Some people may see going back to primary only as taking a step back in the practice, but this is incorrect. If nothing else, going back to doing primary only can be an invaluable "reset" button that enables one to clear up whatever sloppy technique/faffiness/spiritual-physical gunk that may have accumulated from not paying enough attention to the basics. In any case, any sort of significant progress can only occur through a period of "stepping back" and consolidation.
I have discovered in my case that nowhere is this more true than with backbends. As you know, if you are doing primary only, the only backbends you get to do are the finishing backbends, plus dropbacks and standups. Now there has been a lot of debate recently in the Ashtanga blogosphere about whether it is a good thing for teachers to insist that students be able to drop back and stand up before going on to second. Many people have made the argument that this no-second-before-standing-up-from-backbending rule (let's call this "NSBSU" from now on) is not a sound rule, because some of the first few backbends of second series may actually help the student to find the muscles that she needs in order to stand up from a backbend.
I personally think there is some merit to this argument. I myself was moved on to second by my teacher before I could stand up from dropping back: If I remember correctly, I was actually able to grab my heels in Kapo by myself before I could find the necessary muscles to stand up from dropping back.
But over the last few days, as I restricted my backbends to Urdhva Dhanurasanas and dropbacks and standups, I began to see that there is a certain beauty to NSBSU. Here's why: If you have to go into UDs and dropbacks immediately from primary, your body (and mind) doesn't have the luxury of relying on the first few second series backbends to open up your body for you. In other words, you don't have the luxury of thinking: Okay, I have all these nice gentle second series backbends (except Kapo, of course) to open up my body for me, so I can, you know, relax a little, and let these backbends do the work for me.
I suspect that too many of us have a tendency to think this way, and, in this way, to use these second series backbends as a sort of psychological crutch. And as you know, in yoga practice, whatever happens on the psychological level inevitably translates into something on a physical level. Which also leads me to suspect that more often than not, this kind of "relax a little" mindset leads one to execute the second series backbends in a sloppy fashion (a possibility made all the more tempting by the fact that you are lying prone on the mat...). Which leads to one getting less out of these backbends, and possibly even to injury.
I'm not making any sort of categorical claim that it is impossible to do the second series backbends without sloppiness. Rather, I'm just speaking from my recent experience here. As I was saying, over the last few days of doing primary only, I've realized that if you have to go into UD straight from primary, you pretty much have to do a lot of work right away to bring as much of the backbend into the upper-back (by bringing your shoulders over your elbows) and into your quads and psoas, because you only have three UDs before you have to drop back and stand up. No time or space to mess around. I discovered that because I had to do so much work in so short a time, my backbends felt more open, and there was this delicious burning sensation in my thighs from all this work (for more details on this sweet delicious burning sensation, see this post). Which makes for a very satisfactory and fulfilling backbend practice, all in all.
In other news: Happy Boxing Day! Speaking of Boxing Day, this quirky post that I wrote on Boxing Day last year has unexpectedly been getting a lot of views in the last few days; people probably stumbled upon this post as the result of randomly googling "Boxing Day" or "Boxing Day Images". In fact, as you can see, it is actually the second most read post of all time on this blog as of right now.
As a result of this unexpected occurrence, this blog has been getting a crazy number of hits yesterday and today. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, the number of hits I've had so far today (I won't tell you how many) is the highest this blog has ever gotten in one day! Crazy, right?
So yeah, now you know: I actually do look at my blog stats... Did I ever say I did not, anyway? But all this leaves me with mixed feelings. My ego, of course, feels good from having so many blog hits, but there's also a more ambivalent part of me that finds it rather strange that a supposedly Ashtanga blog should be getting so many hits on account of something that is totally not yoga related. Ah, c'est la vie...