Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I've split!

 [Image taken from here.]

Well, the full story is actually a bit more complicated than that. But the title of this post succinctly expresses what I did with my practice this morning: For the first time in more than a year, I stopped doing primary, and did only second series up to Karandavasana.

If you are new to Ashtanga, you might be wondering: What's this splitting business about? Well, here's a useful, if somewhat cheesy analogy. You can think of your practice as being like a banana split. Suppose your present practice consists of primary up to, say, Navasana. Think of the standing sequence and the finishing sequence as constituting each of the two banana halves, and the primary postures you have been given so far (up to Navasana) as the ice-cream (this includes the three scoops of ice-cream, the cherries, the whipped cream, and all that good stuff). Sounds yummy, right? :-)

As you progress in your practice, your teacher will give you more postures (i.e. more ice-cream). At some point, you will find yourself doing full primary (i.e. Utkatasana to Setu Bandhasana. More experienced practitioners out there will probably be thinking: What, Utkatasana? I thought Dandasana is the first posture in the primary series! Well, I'll explain this shortly. For now, just play along with me.). So anyway, when your teacher deems you ready, he or she will start giving you second series postures (Pasasana, Krounchasana, and all that good stuff). As a result, your practice will get longer and longer: What used to take just half an hour (when you were just doing the Suryas and some standing postures) now takes two hours or more. Since you are a householder (I think), you probably can't afford to spend like, three hours everyday doing this practice. Besides, too much of a good thing can also sometimes be a bad thing. If you think in terms of the banana split again, you will see that if there is too much good stuff between the two banana halves, the banana halves will not be able to contain it, and the ice-cream and assorted good stuff will start spilling over, making a mess of your life! Same goes with the practice...

So, when your teacher has given you a certain number of second series postures, he or she will decide that you are now ready to be "split", that is, you are now ready to practice only the second series postures you have been given, and to practice primary only on Fridays (or whatever your last practice day of the week is; mine's Saturday.). Exactly where in second series you get split will depend on the teacher's judgment of your readiness: Some students get split at Ekapada Sirsasana, others (like me) don't get split till Karandavasana.

I hope the above cute story helps with understanding what splitting is about. :-) On to my story. As I was saying, this morning, I split my practice for the first time since I got injured last year and had to scale my practice back to primary only, and build everything back up from there (see this post for more details). But as I was also saying, it's a bit more complicated than that. I did not split the traditional way. Traditionally, when one is split, one goes into second series immediately after Parsvottanasana. However, not all teachers advocate this traditional way of splitting. Matthew Sweeney and Lino Miele suggest that it is useful to continue to do the two balancing postures (Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana and Ardha Baddha Padmottasana) in one's daily practice even after one has split. Sweeney explains the rationale behind this view:

"When practicing Intermediate or Advanced asana on their own, the traditional practice is to stop doing standing postures after Parsvottanasana and to commence the vinyasa for that series from there. However, it is advisable to keep practicing the two balance postures that follow it, particularly Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. As this asana is found to be difficult for many students, it is useful to practice it every day. Also, the first full vinyasa for Primary begins with Utkatasana. That is, Utkatasana is in fact the first primary posture, not Dandasana. As the vinyasa for Pasasana is almost exactly the same, the Intermediate sequence can be begun the same way as Utkatasana." (Sweeney, page 14)

So, to sum up, there are at least two different views of splitting out there:

The Traditional view: Go into Intermediate from Parsvottanasana.

The Sweeney/Miele view: Go into Intermediate from Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana.

This morning, I went into Pasasana after Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana. In other words, I followed the Sweeney/Miele view. Personally, I think there is another advantage to splitting this way: Doing Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana gives me an opportunity to practice half-lotus from standing, and thus open up the external hip rotators. If I were to go into Intermediate without having done Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, I would have to go into Padmasana "cold" immediately after Kapotasana (to go into Supta Vajrasana), without the advantage of having had the same opening. As I am still not confident enough in my present level of hip-openness to feel comfortable about going into Padmasana "cold" from Kapotasana, I think that this way of splitting serves me well.

I have also consulted Kino about this. Her response is that although it is not currently traditional to split in this way, if I feel that this way of splitting is helpful and beneficial to me, I should do it. As a caveat, she added: "Just know that if you go to Mysore or if you take Sharath's classes you would not do these two postures. Sooner or later your hips will also be open enough to go straight into lotus after kapotasana too.

That last sentence is nice to know :-) As for the sentence before that... well, I suppose by "take Sharath's classes", she means Led Intermediate. Hmm... I am definitely a long way from being able to survive (or even do) Led Intermediate with Sharath. I mean, imagine getting into Kapotasana in one breath? "Supta inhale, hands on your hips. Ashtau exhale, arch back and grab your heels..." But in any case, it's still very nice to know that there is somebody out there who actually thinks that this is a real enough possibility for me to be worth mentioning in black and white :-) 

Kino also suggested that if I don't feel comfortable splitting "full-time" right away, I can transition into it gradually: I can do the "whole shlep" (primary and second up to Karandavasana) on the first two days of the week, do second only on three days, and do primary only on the last day. I think this is a very good suggestion. I will do that for the next few weeks, and see how things go from there. 

Alright, I guess I'll sign off here. I was planning on going into great detail about how my first split practice went, but that would make an already long post even longer (Just a brief note here: I actually managed to grab my heels/ankles in Kapotasana without having all that internal heat generated from doing Primary beforehand. Pretty cool, don't you think?). 



  1. Congrats on deciding to split! So does this just saves time or will you have more energy to do the Intermediate poses to fuller extent or something like that??

  2. congratulations! i bet you are feeling very pleased ;-) Ivana

  3. Hi Nobel, I've been following your blog for just a short while and find it very interesting. I was tickled to see this post because: I also just split! Actually, I dropped primary on Sunday---Saturday is our rest day---and, with the moon day on Friday, have just finished a "short week" of second only, up to pincha mayurasana. I was very reluctant to let go of primary due to very sensitive knees but after mildly stern words from my wife (who has been split for some time) I finally gave it a go, and it's been kind of impressive to see that it works; even for several days in a row! My body's a little different from yours, I think, in that, for example, I'm many many moons away from being able to take padmasana hands free, but for now I'm having plenty of trouble balancing in pincha mayurasana, so I'm happily not yet worrying about that.

    I hope the transition is going well for you!

  4. Thanks Yyogini. Yes, splitting does save time. Doing second only takes me about an hour and twenty minutes, whereas doing the "whole shlep" takes me about two hours and ten minutes (in my body, at least; I know people who can do the same thing in under two hours!).

    And yes, it does give me more energy to do second series postures as well. Yesterday, I noticed that I did not feel as wiped out during savasana as when I did the whole shlep. But I think there's a trade-off: I have more energy, but I also have less internal heat generated, and probably less hip-opening as well, since I did not do all those primary series padmasana variations. But well, if Kino is right, this will eventually not be a problem :-)

    Thanks Ivana!

  5. Congratulations on splitting John! Yes, I think I understand the sensitive-knees issue: I have to be extra-careful with alignment and stuff with my right knee as well. But I think we learn to listen to and understand our bodies better, the longer we practice. Actually, if your teacher is okay with it, you can also try the Sweeney/Miele way of splitting: This will give you one more posture with which to open your external hip rotators.