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Ashtanga 101 + Backbend Video

I have been promising this ashtanga backbend video for a long time. Along with it, I feel like I should also provide an explanation of ashtanga and how it’s different than attending a typical yoga class.

Ashtanga is a style of yoga. What makes it so unique is that it is self-led and you practice a set series that is committed to memory. Ashtanga originated in Mysore, India and was started by Pattabhi Jois in the 1940s. Although Pattabhi has passed away, thousands of yogis still travel to Mysore each year to practice at the Ashtanga Yoga Institute.

I started practicing ashtanga about a year and a half ago and it has changed my yoga practice. Having your own personal practice and not having to be led by a teacher is a very powerful thing. I find ashtanga to be totally meditative. My body just goes into auto-pilot as I move through the series. My body has also opened in new ways due to the challenging postures that are included in ashtanga that you wouldn’t practice in your every day class. This includes difficult binds, hip opening and back bending. It’s a very physical practice because you take a vinyasa between every pose. That’s pretty much like doing 50 tricep pushups in one practice! I am currently focusing on primary series although I do dabble in second series on occasion.

I usually practice ashtanga at the studio. Sometimes I attend classes where a teacher is available to assist you in poses but other times I practice on my own. I try to get 2-3 ashtanga practices in per week. It’s one of those things that you have to practice regularly for it to feel good. It’s difficult at first and takes your body a while to adjust and open to it. Also, it can be frustrating in the beginning because you do have to memorize the series. It took me several months to get it down. I thought about it all the time and would play it in my mind to put myself to sleep at night. Crazy yogi, I know. 😉

One of my favorite things about the practice is the back bending series. You perform this at the end of primary series before moving into the closing postures. It took me over a year to get this down and I’m still working to improve my form and flow.

So…here it is! Let me know what you think. This is many months of hard work coming to life!

{ 79 comments… add one }
  • pamela November 15, 2011, 10:20 pm

    Jen, I am so inspired by this video!! You have such a gorgeous practice. My teacher, Rolf Gates says that if you want to measure the progress of your practice, you should look at your life. I have only been reading your blog for the last year, but I don’t miss a day because you never fail to inspire me, both in my fitness goals but more importantly, in how I take care of myself and my dreams. You have shown me in this past year how a personal yoga practice can transform your life. Namaste.

  • Nicole November 15, 2011, 10:29 pm

    Just watched your entire video and i’m so impressed!!

  • Clara November 15, 2011, 10:35 pm

    Such a beautiful video, Jen! So nice to see your practice. What song did you play? I absolutely LOVED it.

  • Alexandra November 15, 2011, 10:35 pm

    Wow. Your practice is incredible! All your dedication and hard work definitely shows!

  • Jen November 15, 2011, 10:37 pm

    @clara – thank you! it’s moby’s “everloving.”

  • Britt November 15, 2011, 10:38 pm

    That video was insanely inspiring. I just really committed myself to yoga a month ago and am now going 3-4 times a week. I can only hope to one day put as much dedication into my practice as you obviously have put into yours!

  • Courtney @ Cookin Up Life November 15, 2011, 10:47 pm

    That is wonderful!! Congrats, you should be so proud of yourself girl!

  • Sig November 15, 2011, 10:53 pm

    That’s some serious yoga right there! I’ve just started taking a Power Vinyasa flow class and am loving it. I have zero balance and struggle with half the binding moves but seeing this is so inspiring.

    I’m not sure if you have done this already – but could you please perhaps do a post on getting into yoga, how you did it in midst of all your other fitness activities. I feel like I need to be doing other things in my life for my yoga practice to be smoother and proper eg. like running/weights.

    Yoga feels so right to me and I guess like everything, practice does make perfect. Keep doing what you love – it shows 🙂

  • Abby November 15, 2011, 10:59 pm

    Wow, that is so cool! I’m loving the videos. More please. 🙂

  • Meghan November 15, 2011, 11:08 pm

    My goodness that’s beautiful! And so inspiring. I second the notion for more videos! 🙂

  • Julie November 15, 2011, 11:17 pm

    Amazing. Seriously.

