Some thoughts on holding students back in Ashtanga

I teach freshmen writing. It’s part of my job, at the end of each term, to judge the performance of each writer, and decide on a grade. For a few, every term, the grade is not good. They have “failed.” It can be a hard thing to explain to them, but I try to put it the way actually think of it: You’re just not ready to move on, I say. If I passed you out of pity, you’d have a really hard time in the next class, and maybe for the rest of your writing career. By holding you back, I’m really helping you–It’s not failure; it’s a second chance.

Very often, the decision is more complex than the matter of the grade. The student has shown diligence, and a strong ability to improve—to listen, to learn, to apply. The grade may not reflect the level of ability. It requires a lot of experience to make that call: to hold them back, or let them move forward in spite of the grade. It also requires a deep understanding of the student, so that you can judge their performance individually while at the same time respecting your own standards. But I’m not a robot. I can make that call.

You see where I’m going: I understand the reasons for holding students back. It’s been the source of my patience in Ashtanga, spending the first few years in led First Series classes, then a couple more in Mysore-style, before getting the first part of Second, all the way up to the wall that was kapotasana—a four-and-a-half-year wall (I was, in fact, counting).

Now that I’ve been doing a Second Series practice (in its entirety) for five months, I’m beginning to question the philosophy that holds students back in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

I’ve been pondering this post for a long time. There’s a hefty dose of respect we have for our teachers, and we hesitate to question their wisdom. We feel an immense sense of gratitude for what they’ve given us, and don’t want to seem ungrateful. We’ve also been taught that grasping after the next pose is a form of Western egotism that we should quash. And quash we do.

But, as I said, I’ve been thinking about this a long time. When I first signed on for Tim Miller’s Second Series training, I sought help preparing. There was a strong voice inside, telling me it was the right thing to do. And Tim had told me to come.

But my daily practice is in Los Angeles, not Encinitas. I’ve had to find and take Ashtanga where I could, householder that I am. After all my time working on kapotasana, I asked, what am I being held back for? I realize I can barely touch my toes, even with assistance. Some days, not even that. “I want you to be more stable,” I was told. Sthira. Right. I understand. But I also know I don’t have a disk at L4/5. I have no internal rotation. Just repeating the pose will not fix any of those things. It will only, ever, be so sthira. Shouldn’t I be working on sukkham?

When I finally gave up waiting for stability, I sought the advice of a teacher who would help me find contentment. Tim Miller told me to come to the training. Maria Zavala, Tim’s student, offered to teach me the series. I’ve been practicing with Maria for years. She knew me. She knew my practice. She taught me the poses. All of them.

I learned, in other words, the way those first American students in Mysore did: In a small class, under the careful scrutiny of a single teacher with experience, who knew where my limits were, and taught me to move beyond them rather than fixate on them. I just did the poses. And the benefits were immediate and enormous. My back got stronger. Range of motion increased. It was like the door to my pain closed.

So, back to my pondering. I believe that when a student is practicing in good faith, with the correct motivation and method, he or she should be granted the blessing of the range of motion the practice can give.

I also believe students are held so long at one pose partly because teachers have too many students to know the intimate details of any given student’s practice. This makes it easier to hold them back than to advance them, or vice versa: To advance them just to satisfy the student rather than take the time to teach them the small nuances of the practice. I’ve seen both extremes. Both are result of a high student/teacher ratio. I’m not saying that it’s not possible; I’ve seen Tim work a room of 40—exhausting to watch. I’m just saying the ability to do so effectively is rare.

I also believe that holding students back too long actually fetishises the pose they’re stopped at, making it a colossal battle with the ego and over-inflating the importance of that pose by taking it out of the overall context of the sequence. It dumbs down all the poses leading up to it (that creeping sense of dread, followed by that Pavlovian eagerness to see if today’s version was “good enough” to move on).

