Ashtanga Yoga As It Is (available through Yoga Vermont) is the best pictorial cheat
sheet of both Third and Forth Series (or as he calls it, Advanced A&B). Another cheat sheet with photos for third
series (plus some of fourth series) is on the web at ashtangayoga.info.
Or come to class. If you're doing yoga in Sacramento, almost all the Third Series work (and some of Fourth)
shows up in our Power Yoga classes. We frequently deviate from the traditional sequencing, explore alternate
entrances and exits and otherwise play around in order to get yogis incorporating these poses in their practice.
Have a happy yoga practice!
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photo of darren rhodes in natarajasana by ross evans used by permission
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