Yogi diet: Do I have to start Second Series?

Bobbie and I pretty often get told some version of the following: “It’s great you both practice together.”

You probably can list off the reasons this is true (meaning why it’s “great” not why we hear this a lot): similar sleep schedules; appreciation for the rigors of what the other person is doing; the ability to include Ashtanga into vacations; we’re able to go to workshops together and both can travel down to see Tim Miller.

A final thing is that we share the same healthy habits, especially when it comes to food. Bobbie just detailed this last week, and we’ve kept a running log of our mostly raw diet.

Well now we’ve hit a snag. And while it may not be as big an issue as a household where one person is an austere Ashtangi and the other is knocking back pizza and hamburgers every week (or one in which one Ashtangi has to also help prepare food for a family of non-yogis, especially kids), it’s a new twist to our co-yoga journey.

As Bobbie just wrote: “First Series is about purifying and cleansing. Second is about strength.”

I’m perhaps eternally going to be on First. Bobbie’s now doing all of Second. Her diet’s suddenly all about strengthening foods while mine’s still cleansing.

Dinner isn’t as easy anymore.

So what to do?

Well, we could start preparing separate meals, with perhaps some overlap (the bulk of purifying raw vegetables and unprocessed foods). Or maybe we make it simpler by just adding something strengthening into Bobbie’ meals.

I’ll admit to throwing a bit of a protest at that idea. Why does she get the extra, satisfying dish? Just because she’s busting out Karandavasana?

It’s when I start to protest that the far more simple solution pops to mind: Start Second, stupid.

Of course, there are at least two major problems with this:

  1. I still struggle with Primary poses.
  2. I haven’t been given any of Second. (Sort of plays off the first, right?)

The issue then becomes one of tradition. Do I fudge things to accommodate other factors? Circumstances have relegated me to practicing at home (now for the foreseeable future). Do I pull together all the threads into a design of my liking that says, “The universe is telling you its time to at least dabble.”

After all, there is not uniform agreement on when someone should advance. Yes, we all know the major and typical sign posts: Marichy D, Supta Kurmasana, etc. But there are teachers who talk about more internal signs — the quality of the breath, the focus of the mind — and their guidelines might …

Well, just because I like the sounds of their teaching, doesn’t mean I should flit to it like a butterfly.

Perhaps the answer is to modify First, ever so slightly, to enhance the strengthening poses that exist there. Longer Utkatasanas, Virabhadrasanas, crow poses. Concentrate on the pull backs and jump throughs. Work on that 100-breath headstand.

And then sneak bites of Bobbie’s strengthening foods when she isn’t looking.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

15 thoughts on “Yogi diet: Do I have to start Second Series?”

  1. I just love the two of you!!
    From someone who has been single for THREE years! This post is just cute as can be. I think sneak in some strengthening food and yes hold those challenging first series postures for a LONG time because 2nd is pretty great then you won’t have to sneak Bobbie’s dinner!

  2. I read this post and thought you were writing about my life!

    “….it may not be as big an issue as a household where one person is an austere Ashtangi and the other is knocking back pizza and hamburgers every week (or one in which one Ashtangi has to also help prepare food for a family of non-yogis, especially kids)”

    Check and check. It’s a struggle, being a vegetarian and feeding a family who, to quote my son, sometimes gets ‘tired of (my) “whole-grain” lifestyle.”

    So, yes, you cook something for everyone – that’s how I deal. I make a meal that is mostly veggies, including a small dish of the protein I prefer (lentils, chickpeas, tofu) and then a two person (even though there’s three of them) meat course. So they get their meat, but not as much as they would prefer – I kind of coerce them to eat more veggies than meat. If they get hungry later, there’s always yogurt or a pb&j!

    My meat and potatoes, non-Ashtanga-practicing hubby very sweetly never complains, but it helps that food is not that big a deal to him.

    Also, note too, from an ayurvedic perspective, leftovers are no good – fresh food is best, fresh-cooked is best. Leftovers have no life in them. So, don’t rely on those, either, to get by!

  3. And, now, I’m going to go waaaay out on a limb here and say that you probably should be focusing on more backbending in your practice – specifically, some of the beginning postures of second series (shalabasana A&B, bhekasana, danurasana, ustrasana.)

    Why do I say this heretical thing? Because you can actually get too “one-sided” in your body if all you focus on is forward bending (i.e. Primary series) for years.

    I know the standard is that you don’t start second until you can come up on your own from dropping back. However, according to what I have observed in students, in my own practice, and in what I have been told to do (and I won’t say by whom but suffice it to say it was one of the Confluence teachers) too much forward bending starts to do a number on the hips and back, eventually. To quote this teacher, “You get too one-sided.”

    From a perspective of applying the postures therapeutically – and that is where Krishnamacharya arrived by the end of his teaching life, btw – you could use some backbending, some second series, Steve. I’ve seen your practice (after the Confluence, at Tim’s shala). It’s good – integrated, and aware. I humbly suggest, some personal research on your own, in your own self practice, may free up your iliopsoas and as a result, begin to release your spine. Study the psoas and the anatomy and note how it attaches to the lumbar spine – all the way up to T12, where your diaphragm also attaches. It’s a very important muscle to access and free up. And, second series helps do this, amongst other things.

