The Closing Sequence of Ashtanga Yoga
Each series of Ashtanga Yoga has “bookends”, meaning each series starts with sun salutes and ends with closing series, what is in between (standing and seated poses) changes depending on which series you are practicing that day.
The closing series of Ashtanga yoga is very beneficial, hence the reason we always include it no matter which series we are practicing. The closing series chills you out, returns your nervous system to cruise control, and brings your body back into balance. It is a series of inversions and counter poses that help to re-align our body after the practice. Within the first few months of practicing Ashtanga Yoga, you should learn and memorize the closing sequence; each time you practice you want to always end with closing—no matter how far you went in your practice, so even if ending early always end with the closing sequence.
Once you learn the closing sequence you come to love it. You look forward to entering shoulderstand and experiencing the relaxing effects, this is especially reassuring when you learn a new sequence, for example your first time practicing 2nd series, when you finally get to closing—it’s nice to be somewhere familiar.
Urdhva Dhanurasana – the new addition to closing
Traditionally closing starts with shoulderstand, however Urdhva Dhanurasana has been added to the beginning of closing. In the old days Pattabhi Jois did not teach Urdhva Dhanurasana until after you learned 2nd series (it was the last pose in 2nd series), but now since the progression into 2nd series has been slowed down, Urdhva Dhanurasana has been added to closing as our bodies need the counterbalance of back bending.
So closing now consists of:
- Urdhva Dhanurasana 3x for 5 breaths each
- Chakrasana into vinyasa
- Paschimottanasana 10 breaths
- Supta Samasthiti 5 breaths
- Shoulders stand series of 5 poses: Sarvangasana, Halasana, Karna Pidasana, Urdhva Padmasana, Pindasana each pose held for 8-25 breaths.
Inversions are about blood flow, stale blood and lymph stagnates in the lower portions of our organs, under normal circumstances our heart pumps blood through the upper portions of our organs only, rarely do we get our heart rate high enough to pump blood into the lower areas of our organs. The stale blood that remains in the organs is where disease develops—inversions will help with this; while inverted, stale blood and lymph is drained from the organ, circulated and purified by our heart/lung system. This is why the yoga texts say inversions purify our blood. Specifically the shoulderstand series works on our throat area where we house our major glands; pineal, pituitary, and thyroid glands which regulate our endocrine system. While in shoulderstand the glands in your neck are squeezed and wrung out, when we release shoulderstand a fresh supply of blood comes into the glands helping to bring them into balance.
- 2 counter balances: Matsyasana and Uttana Padasana
The primary purpose of these two poses is to counter balance the shoulder stand series, they also purify the esophagus, and strengthen our neck and core.
- Sirsasana – Headstand, the “king: of yoga poses.
In addition to all the benefits of the first 5 inversions, headstand also includes the benefit of bringing blood flow to the eyes and brain increasing mental power and concentration. It is important not to put weight on the head during sirsasan as this will impinge why we are inverting—to increase blood flow to the head—if weight is on the head then blood flow is occluded from the area instead of circulated through the area. Headstand is also useful at developing our awareness of our center (of gravity) which will help in all other movements. You want to work towards holding headstand for up to 25 breaths, and in some cases even longer.
- The three closing Lotus Flowers: Baddha Padmasana, Padmasana, and uth pluthihi. Each held for 10 breaths.
The three closing lotus flowers bring energy back into our body, we lose energy from the palms of our hands and soles of our feet, in Baddha Padmasana we are connecting our hands and feet re-circulating the energy into our body. Specifically Baddha Padmasana (also called yoga mudra) deeply cleans the liver and spleen as our heels are pressed into these organs as we bend forward (this is why it is important to always put your right leg into lotus first—the other way around does not get this purifying effect).
Padmasana is useful for meditation, and Pattabhi Jois says in addition to preparing one for meditation it also kills great sins and therefore should be practiced by everyone!
Uth Pluthihi lifts our body weight up off the floor, making us contract many muscles while we maintain smooth breathing; these muscular contractions help prepare our body for rest pose while strengthening our arms and torso.
- Take Rest!
This posture is just as important as any other posture, it is extremely restorative and refreshing, it allows you to leave class renewed—not tired..
“Lying full length on the back like a corpse is called savasana. With this asana tiredness caused by the other asanas is eliminated; it also promotes calmness of mind. Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Inversions and amrita bindu
The fountain of youth (the esoteric side of inversions)
In Yoga philosophy we have a “nectar of life” called Amritabindu that we store in our crown chakra.
It is written that after taking food, the blood absorbs the nutrients and after 32 days 1 drop of new blood is made. It takes 32 drops of this new blood to make one single drop of Amritabindu (vital life nectar). This amritabindhu is stored in the Sahasrara (crown) chakra. Our amritabindhu can be depleted by living badly, eating badly, and thinking negative thoughts—it begins to travel downwards and is consumed by the upward flow of agni (our digestive fire) at the third chakra. When amritabindhu is lost, life itself has lost its luster.
The practice of inverted asana (particularly sarvangasana (shoulderstand) and sirsasana (headstand) are the method for storing our amritabindhu. When we are inverted our amritabindhu remains safely in Sahasrara chakra, its downward flow is prevented—keeping us youthful. The agni always travels in an upward direction, in the inverted asana it travels towards the anus cleansing and purifying the organs of digestion and the rectum/anus. If mula bandha is strong and the digestive fire can travel all the way to the “mula” or root of our spine—the Muladhara chakra (root chakra) it will stimulate the release of Traya Granthis (knots that block our energy flow) and begin the gradual process of awakening our Kundalini energy.
Excerpts from Astanga Yoga by Lino Miele
Amrita bindu is the fountain of youth, it takes just under three years to make one drop of this nectar—so to stay youthful, so eat good food, think good thoughts, and hang out in headstand 😉