ashtanga vinyasa yoga
ashtanga fourth series
the sthira bhaga continues
Who's doing fourth series? We find that a lot
of ashtanga students are fearful of venturing
beyond the primary series. Yet there are many
poses in the more advanced series that are
taught in beginning yoga classes in other
styles of yoga practice.
Even in the fourth series of the ashtanga yoga system we encounter poses
like shooting bow, side crow, hero (known as paryankasana in the ashtanga
system) and marichyasana E & F that we teach in our hatha yoga basics
We sometimes even run through the first 20 or so poses of the series in
traditional ashtanga fashion during a power yoga class and find a few
students doing well with the majority of the poses and almost all the rest able
to at least get started doing preparatory phases of the more challenging ones
Here's a list of the full series. We'd love to have your comments (or pictures!)
if you've been practicing any of the fourth, fifth or sixth series poses. Have
fourth series poses --
Mulabandhasana -- Mula = referring to the lowest chakra, the
muladhara, Bandha = an energy lock or seal.
From samasthiti take a vinyasa through to a seated position. With an
exhale, bring the feet in as for baddha konasana but lift the heels and
roll the feet back (cautiously we hope). With an inhale, lift the hips up
and forward to sit on the feet and take hands to namaste for 5 breaths.
An alternate hand position is on the hips. Drishti = nose. With an inhale
lift up and release, exhale back to chaturanga for a vinyasa.
Nahushasana -- A pose dedicated to the sage Nahusha.
variation A -- From downdog, inhale through to sitting and take
mulabandhasana again while exhaling. With an inhale, lean back with
hands on floor behind for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
variation B -- Inhale back up to vertical and take hands behind into a
reverse namaste for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
variation C -- Inhale and bring the hands onto the knees, engage
jalandhara bandha and place the fingers in jnana mudra for 5 breaths.
Inhale, place hands on floor and exit to chaturanga with an exhale. It's a
full vinyasa to samasthiti.
Vrschikasana -- Vrschika = a scorpion.
From samasthiti, take a vinyasa to downdog. Inhale as you place
forearms on the floor and lift or kick into pincha mayurasana. Exhale as
the legs come over toward the back of the head. Drishti = nose.
Stay for 5 breaths. Inhale as you bring the legs back up toward vertical.
The exit to chaturanga is the fun bit just like from pincha mayurasana in
second series -- while in the pose just jump in the air and land directly in
chaturanga during an exhale. Take a vinyasa to downdog.
Note: Although this is traditionally a fourth series pose, it has also crept
into the second series practice as it's irresistible after the pincha
mayurasana and karanda vasana work in second.
Sayanasana -- Sayana = a couch or bed.
From downdog, place elbows on the floor, cup chin in hands and kick
up on an inhale. An easier entrance is to start in pincha mayurasana
and then raise the hands to chin for an elbow balance. Drishti = nose.
The exit again is jumping up in the air while still in the pose. Hands
re-position in mid-air so you land in chaturanga for the exhale. Take a
vinyasa through to a sitting position.
Buddhasana -- Buddha = awakened.
With an exhale place the right foot behind the head and hands in
namaste. Left leg stays extended straight on the floor. Inhale and raise
the left arm and clasp around the foot with hands clasping at the side .
Take 5 breaths. Drishti = upward.
Inhale to release as the hands come to the floor for a lift into
chakorasana (see third series), exhale to chaturanga for a vinyasa to
the second side.
After the second side, take another vinyasa through to sitting.
Kapilasana -- Kapila = the founder of the Samkhya system of
philosophy, from which yoga draws much of its metaphysics. In Iyengar
yoga the first (upright) phase of this pose is called Buddhasana.
Like buddhasana, we again exhale as the right foot goes behind the
head and hands come into namaste. Inhale as the left arm then goes up
and loops over the foot and clasps the right hand behind. With an
exhale do a forward fold for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
With an inhale come back up to vertical. Release the clasp, keep the
foot behind the head. Place the hands on the floor as you lift up into
chakorasana. Exhale and float the legs back for a vinyasa and into the
second side. After the second side take a full vinyasa to samasthiti.
Akarna Dhanurasana A -- Akarna = shooting, Dhanura = bow.