I’ll take this one step further and say that the contrast between the speed of learning First and the slowness of learning Second also grants Second Series an unnatural and even unhealthy air of elitism–that somehow your practice is above or beyond those still “stuck” in First. William Blake said that “Prisons are built with stones of Law.” By withholding Second from students too long, you endow Second artificially with the very quality you’re attempting to overcome as a yogi. And related to my previous point, it saps a lot of the crucial importance of First Series.

Even being “given” the next pose, in the language we use, encourages this obsession, defeating one of the main benefits of Ashtanga—the “yoga mala,” continuity of breath and focus. We should, of course, say instead, “My teacher taught me the next pose.” That’s just not the way we frame it. It’s given, like a gift, or a wish fulfilled. That’s not Ashtanga.

After I passed kapotasana, my entire practice changed, my awareness changed, and I grew stronger. My attitude toward my practice has come back into alignment with the way I felt at the very beginning of my study.

Since then, though, I’ve also had to deal with feelings of anger and resentment—I’ve suffered injuries in the past, I now know, because I lacked the strength and range that Second Series would have given me. The poses following kapotasana have improved the quality of kapotasana itself. And of particular note is the freedom from chronic pain, the first time in fifteen years. It’s difficult not to feel angry.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. But the evidence against the wider practice among many teachers of holding students back for years is now everywhere for me to see, as if my submission made me blind to it. There was David Swenson’s book, one of the first yoga texts I purchased, although I never dared to even look at the Second Series pages. Clearly, David Swenson believes in the therapeutic value of nadi shodana, even in a highly modified form. He also said this at the first Confluence.

Nancy Gilgoff teaches in her workshops that she believes many Ashtanga injuries are mostly caused by students being held back too long in First. You need only think of the contrast between her and David Williams to understand—she speaks of Guruji having to hold her up in poses, with his own physical strength, yet she advanced, and was healed. Tim Miller says frankly that he does not believe in holding students back, as does David Garrigues. There are many senior teachers out there who don’t subscribe to holding a dedicated practioner back for extended periods of time, including my teacher Diana Christinson, who gave me the Second Series backbends even when I was unable to do all of First. Where did draconian aspect of the practice come from?

I remember David Williams—and Nancy Gilgoff—talking about going back to Guruji and getting, basically, a pose a day. Tim, under the tutelage of Brad Ramsey, was doing Third Series in a matter of months. Granted, these were extremely eager and focused students. But you also get the feeling that is was also the level of attention they received was at work, the eagerness of the teacher to teach. It seems to me that if Guruji could get you into the pose, you moved on. It’s hard to imagine the level of effort it would require to get 40 (much less 300) students into their most difficult poses every day, and to know each students’ practice so intimately.

I hope that this little manifesto helps others rather than steps on toes. During my two weeks in Encinitas with Tim, I practiced every day next to folks who had said to me, “I’m stopped at [insert the name of your pose here], but I come here, and Tim lets me practice.” So, I guess that’s my real purpose here. To appeal to those teachers who are withholding permission to find a way to teach through the limitations, to what Tim calls “the other side of surrender.”

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

49 thoughts on “Some thoughts on holding students back in Ashtanga”

  1. “Nancy Gilgoff teaches in her workshops that she believes many Ashtanga injuries are mostly caused by students being held back too long in First.”

    Very silly, in my opinion. Many Ashtanga injuries are caused by students trying to do poses that are beyond them, encouraged by Ashtanga teachers who tell them they should do the poses.

    I thought about this a lot today, as I attended class. I am an elderly but veteran ashtangi with osteoporosis and an artificial hip. Many of you would say I should not be practicing ashtanga. Anyway, I was doing headstand against the wall, and Teacher came up and asked “why do you need the wall?” I said it was because I was afraid of falling. Teacher wants me to wean myself from the wall. I have actually had teachers say that “you must conquer your fear of falling.”

    I have osteoporosis. If I fell out of headstand, my hip would shatter into a thousand pieces. Do yoga teachers ever learn about illnesses of older students, or even care?