  • Leora November 15, 2011, 11:55 pm

    I have no words. Well just one – wow!

  • Sarah November 15, 2011, 11:59 pm

    Wow, that is amazing! You are so inspiring. I’ve finally taken the jump into doing yoga regularly and I’m so excited about it.

  • Bonnie November 16, 2011, 12:23 am

    Wow…awesome video! Seriously – I’m really impressed. As a runner and weights lover myself who never thought I could be a yogi, I’ve loved following your journey and seeing you in this fitness “role” is so neat! I’m still not practicing yoga (yet?) but always wonder if/when I’ll cross over or at least add it to my repertoire. You make me think twice about “shunning” it from my fitness routine with your similar background (hope that makes sense; I know it’s worthwhile, but I can’t seem to get into it…Maybe that’s okay, but you make me want to give it a shot!). Loved the song too. 😀

  • Emma (Sweet Tooth Runner) November 16, 2011, 2:43 am

    Wow Jen you are AMAZING!! You inspire me so much! I need to get back to yoga! 🙂

  • Diane M November 16, 2011, 7:22 am

    Re: your video, WOW!! That was beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah November 16, 2011, 7:37 am

    That is awesome!!! Congrats to you on getting to this point, it clearly takes a lot of hard work! I’m wondering, before you had the series memorized, would you just have a cheat sheet with you? I’d like to start exploring ashtanga but find it just a little intimidating 🙂 thanks for sharing!

  • Brooke @ sweats & sweets November 16, 2011, 7:55 am

    Omgosh that is AUH-MAZING! You did a wonderful job, so inspiring to continue in the yoga practice!

  • Food Babe November 16, 2011, 7:59 am

    Beautiful video! Thank you for sharing with us!

  • Becca B November 16, 2011, 8:11 am

    incredible! maybe one day i can be on your level!

  • Pam Leverette November 16, 2011, 8:16 am

    Incredible! I am so inspired! I’m on my way to an 8am practice now! Maybe in a year from now I’ll be able to do a backbend 🙂
    Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Holly November 16, 2011, 8:24 am


    That was crazy! Were you ever a gymnast growing up?

    I’m definitely impressed. I was looking to maybe try an ashtanga class here as the local studio offers it, but I had not ever seen these classes elsewhere, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to be getting in to. Now I definitely know a little more! Thanks.

  • Robin November 16, 2011, 9:05 am

    Wow!!! I read your blog all the time but I never knew exactly what Ashtanga meant until now. This is awesome – its so amazing what the human body can actually do!

  • Rhona @ Redwinerunner.co.uk November 16, 2011, 9:14 am

    Gosh that’s so impressive! You look so strong and controlled! I’ve never seen someone do positions/moves like that before. Did you build that flexibility up from scratch in recent years or were you trained as a dancer/gymnast previously?
    I’m going to add my vote to the increasing pile of ‘more yoga videos please!!’ 😀

  • Amanda Mormon November 16, 2011, 9:24 am

    Jennifer..THIS IS GREAT!!!! So happy for you!! You just gave me inspiration and a goal to work towards. Thank you 🙂

    Keep those videos coming!

  • Brittany (A Healthy Slice of Life) November 16, 2011, 10:16 am

    Holy moly, Jen! You are incredible! Seeing yoga in action is motivating me to want to get out and try it. Please keep these amazing videos coming.

  • Tamara November 16, 2011, 10:18 am

    Absolutely amazing and inspiring. One day I hope to be able to do that!! As always, thank you for sharing your love of life and all that you have accomplished. You make me realize more and more how much its possible for all of my dreams and goals to come true.

  • Mary-Heather November 16, 2011, 10:20 am

    Awesome, awesome, awesome. This summer I finally reached the point in my practice in which I could get into wheel pose – backbends are *so* challenging for me. So challenging. This is super inspiring!!

