What is Rocket Yoga?

I’m always amazed when I encounter a new form of yoga. I feel that, after over 15 years of practicing, I would have seen, tried, or at least heard of it all. But no. On my recent trip to Barcelona, I saw many studios had “Rocket Yoga” on their menu and I got curious… Now, that’s a name that makes me want to try it!

So what is Rocket Yoga? Am I going to shoot to the moon? Sadly not, but close enough.

what is rocket yoga

Rocket Yoga is a fast-paced, dynamic exercise routine that is a modified version of the traditional Ashtanga Asana developed in San Francisco by western practitioners Larry Schultz and Bob Weir, founding members of the band the Grateful Dead (!). Already, I’m sold. Didn’t know these old-school dudes were into yoga. Rocket Yoga integrates primary and secondary sequences in three sets that are practiced over a whole week, and varied with modifications to ensure resilience. Sounds very much like my cup of tea!

If you’re into more advanced postures that crank up your heart rate and sweaty yoga practices like me, listen up.

The Rocket Sequence

Rocket Yoga offers a set of re-imagined routines for the traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system, which combines the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga and intermediate sequences of core poses for a vigorous, playful physical exercise. Rocket Yoga is composed of advanced poses from both the primary and intermediate Ashtanga Vinyasa series (such as the advanced hand-balancing posture scorpion pose, peacock pose, crane pose, etc), along with key physical postures from the third and fourth series. Yep, sounds like a lot and a lot of advanced pose shenanigans. If you’re into arm balances and intense forms of yoga like me, this might be a good option for you!

The Rocket routines are based on the Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga methods of K. Pattabhi Jois (the founder of Ashtanga Yoga). It integrates and restructures poses from the primary and intermediate Ashtanga series, while also including some poses from the advanced (third and fourth) series. So yes, practitioners need to develop a solid understanding of the sequences before advancing further.

In terms of the style of yoga, the Rocket Yoga framework is similar to Ashtanga Yoga, containing the Surya Namaskar, standing poses, sitting poses, twists, and bends. As the traditional Ashtanga asanas are the basis for this yoga technique, Rocket Yoga looks quite similar but is a simplified version of the exercises, divided into three parts. Apart from various techniques such as sitting postures, this exercise series is also made up of other cool yoga asanas such as Supta Vajrasana and Bakasana. There are definitely similarities with Hatha Yoga as well I think.

The structure of Ashtanga works against the normal sequences in Rocket Yoga, teaching that, in order to progress on the next step in your yoga journey, you first need to individually master one set of poses. The Rocket Yoga sequence allows every practitioner, even physically-challenged practitioners, to learn to modify poses as per each practitioner’s body while progressing to the harder asanas. Rocket allows for quick improvement because there is an encouragement to modify poses or go your own way when needed, which I absolutely love. Inclusive yoga, yay!

Rocket Yoga offers an entire system of yoga programs, which train your entire body in a holistic, dynamic manner. Veda sums up the Rocket uniquely, saying, “The Rocket is for traditionalist yogis who love breaking some rules.” Smirk, that’s me.

benefits of rocket yoga

In an Ashtanga Yoga practice, instead of seeing intense adjustments à la Mysore (typical of Ashtanga), one instead sees a gentler adjustment approach, encouraging one to listen to their inner teacher and tap into the gifts that we all possess within. A typical Rocket Yoga class still has similarities with Ashtanga classes; there are Sun Salutations A and B, followed by high-octane practice with 66 standing, balanced, sitting, and inverted poses, as well as the much-needed wind-down Series similar to the traditional closing series of Ashtanga.

The specific sequences of Rocket are:

  • Rocket I: based on the First Series of Ashtanga Yoga. Works on hip openings, forward bends, and strength. Also includes different forms of arm balances and handstands.
  • Rocket II: works chest openings as well as twists from the second set of Ashtanga.
  • Rocket III: a combination of the two previous series. Also known by the name of “Yoga Mats Happy Hour” (lol), since it is also a time to challenge each other and have fun.

A Little Rocket Yoga History

Rocket Yoga offers a set of programs that re-interprets the traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga system, by combining the core poses of the Primary and Intermediate Series, creating a vigorous, playful practice. Rocket I is similar to Ashtanga Yoga primary series, which focuses on hip openers, forward bends, and core strength. Rocket I immersion is ideal for power yoga teachers looking to add a few new sequences into their instructional arsenal. If you’re interested, you can take a yoga teacher training in the Rocket style.

Talk to just about any consistent student — or teacher — in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you can bet that they have taken one of Larry Schultz’s signature Vinyasa Rocket classes. Rocket Yoga is informed by more than nine years of devoted Ashtanga practice. Larry Schultz studied under K. Pattabhi Jois for seven years and is most famous for developing what has come to be known simply as the Rocket, his own unique twist on Ashtanga first, second, and third series, which culminated in a vigorous, sweaty, much-loved practice.

A maverick within the yoga community (I had no idea!), Schultz’s approach, both yoga asana and business, has led Larry to develop “It’s Yoga” into one of the most successful and innovative studios. Among those who were initiated to yoga and went on to be renowned teachers are Duncan Wong, Russell Yamaguchi, Jon Berlinski, Taric Thami, and Clayton Horton. Many came through the doors of It’s Yoga, and were introduced to Ashtanga by Larry Schultz.

Benefits of Rocket Yoga

rocket yoga

Rocket is different from Ashtanga Yoga because students are allowed to modify and create their own interpretations of the traditional postures. With roots stemming from Ashtanga Yoga, Rocket Yoga is a simpler, dynamic form of Ashtanga, which is composed of a number of balanced sitting and standing postures, and inversions, such as Shirshasana, also known as the king of all asanas. Unlike traditional yoga, in which participants have to be proficient at every pose before moving on, Rocket Yoga allows individuals to transition from one pose to another without any prior experience, making it a safe practice for most.

So Rocket allows for quick improvement as you are encouraged to modify poses or go your own way when needed. Depending on your Ashtanga progression, Rocket Yoga may modify from the traditional poses based on convenience. In Rocket Yoga, students are allowed to modify or change traditional poses that they are stuck with. Rocket Yoga is designed to take away the challenging poses involved in the classical Ashtanga practice.

The benefits are many with Rocket Yoga, this is a no-doubt strengthening sequence, and through consistent practice, students will see previously difficult or impossible asanas slowly begin to fall into place. The intense physical process of Ashtanga is about pushing through mental blocks and emotional baggage in order to cultivate mental clarity, conscious breath, physical strength, flexibility, and stamina. Rocket is no different, and health benefits include improved blood flow to the pituitary gland and pineal glands, a strengthened nervous system, clean bowels through the various spinal twists, better mental health or psychological health, a stronger and more toned body (especially for back muscles), etc. In addition, Rocket Yoga is much gentler on the joints of the body (unlike Ashtanga) and more forgiving to those with physical problems through its various options and variations.

All in all, the Rocket system is a fantastic dynamic practice and a form of power yoga I strongly recommend. But to compensate for all the heat created by this much-loved form of yoga, I also recommend checking out a more restorative yoga form once in a while such as yin yoga. It’s all about balance, my friends.