    1. Nancy Gilgoff, of course, is an “older” practitioner, and is very sensitive to the concept of a lifetime practice. Her rationale for her comment is the large number of forward folds (a source of back injuries) and the lack of stretching for the internal rotators (the source of knee inures) that are both present in second.

      David Swenson’s book is full of modifications for Second Series. This is exactly my point, Susan. It requires awareness of your individual practice, not just a dogmatic rule (“never use the wall”) to make the practice a unified whole for you.

    2. Susan, I think using a wall for sirsana in your case – when a teacher is not available to assist you – is a very wise, honest choice and you should definitely listen to the clear consciousness that is telling you to modify this way. Wisdom and compassion, not ego (neither ours nor a teachers!) should lead us as we age in the practice.

      And, btw, I most definitely think you should be practicing Ashtanga – I hope to be able to do it for as long as possible, too, so you inspire me!

    3. Susan, I also have osteoporosis and have had it since my early 40’s (I’m 53 now) and I also have fears similar to yours. Luckily, I trust my teacher when she makes adjustments on me, but I also let her know when I need not to be pushed too hard. As far as being given more poses, I am currently at Supta Kurmasana and am happy to stay there when I am in class. But when I practice at home I add other poses (some from 2nd series!) to make sure I am getting enough variety in my range of movement. Too many forward bends for an osteoporotic spine is even more dangerous than back bends due to the compression on the front side of the vertebrae. You should do whatever makes YOU comfortable! People seems to forget that the practice belongs to the practitioner, NOT to the teacher. Ashtangi’s need to own their practice and not buy into the dogmatic teaching style that is common in this practice.

  2. I agree that it takes really knowing a student and the system, before the decision is made to hold back or move on. And it may be true that there are more injuries in students who are held in Primary too long… but what is the source of the injury? Could it be that they haven’t quite figured out the true essence of the Primary Series and it’s intelligence. They are, perhaps caught up in the physicality of “going deeper” rather than the calm, steadiness that the asana should bring – regardless if it’s the full physical expression. Rather than have a student push through their “block” to try forcing some type of opening that is being fed by the ego in the hopes of “moving on”, the focus is, perhaps, better spent on the depth, stability and stillness in the asanas that come before it. Sometimes what’s best is to take a temporary step backwards, before moving forward. Doing less, rather than more. This requires knowledge of the individual’s practice history and, a good amount of non-attachment on the student’s part.
    There is much opening that can come from second; a good amount of which is only safely possible if the keys of first have been discovered by the student. I think the underlying principle, that maybe has been lost in large class sizes and mechanical teaching is – Every student IS different. Strict adherence to a check list of physical performance indicators does not serve every student well, neither does moving them on when they are not ready. A deep understanding of the system as a whole, and a relationship with the student is, your right, required to make that call.

    1. It’s always seemed fairly clear to me, Arielle, when a student is doing First Series in good faith, and when a student is doing First Series in a grasping sort of way. “A deep understanding of the system as a whole” is a really good way to put it. This does not really require something like grabbing the toe in trikonasana, does it? Good thoughts.

  3. Bobbie, I am so glad you took the time – and had the courage – to write about it so thoughtfully and with such honesty. Thank you. I concur! Nancy is one of my teachers, and maybe because she, and most of the other teachers I’ve studied with, were “old school” I wasn’t held back in my practice. Starting Second before I “mastered” Primary definitely strengthened my back and abs, and helped my Primary series open up and improve. It definitely saved my hips from the damage that was already starting from six years of just doing Led Full Primary (and which I am still working to heal), so I am grateful.

    I work alone most of the time, so the “teacher” that consistently holds me back and humbles me is my body, which can get frustrating, humbling, and depressing. I have postures that have taken me literally years to “get.” But, this has taught me to really listen to my body, and also to differentiate between my mind – my small self – and the clear consciousness in me that is wise, compassionate, and honest.

