Yoga or Nothing

The title ‘Yoga or Nothing’ is not a philosophical one, but a practical one. It is my attempt to address an issue I encountered in my yoga practice.
Amidst my tight schedule, I constantly struggle to find time to commit myself on the mat – to practice yoga. While there are weeks where I practice 3 to 5 times per week, there are also weeks where my mat lay high and dry.
I asked myself: “Is this an issue of time constraint, or an issue of commitment and discipline?”
I was introduced to yoga by a friend of mine in the Ashtanga form. After attending 3 sessions, I gave up! As a beginner, it is not only physically challenging, but also mentally demanding.
Many years later, I stumbled upon another form of yoga – Hatha. I started practicing more consistently, as I was tuned to its simplicity and the myriad of poses it offered.
My gripe with doing yoga is always the motivation to do it alone – within the comfort and convenience of my house? While I attempted to follow some ‘favourite’ sequences of my instructor, or sometimes varying it on my own to challenge myself, I somehow find that my practice was disjointed, and yearn for more.
This lead me to my third encounter to yoga, where I decided to take up a teacher training course to learn more about how I could adopt yoga in my life. With trepidation, I renewed my encounter with Ashtanga.
In my practice, I realized that the complete Ashtanga yoga required plenty of effort and time commitment for a beginner. I constantly struggle to complete the entire sequence within the recommended 75 min or 90 min. The sense of rushing through the routine and feeling all anxious after the practice took over the peace and calm that one should feel at the end of one practice.
Is it possible to focus on the key asanas without losing the true essence and benefits of the ashtanga primary series?
I challenged myself to analyse the ashtanga practice and attempt to develop my personal 40-min variation that will not only motivate me to practice on a regular basis, but also help me to improve.
The principles of the variation are based on:

  • Keeping the sequencing intact with flow
  • Shortening the breath cycle from 5 to 3 for each pose (ensure that the length of each breath is long)
  • Includes the most challenging pose for ‘similar’ asanas
  • Involve standing, sitting, supine, inversion & balancing poses
  • Involve all muscles groups

A 40-min ‘Ashtanga Yoga’

Action /Asana 
Mantra recitation 
Tune in to practice
Bhastrika Pranayama
  • Activates sympathetic nervous system
  • Rejuvenates the body
Suryanamaskara A (x3) 
  • Heats the body
  • Stretches the entire muscles group

*May walk the feet forward/back instead of jump back as body may not warm up sufficiently

Suryanamaskara B (x3)
  • Increase lower back & leg strength
  • Increase flexibility in hips
Parivritta Parsvakonasana
  • Intense hip & groin opener
  • Increases leg strength & flexibility in upper back & shoulders
  • Encourages lungs to expand
Prasarita Padottanasana 
C & D
  • Increases flexibility
  • Intense leg stretch
  • Encourages bandha practice
  • Opens the shoulder
  • Stretches chest area
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
  • Increases focus
  • Improves overall strength, flexibility, balance & bandha control
Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana
  • Improves circulation to spleen & liver
  • Improves overall strength, flexibility, balance & bandha control
Paschimottanasana D
  • Intense leg stretch
  • Relieves sciatica & shin splints
  • Neutralises body between poses
  • Keeps body warm

*To be done after each sitting pose

Janu Sirsasana B
  • Activates the root chakra
  • Strengthens the ankles
Janu Sirsasana C
  • Stimulates pancreas & liver function
  • Strengthens the ankles
Marichyasana C
  • Stimulates digestion & expand the lungs
  • Relieve backache, headache, stiff necks & tight shoulders
  • Improves spinal flexibility
  • Opens the lungs & hip
  • Stimulates digestion
  • Strengthens hips, back & abdominals
Upavistha Konasana
  • stretches the sciatic nerve & hamstrings
Supta Konasana
  • invigorates the nervous system
Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana
  • Develops poise & balance
  • Strengthens abdomen, anus & genitals
Setu Bandhasana
  • Preparation for back-bending
  • Strengthens neck & back muscles
Urdhva Dhanurasana
  • Energizes & increase flexibility of spine & shoulder
Salamba Sarvangasana
  • Regulates metabolism
  • Strong upward stretch
  • Improves digestive system
Salamba Sirsasana
  • Stimulates brain & activates pituitary gland
Baddha Padmasana
  • Opens chest & prepare for uthpluthi
  • Improves posture
Uthpluthi (x25)
  • Cleanses lungs & bronchial tubes
Shavasana (3-min)
  • Ultimate relaxation pose
Meditation (3-min)
  • Clearer mind
  • Pure Motivation
  • Spiritual attainment
  • Increases digestive power
  • Assists elimination of waste products
Dedication prayer
  • Transfer of merits

You may adapt this adapted sequence according to your strength (i.e. incorporate your strong asana for motivation) and weakness (i.e. to improve on your weak asana).
It is obvious that this is not a complete sequence, and we need to practise the entire Ashtanga poses whenever possible. I have practised this ’40-min’ version of Ashtanga Yoga many times, and have found that I was able to derive strength, flexibility, calm, concentration and happiness from it.
Yoga or Nothing?
You decide.

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