    That’s my belief, anyhow. I’m not your teacher, and I certainly don’t put my own experience and training above anyone else who is an authorized or certified teacher. But, I was “given” (actually, told that it was necessary for me to start, for the same reason) second series before being able to come up from drop backs by my teacher. The unlocking of my entire spine that resulted from the practice actually helped “open” my body so that Primary series became more therapeutic – and easier – too.

    Food for thought. Now, I wait to hear the words, “Blasphemer!!! Heretic!!!” hurled at me from the Ashtanga blogosphere! (Kidding, but, I know – what i am saying could be considered radical and impertinent. So be it. My astrologer says I am a born rebel.)

  4. Can I go even more out on a limb and add my comments by saying I actually agree with Michelle’s suggestions regarding backbending. Obviously, I haven’t seen your practice and can only make suggestions based on what you have posted here, so you can take my comments with a pinch of salt. I don’t particularly think you should enhance the strengthening postures in first, though, as it sounds like you are already quite strong, but maybe struggle a bit with flexibility. Doing that may work contrary to making you more flexible (and I know you’re working on that anyway) and play to your strengths……….what would you think if some superflexible dancer type told you they were going to modify their practice to work more on their flexibility when you knew full well they couldn’t hold chaturanga!!

    1. Good points. Let me try to answer in two ways:

      1. The ridiculous way. Keep in mind, I am trying to use our diet as an excuse to sneak in Second. So, already I know I’m on shaky ground.
      2. More serious. It’s probably a matter of finding — or perhaps a better word is “maintaining” — the right balance. But I also keep in mind Tim Miller’s statement (which I’ll paraphrase): You can get flexibility from strength, but you can’t get strength from flexibility. So hopefully building strength (smartly) will help me also with the bendiness.


  5. I like Gregor Mahle’s suggestions as to when to progress beyond Primary: be able to practice all of Primary, with a full expression of every pose, every day – including your worst days. Tim’s is pretty similar: be able to competently and regularly practice the hardest poses (Marichy D, Garbha Pindasana, Supta Kurmasana).

    I’m not sure why backbending would be the standard by which to progress, as Primary involves virtually no backbends. I can stand up and drop back from Urdhva D very consistently, but can’t quite bind Mari D and Garbha is barely coming together. What business do I have thinking that I should advance myself?

    Not to mention that the first half of Intermediate (say, though Kapotasana) is easy compared to the second half of Primary. For me, anyway, as a big white man who has very tight hamstrings and hips and a comparatively flexible back.

    And I must admit that when my lower back starts getting tweaky from all the forward folds, the first half of Intermediate is very therapeutic, as suggested by Nancy. Still, struggling with Primary suggests to me sticking with Primary.

    1. Standing up from backbends is one of those “sign post” moments, right? (I didn’t get that wrong, did I?)

      There are others who are even looser with progressing on that you’re suggesting. If I had to broadly generalize, I’d say some of the senior teachers are a bit looser with things than more recently certified ones.

  6. The Ashtanga Mela just recently at Kripalu seemed to promote that you may start Secondary while still practicing Primary. very complemetary to the forward bending of Primary. I have already started to include an Intro to Secondary class – as the teachers said – it’s filled with poses you probably already know from some basic Hatha classes.

    1. I think this gets to what VG above points out that Nancy says — too much First can be a problem. I do try to find the backbends in First when I can (updog, parts of the sun salutes). But I’ve been wondering as I watched the comments here what Guruji would have done with a student showing up along with Chuck or Tim or Richard, etc. who couldn’t blaze through First, Second, etc. in a few months.

      I suppose — to the best of my knowledge — Nancy is the closest example, as she says she had tons of trouble with Ashtanga to begin with, physically.

  7. In most cases Primary/Intermediate is a matter of triage management, that is, addressing the most glaring problem first.

    For the first 3-5 years of practice in the adult (post-20-year old) it’s more important at this time to lengthen the backs of their legs and open their hips. Why add yet another element on the fire?

    If someone reports back or S.I. issues, and then presents with stiff hamstrings and stiff hips, ‘more backbending’ is not the first approach I might suggest.

    The so-called ‘gatekeeper’ poses are not individual suggestions but a collective, so hands-to-floor prasarita padatonasana C, bound marichyasana D, a flat baddha konasana, standing up from backbends are all taken together as suggestive of when to begin intermediate.

    These markers are organic and fluid, meaning someone who practices 6x/week and has tighter hips but a limber back may move into second sooner simply because they have a bendier back and can handle those postures.

    If someone wanted to explore backbending, I would suggest performing 30/day, or 50/day or 108/day. Three months and the back will change big time.

    Outside this tradition (Iyengar, Anusara, Shadow) there is no compunction about performing lots of urdvha dhanurasana, though I don’t know if they have the rigor to do more volume on daily basis. 108 dropbacks, 108 tick-tocks, etc.

    This was pre-broke foot foot.

  8. Did Tim really say that about strength and flexibility? Cool! I am a big believer in strengthening to address tightness. I see over and over and over people just stretching tight stuff when they should be finding the underlying weakness. Since we seem to have got onto transitioning to second, have you seen Kino’s video on how you know you’re ready? A few of the above benchmarks come up, but I remember she includes padangustasana – which is a lot about strength and not just flexibility. I agree with whoever above said it definitely cannot just be about drop-backs.

    Original question, if you want to sneak some steak once a week, I’d go with working on the jump throughs – always makes me ravenous 🙂

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