    I tell my students, “We are all snowflakes: we’re all different from one another” to help them get beyond the idea that they have to “look” a certain way to be doing the practice. It’s more about the internal energy of the postures, and the therapeutic intent of the forms in that moment, and the quality of the breath, that “makes or breaks” the posture for me, that tells me that a student is ready to “move on” when I teach.

    1. And, the series work for most humans, but, not all humans are built alike. A young, 20-something dancer will have a completely different practice than that of a 60+ person with 40 more years of wear and tear on their body. So, if we have to modify, because of the way our body is made or if it’s injured, or aging, then we should modify. It’s a yoga posture, a tool, the means to an end, and not the end in and of itself. But, I do think the modification should approach or address the intent behind the posture for it to be helpful and/or meaningful.

      (Hence, Susan, I think using a wall for sirsana – when a teacher is not available to assist you – is a very wise, honest choice and you should definitely listen to the clear consciousness that is telling you to modify this way. Wisdom, not ego, should lead us as we age in the practice. And, btw, I most definitely think you should be practicing Ashtanga – I hope to be able to do it for as long as possible, too, so you inspire me!)

      But, we should also know when to say when in our practice. And, sometimes, we don’t, because ego gets in the way and we haven’t learned to listen to our wise, compassionate, sometimes brutally honest consciousness.

      In other words, sometimes, even a modification isn’t beneficial, and students need to be held back from hurting themselves or working too deeply or beyond their ability. As a teacher, it is difficult to put limitations on someone, to tell them to back off or to stop and close, especially when they want to do “more.” But, sometimes, you have to do it, for their sake. Generally, I stop students when I know they have had enough, even if they don’t think so, with a simple, “That’s enough for today.” There’s benefit in learning patience and perseverance – and humility, too.

      So, I always hope that teachers who hold back students are doing it from ahimsa, compassion, and not because it’s the way they were taught, or because they get too busy in the Mysore room.

      Or, maybe folks should start studying privately more often with their teachers, to get some personalized attention, some strategies and help needed to deepen their practice, perhaps? And, if Mysore rooms are that busy, then maybe the studios need to add a few qualified assistants, too, so that students get the attention they need and deserve!

  4. I don’t like your wording. It is not “holding someone back”. They are where they are. They are just not ready to get another pose for whatever reason. The term “holding back” infers that a person is indeed ready but not being allowed to move on.

  5. The student picks the teacher, no? If there is no trust in the teacher’s judgement, move on. Mine was kept in first for seven years, and a similar number of years in second. Her practice is impeccable. I think she knows better than I do, no matter how many students in her Mysore room. This whole obsession with which asanas we must have to find peace is just silly. We should skip a difficult asana so as to not get injured, obsessed, or otherwise traumatized when we could simply stop there for a while? Peter Sanson says start out with Surya A every morning and just observe how that is going. If it goes well move on to B and then take it from there, 1 asana at a time. Every day. One should not think of the practice as a series that is either complete or incomplete. More important than moving beyond asana x is to enjoy the practice as it happens to unfold on that day. And to be patient. Most asana related injuries, in any series, can be traced back to impatience in one way or other. 

  6. I’m torn. For one I think that you should trust your teacher. You should feel truly safe with him/her and then you should trust the decisions, wether you like them or not.
    That being said: I don’t think that practicing only Primary for a long time is healthy or balanced. I think you need second series as a counterpart for Primary, wether it’s modified or not. Some students may physically be stuck in Primary for years, because they can’t bind in Mary D or whatever and I don’t believe that’s the way to go. Some students need to modify, some students need to skip certain postures and so on…
    I think it’s all fine as long you, despite all modifcations, remain true to the tradition and progress and grow with it.

      1. Thank you for this post. I think there is a tendency, for those who believe we should follow the rigid system and stay in primary for years or be “held back” at Mari D or dropbacks for months or years, to conflate wanting to move on because of ego with the goal of asana as a healing modality (the way it was taught by Krishnamacharya and by SKPJ). When those teachers taught one-on-one, they modified which asanas should be practised depending on the individual and their needs.