From samasthiti, take a vinyasa through to a seated position. Exhale as
you come forward and grab both big toes (one with each hand). Inhale
as the right foot is drawn back toward the right ear for 5 breaths. Drishti
Akarna Dhanurasana B
From variation A, take an inhale, straighten the right leg and take it out
to the side about 90 degrees and try to bring the foot up as high as
possible. Drishti = toes. Take 5 breaths.
To exit the first side, inhale and take the right foot back to the right ear
again, exhale as the leg is extended down onto the floor still clasping
the big toe.
Inhale as you raise the left leg for 5 breaths in variation A, 5 in variation
B. Again inhale back to A after the 10 breaths, then exhale the left leg
to the floor.
After the second side inhale as you lift up to exit the with legs tucked
underneath. Exhale back for a vinyasa to downdog.
Padangustha Dhanurasana A -- Pada = foot, Anga = limb or part.
Padangustha generally refers to the big toe. Dhanura = bow.
From downdog inhale down onto the belly, reach up overhead and grab
feet with an exhale. Inhale as the feet lift and the arms straighten as
much as possible for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
Padangustha Dhanurasana B
From version A, bring feet down to head (or if possible, the ears) on an
exhale. Take 5 breaths. Drishti = nose. Then inhale and stretch legs and
arms up again to repeat version A for another 5 breaths.
Inhale and release to the floor and go directly to an updog and ending up
Marichyasana E -- Marichi was a sage. Also with this name we have a
son of Brahma who was the father of Surya, the god of the sun in Indian
From samasthiti, take a vinyasa to downdog and jump through on an
inhale with left leg folded back (like trianga). With an exhale, put the right
leg in position and reach the right arm up in the air and around it to clasp
behind. Inhale and gaze up (shown). Exhale and fold forward for 5
breaths. Drishti = nose. Inhale gaze up for the exit, plant the hands and
lift. Exhale to chaturanga, updog, downdog and repeat on the second
side. Again a vinyasa to downdog.
From downdog jump through on an inhale with the left leg folded back,
right knee up in the air. With an exhale, do a twist to the right, reach
around right leg and clasp for 5 breaths. Drishti = side.
Inhale to bring gaze around to the front and then release with hands to
the floor and lifting. Exhale as you take a vinyasa and then repeat on the
second side. After the second side, a vinyasa to downdog.
From downdog, jump through to sitting on an inhale with the left leg over
the left arm. Exhale as you take the left foot behind the head and position
the right foot so the knee is up in the air. Inhale as you raise the right
arm, encircle the right knee, clasp and gaze up. Exhale into the pose for 5
breaths. Drishti = nose.
Inhale as you release the hands to the floor and lift up for a chakorasana
exit. Take a vinyasa and repeat on the second side. After the second
side, take another vinyasa to downdog.
From downdog, jump through to sitting on an inhale with the left leg
around the left arm. Exhale as the left foot goes behind the head, the
right knee is brought up and you twist to the right. Inhale as the left arm
comes up reaches around. Hold the twist for 5 breaths with arms clasped
around both legs. Drishti = side.
Inhale and release as the hands come to the floor to lift up. Exhale for the
vinyasa and repeat with a twist to the left (shown here). Take a vinyasa
after the second side to samasthiti.
Tadasana -- Tada = mountain. Obviously not the Iyengar yoga style
pose. Here legs are rotated externally. Pattabhi Jois says the position is
inspired by Indian temple carvings.
Note that most yoga traditions outside the Krishnamacharya / Iyengar /
Ashtanga orbit would translate Tada not as "mountain" but as "tree" or
"palm tree". Tadasana would usually refer to a pose with the arms up in
From samasthiti, take a vinyasa back to downdog. Inhale and jump
forward with feet between hands but heels together, legs rotated
externally. Take an exhale as you rotate out a bit more and then
straighten the knees. Inhale and roll up to standing with hands in namaste
and engaging jalandhara bandha. Drishti = nose.
Take 5 breaths then jump up to take feet to samasthiti. Exhale as you fold
forward and jump to chaturanga. Inhale for updog, exhale to downdog.
Samanasana -- This pose is said to stimulate Samana, the variety of
prana residing in the area of the belly.
variation A -- From downdog, exhale to the belly and roll to the right side
with arm underneath the body. Take 5 breaths with left arm on left thigh
and the head pointed straight ahead. Drishti = nose.
variation B -- With an inhale, raise the left leg, grab the big toe and
extend the upper leg for 5 breaths. Lift the head off the floor and keep
the neck in line with the rest of the spine. Drishti = toes.
