Why do we do “jump backs & jump throughs” in Ashtanga Yoga?

In a hot and sweaty Mysore Yoga Class, I’m strolling around, watching, giving hands-on adjustments and verbal cues, the Hot Yoga of East Nashville is one of the best classes, those who come fall in love with the class .  I notice that a student is skipping the jump backs or vinyasa between sitting postures.  I gently remind them to do these in between each posture.  I almost always get a dirty look and I can feel the annoyance vibes coming my way.  I can almost hear their thoughts:  Isn’t this practice hard enough already?  Why all the jumping?  I feel so clumsy! My arms are too short to do them properly!

I’m not trying to be a drill sergeant.  

I promise that I’m not trying to torture my yoga students.  

I teach yoga because I love guiding others along the yogic path that helped me tremendously.  

That is why most of the time I insist on doing the jump backs and jump throughs.  I wanted to give you my understanding of why they are so important, especially when you are starting a yoga practice.

Setting the context
In the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga, you start with Sun Salutations A & B, then do a set of standing postures then a warrior sequence which transition you to a lot of seated postures – including forward bends, hip openers, twists, and more involved postures like bujipidasana (arm balance) and kurmasana (turtle).  In between the seated postures, you are supposed to lift your hips (with our without your feet on the mat), swing back or step back to chatturanga posture, then move to up dog, down dog, and jump back to sitting.  This is often called a “vinyasa” or “jump back & jump through.”

What they do
The Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series – aka Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy, called by  by its modern propagator, T. Krishnamacharya.   Krishnamacharya was a modern day healer, and trained some of the world’s best known and respected yogis –  B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois.  The Primary Series aims to detoxify the body, cleaning it up and cleaning it out where needed.  Most of us have lots of toxins and other things that get stored up in the tissues, especially the joints of our body.  As you practice the postures in the Primary Series, you are moving things around, dislodging, kind of like squeezing out a wash rag.  Herein lies the importance of the jump backs:  they help to flush out the toxins.  They move the dislodged materials through the lymphatic fluids, where they can be pushed into the bloodstream at the heart, and moved out of the body.  The jump back opens your body back up (from being in a forward bend or backbend), then the up dog and down dog move and aid your circulation.  As you are in a forward bend, you exit, curl into a ball, then straighten your legs, sending a rush of fresh blood to your joints and muscles that were bent into the stretch.  You inhale, then open into upward facing dog, encouraging the blood flow away from your middle, then in down dog it is encouraged to flow down towards your heart.  You then jump or step through and start all over again.

And more…
If you practice without the jump backs and jump throughs, you lose the flushing effect after each asana, and more.  There are other benefits to this type of vinyasa, such as building strength in the arms, and especially the core (bandhas) and the pelvic floor.  You also develop flexibility in the back.  Upward facing dog is a backbend.  There are many chances to do backbends before you finish Primary Series.  Most of the time students rush through the vinyasa – taking a very fast or incomplete breath in this upward facing dog.  It is a great chance to really open through the upper back and shoulders.  Then the downward facing dog is a chance to lengthen the spine and stretch the hamstrings in an easy way.

So the next time that a teacher reminds you to do the vinyasas or jump backs – no dirty looks or dirty thoughts please!  We are only being tough because we want you to get the most from your yoga!

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  • Kayla nichols says:

    Do you have any suggestions on how to easily jump through? I’ve been practicing and only really see an improvement in jumping back. I’m not able to fully lift my hips off the ground before jumping back but the lifting is much easier than before. As far as jumping through- I’m not seeing much progress on that at all. Is it something that will come with a lot of practice or is there something I’m missing?

    • Jessica says:

      HI Kayla,

      It is hard for me to comment without seeing what exactly you are doing….but here goes:
      To improve jumping through, you need to take it slow. Try hopping and letting your feet touch just behind your hands, then slowly try to keep your feet lifted as you scoot them through. You might need to do little hops at first. The key is to keep our knees lifted and close to one another, and keeping your body in a “ball.” It is a combination of using your core strength and your hip flexors (illiopsoas) to keep the knees lifted and legs balled in tightly. Come to one of my Mysore classes and we can look more closely!

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