        If you are either 1)practising at home and intuitive enough to know that you could really use some simple backbends from Second Series every other day, or 2)practising with a teacher who has enough time to know your body well, then why not practise Primary and Second fairly early on? The first few poses in Second (at least up to Ustrasana) are not super challenging. They are immensely helpful and counter-balancing to Primary.

        Common sense tells us that doing only forward bends for years is not going to be healthy or balancing. It is a small proportion of people who are wanting to move on because of “ego” or “competitiveness”. That is not what this post is about at all.

        I read the following in a blog describing a Nancy Gilgoff workshop [http://www.alanlittle.org/yoga/munich/nancy.html]. It is very helpful and I intend to follow it as a 10 year yoga practitioner:

        “Nancy believes students who know primary series should start intermediate quite early. Says just doing primary for years can be unhealthy: lower back is always geting stretched out by all the forward bending without enough strengthening to compensate; hips don’t get opened enough to really keep the knees safe. Early part of second series – at least to ustrasana, or to leg-behind-head – is very important for knee and back safety. Opens the hips & quads, strengthens the lumbar. She and David Williams learned both primary and intermediate at the same time on their first visit to Mysore, and had completed both in four months (practicing twice a day)

        Says she asked Guruji a couple of years ago if she should carry on teaching as she first learned – move students on to second series quickly; or as he is teaching now – students stay on primary series for a long time until they are very proficient at it and can stand up from urdhva dhanurasana. He said she should carry on as she originally learned. She recommends, once you can get through primary reasonably well (knee on the floor in marichy b & d is important), starting to learn some of intermediate. Either do all of primary, and intermediate to ustrasana; or if you don’t have time for that, do half of primary to navasana, then first half of intermediate & second half of primary alternate days. (Don’t stop doing second half of primary though, it’s important)

  7. Thank you Bobbi, for an excellent and well-written post. I studied with a teacher for years who kept me in Primary because I couldn’t stand up from back bend, and we all know that Primary Series isn’t exactly the greatest for backbends! Since completing Tim’s second series teacher training, I’m also doing the full series, and it feels so much better to do the whole thing instead of stopping at a pose that is the most difficult. Leaves me with a sense of holistic well being and more happiness, which is so nice.

  8. This is very interesting. I think it is dangerous for teachers to have rigid, blind faith in “The Sequence” to the point of ignoring the reality of students’ bodies. While faith in the Ashtanga System is admirable, it should not be absolute, and should ideally exist along with an awareness of individual students’ needs. There has to be a balance.

    Just because the sequence worked for the teacher’s body doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. The only way to know this is through teaching experience, but experience must come from being attuned to the students, not from rigidity and absolute adherence to “The System”.

    I have been through many injuries, but at first I held faith in the sequence, because I was taught that by sticking to the (primary) series all injuries would eventually be healed. After a year of the injuries becoming more severe, and more frequent, I stopped believing this.

    Ashtanga should be a healing practice. To adjust the sequences to suit my body, I’ve modified two poses in primary and added in a few backbending poses of second, avoiding dropbacks, as they are too extreme for the condition of my low back at the moment. The need for such a sequence has led me to find a teacher who accepts and encourages this sort of flexibility. I finally feel whole in my practice again — I have regained the intelligence and awareness that makes the practice a psychologically, physically, and spiritually healing practice.

    While I appreciate the Ashtanga system, as it really has changed my life, I find sticking to it with blind determination to be very dangerous. It’s not for everybody, and teachers (and practitioners) need to know when to recognize this.

  9. Thank you for your post. It comes at a good time for me – my teacher mentioned I’d move to kapotasana next month. It’s helpful to read about other people’s experiences.

  10. “By withholding Second from students too long, you endow Second artificially with the very quality you’re attempting to overcome as a yogi.”

