Different Ashtanga instructors have a different answer to the often-asked “When can I start Ashtanga second series?” Philadelphia-based David Garrigues, who was certified by Pattabhi Jois to teach Ashtanga yoga, says the following near the end of a new instructional YouTube video about pasasana (noose pose):
It’s after you’ve made a very mature, sustained effort in the primary. And that does not mean binding in this or that or doing any posture or dropping back.
This summer, Kino MacGregor, who is also certified, released “Are You Ready to Start the Intermediate Series?“, a short YouTube video addressing just this topic. In the video she hits on key milestone primary series poses and then says:
The most crucial and fundamental test of your ability to move into the second series is your ability to stand up and drop back from backbending, or urdvha dhanurasana.
The description of this video offers a more succinct answer:
Generally you want to have a firm foundation in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series before considering moving into Second Series. You will know that this is established once you feel stable in these postures and movements: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, Marichyasana D, Supta Kurmasana (posture and jump back) and Standing Up and Dropping Back from Backbend/Urdhva Danurasana.
The summary continues, and here’s what I think is critical to keep in mind, especially for Type A yogis accustomed to pushing hard and flying fast in their careers, personal lives and yoga practice:
The Primary Series is a foundational and fundamental part of the journey. There is really no need to rush, when you’re ready it will be more than evident and your teacher will surely encourage you to start.
I see this proclivity to rush at the power yoga studio where I teach Ashtanga — students who try primary series a few times and then move on to mainly take second series classes (the studio offers only led classes, and the studio’s policy is that second series is open to anyone who wishes to take it). In most cases, students who take this route of leap-frogging over primary series excel in everything they do, including yoga. I deeply disagree with practicing second series this way, but I understand the impulse, especially for power or vinyasa-flow yogis who only dabble not in the Ashtanga practice, but in Ashtanga classes. (Yoga in the Dragon’s Den, by the way, yesterday asked, “Is it possible to compartmentalize Ashtanga in one’s life?” It’s a thought-provoking post sure to rile some. Check it out.) The mentality is sort of, well, you can only hit so many classes in a week — why spend money and time on a class you don’t particularly want to be in? Second series rocks it out with poses like pincha mayurasana and eka pada sirsasana and a float into bakasana. Why stay grounded when you can take flight?
Second series can be exhilarating on many levels, especially compared to the much more low-key, grounding (and, to some, boring) practice of primary series. The backbends, extreme hip openers and arm balances found in the intermediate series offer an intense challenge with big payback — physically, energetically (oh, that shiva and shakti energy!), on the level of emotional release (all those backbends), and, in my humble opinion, on the level of the ego for some.
Noose for the ego
But it seems as if the intermediate series — called nadi shodhana, or nerve cleansing — was designed with ego in mind. The very first pose is an incredibly challenging one — a true gatekeeper of the series, when practiced according to Mysore tradition in which you don’t move on to a new pose until you have the pose before it. Pasasana is a balancing twist. Garrigues talks about how hard it is for most people (I’m in this group for sure) to make progress in this pose. He then says:
It’s an ego check is what it is. A noose that hangs your ego. So you have to get a different reason to practice other than collecting asana trophies.
What a beautiful way to put it.
By the way, both Garrigues and MacGregor are featured in the Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid, if you want to keep up with their videos, blog posts, tweets and more.
Last but not least, here is the full Garrigues video. The first 12 minutes break down the pose. Starting at the 12:13 mark, he talks about second series. Hear more about Ganesh around the 12:45 mark. (If you want even more on the noose, you can read Garrigues’ blog post about pasasana, which includes a video on ways to lengthen the Achilles tendon.)
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