  • Meaghan@ChooseYourJourney November 16, 2011, 10:24 am

    Jen! I don’t comment very much, but I really should because I think your blog is my favorite. And I do a lot of blog reading style procrastinating 😉 Anyway, I just started practicing Ashtanga over the summer so I loved watching this. Your practice is beautiful! My studio offers 1-2 led classes every day and I try to go once a week, in addition to vinyasa classes. We don’t have Mysore or self led practices but I’m hoping to do it at home once I have the series memorized- I can never remember all the various seated poses. I have nowhere near your level of flexibility or stregnth but I have already noticed changes in my body and practice in the past few months. I think Ashtanga has made my regular vinyasa practice stronger and, as physically demanding as it is, the sequence seems to always help with my lower back issues. It’s just a beautiful sequence 🙂 It took me a long time to work up the courage to go because all the Ashtangis seem so hard core and I usually am the most awkward person in the room, but I am totally hooked now. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jen G. November 16, 2011, 10:38 am

    WOW! So cool! I am definitely inspired to get back to yoga!

  • Alaina November 16, 2011, 10:55 am

    Wow, that is intense! Thank you for the video. I would need a wall and about 15 minutes before I could get into a handstand. 🙂

  • Ali November 16, 2011, 10:56 am

    Your video is amazing and inspiring! I am committed to practicing once, if not twice, per week. I can’t wait until I can get these poses down as well. Amazing job!!

  • Rachel November 16, 2011, 11:06 am


  • ~Jessica~ November 16, 2011, 11:28 am

    My goodness, I was impressed just from the first wheel sequence, let alone all of the handstand transitions! You are amazing – in all honesty I’d far rather have your ablities at yoga than be able to run marathons – it seems much better for body and mind.


  • Sara November 16, 2011, 12:04 pm

    That was beautiful! I’ve taken some time off from yoga because I’ve gotten a little lost in my running, but that makes me want to hit the mat immediately. It’s amazing what our bodies can do when we’re good to them! Well done. Very inspiring.

  • Cate November 16, 2011, 12:13 pm

    WOW! I’m so impressed…I’ve never taken an ashtanga class but I really want to!

  • Candice @ Sailing on Paper November 16, 2011, 12:26 pm

    You look so strong and flexible! Awesome work 🙂

  • Bess @ Bess Be Fit November 16, 2011, 12:56 pm

    That is amazing!! You should be so proud of yourself for that! I would be! Very inspirational 🙂

  • Jen W November 16, 2011, 1:55 pm

    Nicely done Jen! 🙂

  • Allison November 16, 2011, 2:25 pm

    Holy moly, Jen! That’s amazing! You make me want to learn how to do that! I feel as though its probably not something I should start practicing on my own without a spotter, though! 🙂

  • Abby November 16, 2011, 3:00 pm

    You are incredible!!! That is so awesome that you can do that. Maybe one day… I hope that I can be as dedicated and strong as you in the future!!

  • Brittany @ GOtheXtraMile November 16, 2011, 3:03 pm

    Oh my gosh you are amazing!! I wish I could do that! Sososo awesome!!

  • She Rocks Fitness November 16, 2011, 3:45 pm

    High-Fives to you girl! That video is awesome and congrats! I am so scared of handstand and forearm stand. I have a huge fear of falling over, but I’m making progress with my forearm stand. I take it day by day…Have a great Wednesday!

  • Shayla @ The Good Life November 16, 2011, 3:52 pm

    Oh my goodness Jen!! That is so amazing! You’re so inspiring and incredible – I have a fear of headstands that I’ll fall flat on my face – always have since I was a little girl. Congrats on that and I hope we get to see more videos! 🙂

  • Meghan Walsh November 16, 2011, 4:01 pm

    So Beautifully Done Jen! I am truly impressed and inspired. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from you at Y2!

  • dana November 16, 2011, 4:10 pm

    No wonder your arms are so tones 🙂 You make it look so easy and beautiful. Well done!

  • Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers November 16, 2011, 4:39 pm

    Woa, that looks crazy difficult! I’m not flexible at all, but I’m working on it!