    Let’s remind ourselves what that thing is, that the Ashtanga system tells us to overcome: our mis-identification with prakrti, our failure to realize ourselves as purusha. All told, purusha doesn’t care what series you’re doing. It seems to me that it is the intention of this asana system that practically everyone will get stuck before the end of sixth series.

    Though, that’s cold comfort for those of us who get on the mat and swing between hope and despair, asking “why do I do this?” Arielle’s comment about judging when the practice is done in good faith reflects a critical attribute for teachers. Someone who can assess students’ ability, whether they practice with good effort and intention, when they have derived *some* benefit, when they practice with integrity — that is a teacher who will probably merit one’s trust. Other teachers who pedantically apply a materialistic and inflexible list of criteria for advancement, those are the ones who contribute to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga’s reputation for being “dogmatic.” More power to you Bobbie, for making the effort to take ownership of your practice while staying true to Guruji’s method.

    One side note that I’d like to mention: the sciences of psychology and neurobiology have established that one of the key components of addiction is the randomization of rewards for the addictive behavior. That resonate with anyone?

  11. Thanks for posting Bobbie, and I’m so glad that you’ve moved on. Noah “taught” 😉 me a lot of postures this summer and I am feeling so much better and stronger and centered. I’m really happy that you are too! Tim and Noah and Maria….good stuff, man!

  12. Thanks for the interesting post and discussion! Much of what was said here resonates with my experience as a householder (ex) Ashtangi in a remote area who didn’t have regular access to a teacher. I practiced only Primary for 3 years and it exacerbated imbalances in my body. Finally I worked with an experienced yoga therapist and stopped practicing exclusively Ashtanga in favour of something that was more balancing for my body. The result is significant improvement in my posture and reduced shoulder pain – hooray!

  13. thanks for this post. I’ve only started committing to primary series for a year now. Earlier on it was a physical practice, and I got too greedy and injured myself quite badly in trying to achieve the poses. I’ve since then dedicated myself to fully immerse in primary series in a mindful way. Of course, the need to ‘try’ second series is sometimes present but I’ve always held it back, telling myself to focus on ‘mastering’ Primary.

    However, since I do a home practice and only have access to a teacher when a visiting ashtanga teacher comes to my country, I wonder if for that reason I may be forever stuck in doing primary. I am currently having the mindset of mastering the dropback to proceed to second, but reading comments on how their own practice flourishes after learning second makes me wonder if I should, slowly and carefully attempt the early backbending series in intermediate.

    I guess it all boils down to mindful mindful practice. I would know when to attempt it when it comes.

    1. Hello, Nadia. I can only speak for myself, and the great benefits those backbends had for my practice. But I can say that a number of senior teachers–Tim included–do not use the dropback and standing up as the bar to second series. I can’t stand up from backbends, and may never be able to. But second has made me feel like one day that might be possible. Stay mindful!

  14. “Fetishizing” poses, by insistence on perfection to the point of obsession, is something my former teacher Christopher spoke of as a danger. He always emphasized vinyasa. Not the the poses weren’t important, but they were secondary. He gave a student as much as they could handle and, contrary to many, was energized by a full room rather than depleted.

    I think the style has to do where the teacher mainly learned, small Shala or big. I’m talking Command Central. Once it got large, attentions were less personal and rules got much more rigid. In the beginning, they moved students along quickly, being available to help where necessary.

