Friday, February 25, 2011

Practice report, some "dirt" on primary vs. second

Practice was good this morning. A few noteworthy "highlights":

(1) I have been consciously trying to put into practice both Kino's and Susan's advice to broaden across the lower back in the forward bends in primary, especially in the Janu Sirsasanas. I really feel that it is helping with my SI joint. Very cool.

(2) Second series was very nice today. In Dwipada Sirsasana, I managed to get my legs more snugly behind my neck. In fact, I think I got my left foot to touch the C7 spinal vertebral (basically, the lowest cervical vertebral before the thoracic spine begins). Or maybe it was C6; not 100 hundred sure. At any rate, the foot felt really snug behind my head/neck, and I could actually hold my feet there while pointing the feet (most days, I have to flex the toes to hold the feet there). Cool. Much opening happening, I sense.

(3) Fell over during my first attempt in Pincha Mayurasana. Quite unusual for me. I haven't fallen over in Pincha for almost a year now. Oh well... Did the yogi really fall from pincha if nobody saw him fall? :-)

Anyway, I got up and tried again. The second time around, I got into it and held it effortlessly for 10 breaths (hahaha, "revenge" is sweet :-)).

(4) In the finishing sequence, as I went into Pindasana from Urdhva Padmasana, I tried to bind my wrists. Somehow, I lost my balance and rolled over to one side. Felt this not-so-nice sensation in the neck. Immediately righted myself. Didn't feel anything amiss after I got out of the posture. Must be careful. Seems that today is not a good balance day for me. Wonder if there is an astrological reason for this?

I read with interest the following remarks by V/Hidden Ashtangi in her recent post:

"I once had a blazing argument with you-know-who because she insisted that Second Series is easier than first and I snapped back that hmmm, yeah it could be if you don’t do it every day and you modify the key poses."

For the record, I have no idea who "you-know-who" is in the passage above, and I don't need to know :-) I am quoting V here because over the years, I've also heard various people say basically the same thing: That second series is in some sense "easier". Well, in my opinion, it might feel easier if you (1) are a "natural backbender", (2) Have tight hips and/or hamstrings that might limit you in forward bends. This is actually one of my girlfriend's pet peeves with Ashtanga ("who is it that decides that we have to do all these forward bends before we can do the backbends?") Hush, hush... whatever I say on this blog stays in this blog, understood? (3) are unable and/or unwilling to do the jumpbacks and jumpthroughs in primary, and (4) if you modify and/or do the second series postures "selectively", i.e. you skip certain postures and/or do not perform them with the vinyasa.

So far, I have been able to verify (1) to (4) partly by secretly looking (by committing drishti violations) at the practices of these people who tell me that second is easier. Through my observations, I have noticed that at least one of conditions (1) to (4) (usually more) apply to them. Ha! So now you know I commit drishti violations.

But often, I don't even need to commit drishti violations to know these things. For example, at my teacher's shala in Milwaukee, I heard this woman who does second series tell somebody that second is easier than primary. And then, a few weeks later, she was behind me during practice, and I heard her asking the teacher for help in doing jumpbacks in primary.

Another such "revelation" occurred during the asana clinic at Tim Miller's workshop in Miami a couple of years ago. As an aside: Tim is famous for these clinics. I highly recommend you attend one such clinic, if you haven't done so before; you can learn a lot about the "down-and-dirty" stuff of how to make postures work for you at these clinics. But I digress. Anyway, at this particular clinic, a woman came up to Tim, and told him that because of a hamstring injury, she has stopped doing primary, and only does modified second, i.e. she does the backbends, and does the leg-behind-the-head postures only on one side. Tim's response was: Avoidance is not the answer. He then proceeded to show her how to work on the primary series postures in such a way as to gradually encourage healing of the hamstrings (I don't remember the full details, but a big part of it consists of consciously bringing the heads of the thighs closer together and really working uddiyana bandha).

So you see, I'm really not this evil person who goes around digging up the dirt on other people's practices. It's just that when you have been practicing for a little while, and have been around, so to speak, you can't help picking up on these things. Anyway, I share these things here partly because I know there are folks in the cybershala who struggle with injuries and issues; hopefully, you might find all this to be of some use.

Huh... I was only planning to write a brief practice report, but it has ballooned into this long post. Oh well. It is what it is.

May the Force be with you.


  1. I wonder if what people are trying to say is that Primary isn't 'easy'. I think it's the name. "Primary' sounds like 'the basics' or 'kindergarten' or 'foundational' which of course it is but that doesn't make it easy. There are some very hard asanas in it, and perhaps when people get to second they are thinking it's going to be 'harder' when really it's just 'different'? But what do I know! I'm still slogging away with my tight hamstrings in 'kindergarten'! ha!

  2. That might be, Loo. I sometimes wonder who came up with the translation. Primary series is "Yoga Chikitsa" in Sanskrit, which literally means "Yoga Therapy", not "Primary Series." It is primary, in the sense that one needs to iron out whatever issues one's body has (through "therapy") before proceeding further in the practice. But it is certainly not primary in the sense of "easy" or "kindergarten". So I suppose you can think of your hamstrings as receiving therapy :-)

  3. yes, in my kindlier moments, I try to do just that :)

  4. I think that's why the "Rocket" series was invented, and why a lot of people love that sequence. It probably designed for people with lots of strength and less flexibility. There are way less forward bends; poses from intermediate series that require less flexibility are included in this sequence. A ton of inversions and arm balances are interspersed throughout the sequence.

  5. @Loo, :-)

    @Yyogini, yes, I think you are right that this is why the rocket series was invented, and why it is so popular.

    In my opinion, though, if you have more flexibility, it actually becomes easier to do arm balances: When the hips/hamstrings are more open, it becomes easier to engage the bandhas more fully, and the "power" of the pose then comes more from the bandhas, and less from sheer muscular strength. So in a sense, you can say that becoming more flexibility also helps one become "stronger" :-)

  6. Good to know! I've never had a hip tightness issue (yah I get a lot of evil stares whenever I say this) so I didn't know that openness in hips/hamstrings helps with bandha engagement. I've noticed that yoga handstand has a different energetic quality to it than, say, a break dancer handstand or a gymnastic handstand. Some guys are able to pull off arm balances with sheer muscle strengths though. Bandha engagement will probably allow them to do even more advanced poses, but not everyone's motivated to achieve their fullest potentials :P