Is Ashtanga’s third series the new second series?

I feel as if I’ve been seeing more references to third series lately. Specifically:

  • Earlier today, Kino MacGregor started promoting her new third series DVD through tweets and a guest blog post.
  • It was recently announced that Tim Miller is changing up the focus of his three-day intensive during his annual April visit to Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio. The first day of the April 2012 intensive will focus on primary series (Yoga Chikitsa), the second on second series (Nadi Shodhana), and the third on third series (Sthira Bhaga).
  • Hilltop Yoga here in Lansing, Mich., has just put on its schedule a new Sunday class “where students practice primary, second or third series Ashtanga at their own pace.”

I’ve seen Sthira Bhaga translated as “divine stability,” “divine steadinessandstrength and grace.” (I’m partial to the “divine stability” translation myself.) And I have practiced next to third series practitioners. It is awe-inspiring — perhaps less because of the poses themselves (oh, those leg-behind-the-head variations!) but, as the Sanskrit name of the series indicates, the fact that someone could flow with such a sense of calm through such seemingly daunting poses.

Before I link to photos of the series, I want to put this in context for students new to Ashtanga or for those who don’t practice yoga (long-time Ashtanga practitioners know this through experience already) — looking at the photos alone is taking the practice totally out of context. Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a compassionate practice for the body — traditionally, you only begin to practice a pose after you have an established practice in the one before it. So it’s not for gymnasts and contortionists. When you see photos of someone in a crazy-looking pose, what you’re looking at is the current incarnation of years of commitment to the practice.

With that lead-in, here are some photos of third series.

After dinner one night during his Mt. Shasta second series retreat last year, Tim Miller was talking to a few students and the question of third series came up. I remember hearing Tim describe the series this way — in terms of the gunas. (If you’re not familiar with the concept of gunas, the simplest definition of gunas I’ve seen comes from T.K.V. Desikachar in The Heart of Yoga: “qualities of the mind; qualities of the universe.”) Primary series is like tamas (heaviness, inertia), second like rajas (activity, change), and third like sattva (clarity, lightness). I’m looking forward to hearing more in April in Columbus.

Here is what MacGregor says about her DVD:

I created my new DVD of the Third Series of Ashtanga Yoga in response to the increasing number of Advanced students practicing Ashtanga Yoga today. I also wanted to share what is for me my most personal journey, my most intimate struggle and now my most consistent daily practice.

She’s not the first to offer an instructional DVD on third series. David Swenson, to the best of my knowledge, was the first to do so, back when we all stilled watched VHS tapes. You can now get Swenson instructional program on a DVD.

It seems to me that Ashtanga students used to talk about second series the way they’re talking about third series now — something a little intimidating, a little exhilarating, and a little out of reach. With more and more students practicing second series these days, it makes sense that third is next. MacGregor writes:

The practice of the Ashtanga Yoga Third Series is not something to be taken lightly or to play around with.

It is a devotional practice that burns through some of the deepest blockages that exist in the human mind and body. It is a practice that contains the essence of Ashtanga Yoga and one not to be taken for granted.

This is what she believes is the first prerequisite for third series:

First you must have a committed six day a week practice of the full Intermediate Series and have been practicing for around five years. That practice should be done smoothly and effortlessly so that when you finish you have more energy to give. The key gateway postures of Second Series should ideally be well-established.

Here’s my question, though. Will Ashtanga practitioners start jumping the gun now that a popular teacher has released a DVD? I’m pretty sure the cybershala can’t provide the wisdom, guidance, feedback and inspiration needed to fully appreciate, understand and experience the third series (or primary or second, for that matter).

I wrote about my qualms when students leapfrog over primary and head straight to second a while back, and I wonder if something similar could start happening with third series. There’s a big difference between doing the Ashtanga sequence and adhering to the Ashtanga method.  

(Photo credit: New <3 necklace via Bekathwia’s Flickr’s photostream.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Tim Miller workshop in Columbus, Ohio will give glimpses into primary, second and third series

Photo of a scene from Short North, the Columbus neighborhood in which Yoga on High is located.

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Tim Miller. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Yoga on High. And it’s no secret I’m a big fan of Columbus, Ohio, which is really pretty cool. Every April, when Tim pays his annual visit to Yoga on High, I get to enjoy all three together. This year, there’s a bonus — I get all three plus a rare glimpse of the first three series of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga as narrated by Tim, who is one of the best guides to this system I have ever met.

Typically, Tim would hold a weekend intensive — which covered philosophy, pranayama and, of course, the physical practice — followed by three days of an intensive. For the past few years, Tim essentially brought sections of his two-week teacher training to Yoga on High. Last year when I attended, we spent the intensive wrapping up the series by an intensive on finishing poses.

Tim’s changing it up this year. Check out what the three-day intensive will bring:

K. Pattabhi Jois, better known as Guruji, devoted 70 years of his life to researching and teaching the methodology that we know as Ashtanga Yoga. Based on the foundational teachings he was given by his Guru, the great T. Krishnamacharya, Guruji spent many years putting together the asana sequences that have come to be called Yoga Chikitsa (Primary Series), Nadi Shodhana (Intermediate Series), and Sthira Bhaga (Advanced Series). All of these sequences went through changes over the years and have only been practiced in their current form for the past 30 years. It was largely through Guruji’s interaction with his western students that these sequences were refined into their present form.  The western students have been both the primary guinea pigs and the main beneficiaries of this refining of the system.

Tim Miller had the rare opportunity to work closely with Guruji for over 30 years and has practiced and taught these sequences faithfully since 1978.  He brings a wealth of experience, understanding, expertise and devotion to the transmission of Guruji’s methodology as well as a thorough knowledge of the philosophical foundations of the practice—the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

In this intensive, Tim will guide an exploration of Guruji’s first three asana sequences, devoting one day to each.  Monday’s practice will be Yoga Chikitsa, Tuesday’s will be Nadi Shodhana, and Wednesday’s will be Sthira Bhaga.  Tim will offer an in-depth explanation of the purpose of these sequences as well as adaptations and preparations for some of the more challenging asanas.  The three days will include selected yoga sutras, an introduction to the traditional Ashtanga pranayama sequence, stories from Indian mythology and a small taste of kirtan.

The weekend session will be as enlightening and grounding as always:

When you practice ashtanga yoga, you are a part of a lineage. Tim Miller is a key figure in carrying this tradition forward having studied so intensively with Sri Pattabhi Jois over so long a time.  We are honored to host Tim each year—join us to spend a weekend working (playfully!) with a yoga master. Weekend intensives can help shift your practice to a deeper level and offer you insight into how the primary series works in individual poses and as a whole circle of poses. You will also learn more about your lineage and how the physical work leads you to the state of yoga. A light practice on Friday night will establish a relationship between yoga philosophy as presented in the Yoga Sutras and the practical methodology of the Ashtanga Yoga system. Saturday’s practice will focus on the Primary Series as physical manifestation of this relationship. Saturday afternoon will explore the morning practice in more depth—to look at troublesome asanas and address specific problems, concerns, and questions. Sunday’s class will be playful, spontaneous, and improvisational, and explore the whole notion of intelligent sequencing in moving towards a particular destination. Sunday will also include an introduction to pranayama.

Registration is open. Need I say more?

By the way, if you don’t already follow/like/read:

 

 

(Photo credit: Both from the Short North Arts District website.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Starting Ashtanga second series and tossing that ‘collection of asana trophies’


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

Ganesh is the 'wielder of the noose'

 

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.)

(Image credits: Screenshot of David Garrigues’ video on pasasana (top); Ganesh via mutantMandias‘ Flickr stream (bottom))

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.