Primary Series

I went to my first Ashtanga Primary Series class the other day – it was tough, although my friend told me there were a lot of deviations and I got off easy =P  I don’t know what it is about Ashtanga – I don’t love the style and I’m not that interested in half the poses – but for some reason, I’m completely fascinated by it.  So I decided to look up the official series and give it a go.  Here’s how it went:

1.  Like I said, I don’t love the poses, but the sequence really works for me.  There’s some serious vinyasa krama going on in Ashtanga.

2.  Somewhere in the last three months, parivritta trikonasana became easy.  I used to struggle through it with blocks and sweat and tears, and then one day I could just do it.  I’m going to go ahead and credit my teacher, Jean, with this miracle – she gave me a tip about freeing up my hips in the pose and it’s been totally different ever since.

3.  Cheats:  I picked up my back heel in parivritta parsvakonasana.  I know it’s supposed to be down, but if you’ve ever tried it, it’s incredibly awkward.  If some Ashtangi out there can convince me that there’s some benefit, maybe I’ll work on it.  Similarly, I do not bring my hands together in utkatasana.  Utkatasana is another one that’s already uncomfortable enough on its own and you don’t need to go and make it more uncomfortable by forcing your shoulders do things they don’t want to do.

4.  Skips:  I thought for sure I could do every pose up through kurmasana (which is why I initially planned to stop there), but it turns out that pretty much every joint in my leg is incapable of twisting itself into janu sirsasana C and marichyasana b and d.  I spent a few minutes looking at the picture, trying to persuade my knees and ankles to cooperate, wondering if the pose was even humanly possible and then finally giving up.

5.  Vinyasa:  Speaking of skips.  I think my dear friend and Ashtangi, Laurie, told me that you’re supposed to do a vinyasa between every seated pose on every side (so, side A, vinyasa, side B, vinyasa).  There was none of that today.  I did both sides and then a vinyasa.  This is one area of the sequence that I’m not on board with.  I’m not saying eliminate vinyasa from the entire rest of the series – some of them are very well placed – but it’s hard on the wrists and I feel like all those jump throughs/backs (and let’s face it, these are more like ass-plants and crumble backs for me) are fluffing my rajas and I’m not getting into the juiciness of the poses.  Although, it’s probably fair to point out that while I’m winding down during these seated poses, real Ashtangis are only halfway through the Primary Series and technically have like four or five other series after that (not really sure anyone actually does all six series), so they’re not as concerned with preparing for savasana at this point.

6.  Ass-plants and crumble backs:  Am I ever going to be able to do these?  Ever?  Today I was able to drop myself (literally, drop) into a cross-legged seated position on the jump through (slightly concerned about my tailbone) and the jump back was more of a press back to my knees, followed by a face plant, followed by me extricating my limbs out from under me and into plank, much in the way a cat does when it falls (“Me?  Ungraceful?  I have no idea what you’re talking about.”)

End verdict:  Still fascinated, but I’m not sure I’ll stick with it in its purest form.  If any ashtangis out there have some tips or stories to share, I’d love to hear them!

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3 Responses to Primary Series

  1. Ellie says:

    Haaa I love this post. I’m a little late to the game, but as one of those crazy purist Ashtangis, I thought I’d offer my two cents.
    3. Don’t cheat! Not gonna lie, part of the point of all of this is to put ourselves into uncomfortable positions. Let it be unpretty. Stay there five breaths, then it’s over! Also, getting your heel down is not going to get you to enlightenment, but it will help ground the leg, which will secure your balance, and help you on the road to mula bandha.
    4. Yep, there are a bunch of poses it’d just be easier to skip. And if you’re just taking a fun trip through the Ashtanga sequence, certainly don’t worry about it. However. If you were to embark on a regular Ashtanga practice, you could go ONLY up to Janu C, for instance, try as best you can, and then do backbends and closing. And when Janu C gets a little easier, then you’d go a little farther, try your damndest at Mari B, stop there and go to backbending. And so on. So you’re not killing yourself for five, six, seven poses at the end of the series, just one at a time until it comes a little easier.
    5. I love the terms “ass-plant” and “crumble-back.” And I must say, Laurie is right, and juicyness-schmuiciness. The rhythm is the juicy part. You’ll get stronger and they won’t feel so crumbly. Also, just a wee correction: people who do fourth series, for instance, do not do (in one practice) first, then second, then third, then fourth. Dear God that would take four hours. One at a time. (or maybe one and a half, like if you’ve learned some of the poses of third you’d do all of second, then a few of third and that’s it.)

    Also, um, hi! I hope you’re doing well! 🙂

    • anotherperfectwonder says:

      Ellie! I was hoping you would weigh in on the subject. So first of all, THANK YOU for all the tips and pointers. I feel like everything you said makes the sequence a little less intimidating. Also – exciting update: I managed three jump throughs in my last practice. I hit the floor pretty hard on all them, but I got my legs all the way through without getting caught up anywhere! Crumble backs, not as successful. And now, a couple of questions:

      1. What if you can never do a pose (e.g. what if I can never make my ankle unhinge itself in order to do janu c?)? Do you just stay there in the series, or do you just get it as best you can and move on?

      2. What are these backbends and closing?

      3. How the hell do you get through a whole primary series in 1.5h? It takes me almost an hour just to get to kurmasana and I’m not doing vinyasas between each side.

      I’m well! How are you?

      • Ellie says:

        Yay for the jumpbacks! And glad you’re well. I’m doing fine in Minnesota, pretty frickin’ happy with my move. 🙂

        To answer your questions…
        1. Never is a long time. This is where having a teacher really comes in handy, because a good teacher will know whether to hold you at Janu C for a year (though I haven’t seen people be stuck there for too long, the getting stuck is more likely to happen around mari b or d) or move you on. Every student is different, and from what I’ve observed and experienced, the decision to move someone on or not is not SOLELY based on their physical ability to do the pose. If you’re self-practicing, my advice is to try stopping at the pose that’s giving you grief, for long enough that you get past the “ugh, i’ll NEVER be able to do this” phase. Maybe into the “ugh, I still can’t do it yet, but it might be possible someday” phase, that might be enough. There’s no concrete right or wrong answer.

        2. Look at the ashtanga sequence like an oreo cookie. The first wafer part is the surya namaskara and standing poses. The creme filling is the primary series, or whatever series the practitioner is doing. The last wafer part is backbends and closing. Everyone does the two wafers, and the creme filling changes over time. So if you’re doing a full primary, then setu bandhasana is the last bit of creme filling, and then you go into urdhva dhanurasana, which starts the wafer part. But if you’re stopping at Janu C, for instance, then Janu C would be the end of your creme filling, and you’d go right into the wafer (urdhva d.) from there.

        The last wafer, then, specifically, is several rounds of urdhva dhanurasana, followed by paschimattanasana, vinyasa, sarvangasana, halasana, karna pidasana, urdhva padmasana, pindasana, matsyasana, uttana padasana, vinyasa, sirsasana, vinyasa, and the final three seated postures — baddha padmasana, padmasana, utplutihih.

        3. Aside from allowing a bit of extra time to get into some of the wackier poses, sometimes the series will take longer if you do a lot of futzing about in between the poses. Finish the pose, inhale lift up, exhale jump back, inhale, exhale, and inhale through. there’s not a lot of time to move around and find juicy areas. Focus more on the steady breath than finding the deepest expression of the pose, and the depth will eventually come in a way that is efficient, quick, but not rushed.

        And keep writing about your ashtanga adventures! (along with your other adventures.) 🙂

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