Release the leg to the floor and the arm to the side with an exhale. Inhale
onto the belly and go directly into an updog. From downdog come back
onto the belly with an exhale for the second side. Then take a vinyasa to
downdog for the next pose.
Parsva Bakasana -- Parsva = side. Baka = crane. We tend to call it the
side crow (rather than crane) as that is the name of the pose in most
traditional practice styles. The Sanskrit for that is Parsva Kakasana.
From downdog, jump to a tripod base headstand on an inhale. Exhale as
you lower your bent legs off to the right and tuck them in tightly. Inhale
and lift the head off the floor to enter the pose. Take 5 breaths. Drishti =
Replace the head on the floor and straighten the legs up into headstand
as you inhale. Exhale down to the second side for 5 breaths. Inhale back
up to headstand, then a vinyasa back to downdog.
Pungu Kukkutasana -- Pungu = wounded, Kukkuta = rooster. The
wounded rooster is also known as the side rooster, Parsva Kukkutasana.
From downdog, jump into your headstand on an inhale. Fold the legs into
lotus, lower and swing off to the right with an exhale so the left thigh is on
the outside of the upper right arm. Lift up and balance on an inhale. Take
5 breaths. Drishti = nose. Laura's even smiling she's so happy!
Inhale as you place the head to the floor and re-enter headstand (staying
in lotus). Exhale as the lotus swings to the left. Inhale head up to balance
on the second side. To exit, inhale back up to headstand, legs straighten.
Exhale down into chaturanga on an and on to downdog.
Eka Pada Dhanurasana -- Eka = one, Pada = foot, Dhanura = bow.
From downdog inhale down onto the belly. Exhale as the right foot lifts up
and the hands reach up overhead to grab it. Inhale and stretch hands
and foot as high as possible for 5 breaths. Use a strap to work toward the
full pose if necessary. Drishti = nose.
Exhale as the right reg releases to the floor. Exhale as the left leg lifts and
arms reach back. Again inhale as the stretch deepens with arms and leg
To exit, exhale as you release the pose and place the hands on the floor.
Inhale directly into an updog, exhale back to downdog.
Eka Pada Kapotasana A & B -- Kapota = pigeon.
From downdog, hop forward onto
the knees and come upright during
an inhale with the hands in namaste.
Exhale and drop back into the pigeon
as in 2nd series.
Inhale and extend the right leg out
straight in front with the foot flat on
the floor for 5 breaths for variation A.
Then extend the leg up in the air on
an inhale for an additional 5 breaths
to variation B. Drishti = nose.
Tuck the right leg back in on an exhale
and then with an inhale the left leg
extends out straight with the foot on
the floor for 5 breaths. Inhale and raise
the leg to vertical for 5 breaths in
variation B. Exhale the leg back
into place and (If you're happy about it)
pop back up to the knees on an inhale
to take your vinyasa to downdog.
Paryankasana A -- Paryanka = a bed or cot. You also see this name
transliterated as Pariangasana. The pose is known in Iyengar yoga as
Virasana, the hero pose. We prefer the feet Iyengar style (as shown). As
originally taught in the ashtanga system the feet stick out to the sides
rather than back.
From downdog, jump through and roll into halasana (the plow) on an
exhale. Roll up on an inhale folding both legs back along the thighs --
much like we do with just one leg in second series in supta urdvha pada
vajrasana. Take 5 breaths with chin tucked in jalandhara bandha. Drishti
Paryankasana B -- Also known as Supta Virasana, the reclining hero
pose. Iyengar yoga also has a pose called Paryankasana much like this
but it's done with a fish-like arch in the back.
From variation A, exhale and lie on the back for another 5 breaths. Try
for a posterior tilt of the pelvis to get a more extended low back and more
stretch on the quads and psoas. Drishti = nose. An easy exit is inhaling to
pop back up to sitting and lifting up to a vinyasa. More advanced work
would be placing the hands under the shoulders to roll back out directly
to chakrasana (fun!) and on to your chaturanga.
Mandalasana A -- Mandala = here a circular configuration traced by the
path of the feet. In the esoteric anatomy of hatha yoga, the body is
regarded as a mandala or representation of the evolution of the cosmos.
