The Power of Transitions

In the Primary Series, we talk about getting new poses, but with every new pose also comes the vinyasa that follows it.

For the uninitiated, we ashtangis do a vinyasa in between most poses, and in between the left and right expressions of them.  After exiting the posture, we inhale, press the palms into the ground, lift our bodies up, exhale, and toss our legs back to lower through chataranga dandasana, then inhale to urdhva mukha svanasana (updog) and exhale back to adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog).  Then it’s inhale and jump up, lifting the hips and exhaling to float the body through the arms and into position for the next pose.

Watching a practiced ashtangi transition between poses can be magical.  The connection between breath, mind, and body is never as apparent as it is when hundreds of muscles fire in a specific order to create a set of movements.

Doing these transitions often feels…well…less than magical.  I inhale to lift up and my butt feels like it’s been padded with bowling balls.  Instead of floating gracefully to the back of my mat, my feet sometimes drag, squeaking audibly along the rubber.  Then I inhale, bend my knees and jump my hips toward the ceiling before exhaling them through my straight arms to land with a muffled thump.  I’ve been known to get “stuck” with my hips in the air and topple ass-over-head in a noisy handstand-somersault.  Sometimes I land on top of my feet instead of my rump, which forces me to wiggle-scoot them the rest of the way through, which is as graceful as a mallard duck doing a 5k.

But other times, it all clicks, and it feels like flying.  My body moves with my breath, my bandhas control that movement, and my mat is like a little microcosm of anti-gravity madness.  I’ve decided that walking on the moon must feel like a good vinyasa.

Some of the postures have special exits into the vinyasa.  Kukkutasana is one of those, and Auriel and I both recently received it.  After taking five breaths in the arm balance, legs in full lotus, I slip my hands out, plant them in front of my knees, lean onto my elbows, float the lotus up, then toss it back and un-pretzel my legs into chataranga dandasana.  It’s a fun transition, but it takes some core strength and coordination to pull it off.  Here’s Auriel (top) and me (bottom) demonstrating at home.  Sam Banana is the lovely hound mix assisting me.


Kukkutasana exit



The beauty of the Primary Series of Ashtanga is in its flow from pose to transition to pose.  Paraphrasing from Guruji, it’s a mala: a strand of beads all linked together.  The poses are important, but how we get from one to the other is just as significant.


5 thoughts on “The Power of Transitions

  1. …actually, the exit is to throw back the lotus into catvari…sans elbows.

    Of course, most of us mortals cannot do this…but that’s the specific vinyasa. :)

  2. Hi guys!

    I’m a noob who made it through to the first few postures of the primary series! I felt pretty proud of myself when my teacher, after watching my standing series, said “ok, let’s move on to seated postures.”

    I am at a standstill with jumpthroughs (jump backs I can kind of wiggle my way through). My arms feel so short – I step my left foot up toward my right hand (on the side of the foot) and the right leg follows suit (toward the left hand). The most I can do right now is just hover like this. Sometimes I can wiggle my feet up closer toward my hands.

    I’ve watched so many YouTube videos of this, and posted on Reddit.I still cannot get a foot through my arms. Kino says “don’t ever give up, push/wiggle until your feet are through” but somehow I feel like I’m missing a secret that will even allow me to even do this.

    I was hoping you might be able to provide some tips or advice that might help me?

    Thank you!

  3. Hi Lauren! Jumping through is NOT an easy thing to do, so keep up the hard work.

    My first recommendation would be to talk to your teacher about your struggles with this part of the vinyasa. He or she knows your body and will be able to make much better suggestions than I can!

    What worked for me when I was learning to jump through was to do this from down dog:
    1. Exhale and bend the knees.
    2. Inhale and jump my hips up, crossing my legs at the shins…
    3. (Still on an inhale)…then land on the tops or sides of my feet.
    4. Wiggle-walk my feet through the arms and exhale my booty onto the floor.

    “The most I can do right now is just hover like this.” A word on this sentiment, because I’ve experienced it! See for my own story. Sometimes I’ve found that the next step to a pose doesn’t come until I accept that “the most I can do” with it is enough. Once I can relax in that place of acceptance, then the pose or vinyasa just falls in line. Sometimes it doesn’t. But either way, acceptance can be the key that opens the door.



    • thanks so much for your response and words of encouragement. I guess after watching all of those Kino videos and hearing “don’t stop until you get through” and then not being able to ‘get through’ was really eating me up. Next time I go to Mysore practice, I will talk to my teacher about it. It’s been a month since I’ve been practicing these new poses (I usually go to mysore class 1x a month due to expense issues) and let her know I’m just getting stuck even though the effort and the focus is there.

      You are right – I probably need to just be okay with where I am and then I’ll surprise myself when I least expect it. Practicing day to day, I can get bogged down in the micro – what I can/can’t do today vs. yesterday, what i still can’t do. But I need to learn to shift my focus to see the bigger picture, too. Thanks for the reminder :)

      Both of you, and your blog, are such a help and inspiration!


      • Thanks Lauren! I really admire your ability to maintain a home practice in between visits to the Mysore room. That shows so much dedication!

        Thanks for your kind words. We’re just thrilled that you read us! :-)



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