  • Kristy@RunTheLongRoad November 16, 2011, 5:48 pm

    amazing!!! really, really amazing! i remember doing drop backs in cheerleading!!!

  • Holly @ Pink Runner November 16, 2011, 5:49 pm

    Oh my gosh… I couldn’t be more impressed! Now I know why your arms look so awesome!! I don’t know if I could ever do that!! Pleaseeeeeeee keep posting yoga videos! I would love to follow along to one of your videos!! Maybe a yoga for runners!

  • itsrobfiasco November 16, 2011, 5:51 pm

    wow. and that made me dizzy just watching it.

  • Jen November 16, 2011, 6:37 pm

    Wow Jen! That video was beautiful and inspiring. You’re so talented! 🙂

  • LEM November 16, 2011, 7:00 pm

    My husband and I are both in awe! That is amazing. Thank you for posting! It makes me want to do some yoga.

  • heather November 16, 2011, 7:03 pm

    hey jen! wow this is so inspiring! quick question–if i wanted to start practicing ashtanga, what would you reccomend? should i just start working my way through the primary series? how long do i hold each pose? thanks for posting this!

    ps–i have done your outdoor cardio circuit that you posted several weeks ago and i LOVE it! thanks!

  • Ginger Holloway November 16, 2011, 8:52 pm

    As everyone else has said, you videos are beautiful! You have a gorgeous practice. I was wondering, what was your starting point? I am asking because I can barely do wheel Is there any hope? 🙂 Keep up the good work!

  • Ginger Holloway November 16, 2011, 8:55 pm

    PS Thanks so much for posting your yoga play list!! I was helpful to see the progression of your songs.

  • kathryn November 16, 2011, 9:34 pm

    oh my gosh, I LOVE this! I usually have absolutely zero attraction to yoga (yikes! did i just admit that to you?) but this is so beautiful and strong I can’t help but want to do it. Congrats and thanks for sharing.

  • Becca November 16, 2011, 9:45 pm

    This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen! How did you get started with yoga? I am wanting to get started but I’m lost as to where to start…and not flexible at all!

  • kate November 16, 2011, 9:53 pm

    thanks for sharing the video! just the word ashtanga is intimidating to me…

  • McRae November 17, 2011, 12:27 pm

    I’ve just recently started following your blog, and I truly enjoy it! This backbending series is beautiful – I’ve been working on my handstand for months, and am getting a little better – still cannot seem to come up to stand from a backbend, however, seeing how you move your hands toward your feet in between wheels helps. Thanks for your inspiration!

  • Mickelle November 17, 2011, 1:23 pm

    Wow, incredible and inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

  • Amy November 18, 2011, 6:20 am

    Wow! Love this video…and love the most recent playlist you posted for us. More videos and more playlists, please!

    Very inspiring. Maybe one day…wishful thinking?! 😉

  • Brindi November 18, 2011, 10:03 am

    Wow! I am so impressed. I’m in awe actually. That video is amazing!!!! Something I would love to be able to work up to. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kara December 8, 2011, 9:10 pm

    So amazing Jen!! You should be so proud of what you accomplish on and off the mat!

    I just started at Y2 and have absolutely loved your yoga classes! I know you can relate when I say it is so exciting/gratifying for me to see that there is another world outside of running (although I will always be a runner at heart too). If you are making more videos would you ever post one about headstands and/or handstands? I did my first handstand with the help of a wall and Kacy tonight but have SO much to learn and practice. Would love a headstand/handstand 101 if you ever have the chance 🙂

  • Kristen March 21, 2012, 11:07 am

    Wow! This is incredible and so inspiring! I want to to be able to do that! Thank you.

  • heidi January 19, 2014, 8:21 pm

    Love this!!!! My new goals 🙂 Thank you!

  • Anne January 20, 2014, 8:31 am


  • Anton February 1, 2014, 1:02 am

    Super backbends…..the higher the better, then one should bend up higher…completely contorted fully distorted impossible looking backbend in the world

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