The pose is also known as Parivrittasana, the revolving pose.
From downdog, take an inhale and hop into headstand. Take the hands
behind the head. Exhale as you drop back into a backbend. The legs
walk around to the right with hips flipping over twice during the full circle.
Inhale around 90 degrees, flip, exhale on the way into downdog. Inhale as
you continue on around, flip, exhale as you finish the circle back around.
The full practice is three runs around to the right, 3 around to the left.
Kick back up into a headstand (if possible), change your hands into a
tripod base and exhale down to chaturanga and on to down dog -- or take
a full vinyasa to samasthiti.
Mandalasana B -- This at first makes version A seem like an easy pose
but then with practice version B becomes easier as the backbend isn't as
If you survived the version A escapade, take a vinyasa to downdog, walk
around to the right on an inhale without moving the hands. At about 90
degrees lift the left leg to flip the hips over. Continue walking around
during an exhale to urdvha dhanurasana.
Thus your feet are now at the opposite end of the mat from where you
Inhale as you continue walking toward 270 degrees as you lift a leg, flip
and exhale the rest of the way around to down dog. Note that again, the
hands have not moved. If you haven't crashed, your feet will be back on
the same end of the mat as when you began.
The full practice of Mandalasana/Parvrittasana B is 3 rotations to the
right, 3 around to the left. Which should leave you tired and twisted but
back in downdog. Lower to chaturanga and take your vinyasa to
Yoni Dandasana -- Yoni = the womb, Danda = a staff or rod. Here the
lower legs form a straight line in front of the perineum. It's a variation on
From samasthiti, take a vInyasa through to a seated position. With an
exhale bring the soles of the feet together and reach underneath to grab
the balls of the feet. With an inhale, roll the heels upward as if entering
mulabandhasana. Here only the right foot rolls all the way back. The left
foot stays vertical as in janu sirsasana C and the soles of the feet are still
are touching with (maybe) the pelvis right behind the feet. Take 5 breaths
with jalandhara bandha and the hands in namaste. Drishti = nose.
Inhale as the hands release to the floor to lift, exhale to chaturanga for a
half vinyasa. Jump through to sitting with an inhale for the second side --
left foot rolled all the way back. Exit again and end up in downdog.
Yoga Dandasana -- The Yogi's staff pose. Here we see yogi Kathy
Dominic leaning on her lower leg as if it were a staff or walking stick.
From downdog, jump through to sitting on an inhale. Exhale as the right
foot is brought up into the armpit. Inhale as the right hand goes to the
floor, left knee comes up to support the left hand in jnana mudra. Take 5
breaths. Drishti = hand.
To exit, inhale as the hands move to chaturanga position and the leg
releases. Exhale back through a vinyasa to downdog and jump through
for the second side. Another vinyasa after the second side gets us back
to downdog again.
Bhuja Dandasana -- Bhuja = arm, Danda is a staff, this time referring to
the one leg stretched up straight.
From downdog, inhale and jump through to sitting. This could be a
tittibhasana style jump with legs on (or maybe just around) the arms. Sit
down and take the left foot behind the head with an exhale. Inhale and
raise the right leg up straight as if for krounchasana but take it back
behind the right shoulder so that the calf is held behind the left leg toes.
Take the hands to namaste as you take 5 breaths while trying to stretch
the right leg even straighter. Drishti = nose.
With an inhale it's a lift up to an arm balance to exit like dwi pada
sirsasana in second series. Hands plant, feet stay behind the head
(maybe) and torso comes to level. On the exhale (if you're still breathing),
you're back in chaturanga for a vinyasa to the second side --now left leg
ends up straight. After the second side, another vinyasa gets you to
Parsva Bhuja Dandasana -- Parsva = side. This is also known as
Parsva Dandasana and Parivritta Bhuja Dandasana. It's an arm balance
off to the side. Envision a Dwi Pada Koundinyasana but with the top leg in
a foot behind the head position.
From downdog, inhale as you jump through to sitting with the right leg
over the right arm. Put the right foot behind the head as you exhale with
hands in namaste. Lift into chakorasana on an inhale. Exhale as you
swing the left leg back through the arms. Twist the hips and rest the left
leg on the right upper arm for the balance. See Denise in the upper
picture in side 1 of the pose.
