Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Some thoughts on the therapy of the primary series

"Perhaps this is what the stories meant when they called somebody heartsick. Your heart and your stomach and your whole insides felt empty and hollow and aching."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In a recent post, Claudia comprehensively enumerates the benefits of the various postures in the Ashtanga primary series. Well, as you can probably tell, this is going to be yet another piggy-backing post from me :-) Ah, Claudia, I just realized that without your blog, I would probably have run out of things to write about by now... What would I do without your blog? :-)

Well, I'm not going to say much about the specific things that particular postures do (for that, refer to Claudia's post). But it is worth noting that the overwhelming majority of the postures in the primary series have therapeutic benefits for the organs of the stomach and the digestive system. It is probably because of this that the primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa, or "Yoga Therapy".

But the therapy provided by the primary series extends beyond the physical body. Recent scientific studies have suggested that our mental functioning and emotional states at any given moment are very much influenced by the states of our digestive organs: The idea is that many fluctuations in our mental and emotional states can ultimately be traced to the state of our digestive system (sorry, I can't cite specific scientific studies to back this claim up; I hear about these things by osmosis from my more scientifically-minded friends :-)). This relation between mind and body also holds from the other direction: Drastic changes in our emotional and mental states brought about by heightened levels of stress can also result in digestive problems. But here's the good news: If we improve the functioning of our digestive organs, our overall mood and mental functioning also improves. And the primary series gives us the tools to do just that. Thus, the therapy of the primary series is not only limited to the physical: Doing the primary series regularly can relieve not just physical constipation; it also has the potential to make us more emotionally balanced, and hopefully less "anal".

This also gives us an interesting perspective on the second series. Once one attains a certain level of proficiency in the primary series, one attains a certain baseline of physical and mental stability, which puts one in a good position to work on the nervous system cleansing (Nadi Shodhana) that the second series postures puts one through. This baseline is important, as many second series postures stir up strong emotions which might be very difficult to manage if the practitioner did not possess the mental and emotional conditioning provided by the primary series.

Hmm... how do I end this post? I never really know how to end such thinking-aloud posts. But well, I hope whatever I write here will be of some use to at least some of you out there. May the Force be with you.