  15. Sometimes teachers are impediments to the creation of art or anything for that matter. When you are starting a business you should never tell anyone your plans because they will try and talk you out of it. I think our own bodies can tell us when it’s time to move on. I think everyone practicing has moments of when you finally can get into a new pose so we know we are improving. It’s true a wise teacher might be able to look at our practice and through there experience know we are ready to move on when we don’t. I think you can get addicted to practicing in a shala and the guidance. An artist just needs to write, paint, play the music etc. they don’t need permission from anyone. There are a million stories of academic failures who turn their backs on institutions only to become world famous. Many artists believe you should never have formal education because it will stifle your creativity and you will regurgitate information whatever the medium. From my experience the main thing is to do it. To sit and write, to sit and paint, practice asana, play your instrument. YOu don’t need permission from anyone but the universe and yourself. Some of the worst artists have the highest degrees and some of the best come from the streets and experience. To know yourself, not do what others think you should do and do it is the key to success. I was not struck by lightning when I put on my series 2 dvd and started practicing along with it. In fact it let me know that I really have to have a practice during the week that really works my spine and hips much more and a lot less shoulder strengthening. I really want to open myself up physically and the primary series done the regular way is working but not completely the way I need. Isn’t it about what we need individually in our practice rather than as a whole in the community? IF your practice is working for you the traditional way great and if not change it. Artists make art out of mistakes and are shot into new realms and trajectory through experimentation. The same can be true with asana practice. I read in Ganga White’s book and in it he states he sometimes does a completely improvised practice. What a concept just flowing with your breath doing what calls you. You can use all your learned skill in a completely intuitive way like improvising music, visual art, or even poetry just go for it and why not? I really love doing the ashtanga practice but lately I have been doing a vinyasa krama practice every other day created to just work on the parts of my body I need to work on like my hips and spine, breath etc. Just go for it, try new things, come back to your practice it all transfers into your daily life and how you deal with the twists and turns. Spontaneity, improvisation, just let it flow and surprise yourself. You never know what you can do until try.

  16. Realise you wrote this a while ago but just wanted to say thank you for sharing. Great article and gave me a lot to think about.
    Thank you for sharing

  17. Thank you for writing and sharing this article!!! Interestingly it basically says everything I have been “feeling” lately.
    Perhaps it”s crowd control, perhaps it’s a lack of wisdom and maybe a little bit of a lack of truly knowing your students bodies. Regardless I see the need for Ashtanga to go back to it’s true roots where teachers “know” their students bodies, what is best for them individually and get away from purely the strict “mechanics” of it.

  18. I’ve switched teachers like a traffic light during rush hour. Well maybe not that much. Dharma Mittra often says even the worst teacher has something to teach you. Also, not attaching to the benefits of practice (or which pose we can or cannot do). The balance necessary to have a solid practice isn’t just moving pose to pose. Like art you know it when you see it. When flexibility is not our friend we may tune into the breath or other “unnamed by-products” that make the practice more delightful. I think that flexible practioners in the early years of their practice don’t have that advantage to accessing the benefits of the “other side” as readily as the inflexible.

    I think there should be more lead 2nd series classes that students can go to as a framework for starting the second series. Like how most of us got into first. I taught myself second and am still officially haven’t been given the last pose in first. Ha!

    I now have an exclusive home practice without teacher adjustments and I think the experience connects you to spirit more freely (the Iyengar method is about coming to class and having your home practice develop and explore what you learnt).

    In the end, what’s most important is the doing and not what you doing!

  19. One could easily fill a textbook of scenarios where it would be wise to add some of the postures from Second to an individuals practice, even if they haven’t completed Primary. Anyone who is doing Suryanamaskara A could benefit from Shalabasana A & B — they refine and build foundations for Chaturanga and Urdhva Mukha to work well… On the flip side, take a hypermobile student who can easily wiggle and flop around through second series, but lacks any connection to the central axis — lots of good arguments for stripping that persons practice back down to primary for a while for grounding effects of six navasana! The series are great tools, but so many testimonies from senior students who learned under Guruji tells us he wasn’t as rigid as we imagine the series to be! Outside of formal practice, it can be so beneficial to explore a bit more variety on your own — all movements are sacred 😉

  20. Thank you for this thoughtful sharing of your experience in the practice. I’ve had the primary problem for 8 years and i was finally given the first 6 of intermediate at the conference in Bali. Now I need to find a teacher to keep going back to.

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