An alternate (easier) entrance: If you're sitting with right foot behind the
head, bring the left knee up and twist to the left as if for marichyasana G.
With the right arm hooked over the left knee don't go for the clasp but
take the hands to the floor about shoulder width apart. With an inhale
lean the torso off to the left as the left leg extends out over the right arm
koundinyasana style. Take 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
The exit is a float back to chaturanga on an exhale. If you can, lift the
hips, swing the straight leg back behind you and then up in front into
chakorasana prior to chaturanga. Take your vinyasa and jump through
for the second side -- left leg behind head, twist to the right, straight leg
extends out to the left. See Holcomb in the lower picture for a side 2 view.
After the exit from the second side, take another vinyasa to downdog.
Adho Mukha Durvasana -- Adho = downward, Mukha = face, Durva =
an irascible sage we celebrate in third series ashtanga (the standing up
foot behind the head pose). The pose is also known as Urdvha
Dandasana B. It's a tripod base headstand with one leg up in the air. The
bad news is that the leg that is down on the floor is in foot behind the
head position as we see with Tiffany at the left.
From downdog jump through to sitting on an inhale. Take the right foot
behind the head and the hands to namaste with an exhale. Inhale
(keeping the foot behind the head) and take hands and head to the floor
in a tripod base headstand position. Exhale as the left foot walks in a bit
to bring the torso more vertical. Inhale as the left leg lifts up (eventually)
to vertical. Take 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
To release, inhale as the left leg comes to the floor. Leave the hands in
place (and the foot behind the head) for a chakorasana style lift up.
Exhale back to chaturanga and through to sitting for the second side. Or
just collapse to the floor and then put the left foot behind the head.
After the second side, take a vinyasa to downdog.
Ardha Dandasana -- Ardha = half. It's Like Bhuja Dandasana with feet
behind the head (one leg straight, one knee bent) but this time only one
arm is coming through in front of the legs instead of both as in Bhuja
Dandasana. Matthew Sweeney calls this one Adho Dandasana.
From downdog, jump through to sitting on an inhale (perhaps with the left
leg around the left arm). Exhale as the left foot goes behind the head.
Inhale as you raise the straight right leg. This time the right shoulder and
arm stay behind the leg as you bring the leg up far enough so the left
toes come in front of the right calf. The right arm thus encircles the leg as
you bring the hands to namaste for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
Inhale as the hands release to the floor and lift up to chakorasana.
Exhale back to chaturanga and on to downdog.
Samakonasana -- Sama = same, Kona = angle. This is like
Hanumanasana but with hips symmetrical instead of facing one leg.
variation A -- From downdog, bring the light leg forward between the
hands on an inhale as if entering hanumanasana. Turn to the right,
parallel the feet and take the hands to the floor between the legs. As you
exhale work the feet farther apart. Stay folded forward if you like. If you
get the hips to the floor, the full pose is sitting upright with the hands in
namaste for 5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
variation B -- From variation A, fold forward with the arms stretched out
in front (palms together) for an additional 5 breaths. Drishti = hands.
To exit, inhale up and twist the torso left as if you were going to do
hanumanasana. Exhale as you step back to chaturanga and your vinyasa
onward to downdog.
Omkarasana --Om = pranava, the primordial sound of the universe. This
pose is said to resemble the Om symbol. It's much like the elevated
version of Viranchyasana A in third series except without the lower leg in
From downdog, jump through to sitting on an inhale with the right leg
around the right arm. With an exhale, take the right foot behind the head
and the hands to namaste. Inhale as the hands come to the floor with the
left arm inside the left leg. Lift and attempt to wrap the left leg around the
left arm and hook the toes behind the right arm as high as possible. Take
5 breaths. Drishti = nose.
Inhale as the left leg unwraps. Exhale back to chaturanga and a vinyasa
to the second side. Then take a full vinyasa to samasthiti to celebrate the
end of the ashtanga fourth series.
...and on to the fifth and sixth series. See our schedule page for current
classes in Sacramento. A lot of the advanced series poses cycle through
our power yoga classes.
Special thanks to David Swenson, Matthew Sweeney and, of course,
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
And don't miss: Mark Togni of the Gold Coast Yoga Center in Austraila
on YouTube. His 4th Series Ashtanga video gives you a whirlwind tour of
all the poses of 4th series and the first pose of 5th series in 7 minutes.
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