Filed under ‘Things I Wish I’d Known’: Finding the Second in First

During a recent shall we say “work slow down” with practice, I lost some strength and I lost some nerve. As I previously observed, with my keen grasp of the obvious, Ashtanga is hard. (I hear David Swenson’s voice in my head sometimes, doing his fantastic Guruji imitation: “Yo-GA is HARD!”) So as I began to get back to a regular routine, I took refuge in First Series.*

This is because I’m relatively new to Second Series. Long story. But in any case, I’m still summoning courage for the Big Players in Second, and spent a few weeks telling myself I wasn’t ready to get back to it yet. “Avoidance is not the answer,” says Tim Miller. Nonetheless, I avoided. While I was avoiding, I learned a few things about the way First prepares you for Second. I filed them away as I practiced, and I thought I’d pass them along.

Steve will laugh at me for the suggestion that Second is there. “I’ll never do Second,” he’ll say—not unlike myself a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean that the benefits of Second are not in these poses, and I very much wish I’d known it when I was only doing the Primary.

I’m sure some of you will think this is obvious; but it was a fascinating discovery to me, and enriched First even more—just when I thought that wasn’t possible. So, without further ado, here’s a list of where I found the seeds of Second in First. I’ll be breaking this into two parts, standing and seated. For those of you a little rusty with the Sanskrit, or unfamiliar with the poses, here’s chart of First, and another of Second, thanks to the continuously useful website of Ernst Bisaev.

Suryanamaskara A—The way you do urdva muka savasana can make all the difference in all of the backbends in second—it’s here that you have a chance to awaken all the muscles of the back part of the spine, shoulder blades, and ribs. Also, the focus you put on the tops of your feet (extending, stretching, and rolling over them in transition) will help you open your ankles for bekhasana, ustrasana, laghuvajrasana, and kapotasana. In all of those poses (except bekhasana, which also opens the ankle), open ankles mean more shin on the floor, more grounding and stability.

Suryanamaskara B—In that crouch into utkatasana, you will be opening your Achilles tendons for pashasana. The same is true for the hip flexor, if you’re very aware of flexing and reaching as you step back—a la ajanyeasana.

Parivritta Trikonasana—You’ll need more room in that IT band and lateral muscles when you go to put your foot behind your head in eka pada sirsasana, dwi pada, and yoganidrasana. But you’ll also get a chance to prepare in ardha matsyendrasana, which means in a way you’re preparing now, in parivritta trikonasana.

Utthita Parsvakonasana—This one may be totally idiosyncratic to me, but I’m grateful to this pose in dwi pada. I frequently feel a lateral stretch that extends all the way across my low back, especially when adjusted—the source of much healing. Also, it’s given me more mobility in parighasana.

Parivritta parsvakonasana—Hello, pashasana! Once you can keep that shinbone vertical and still get the back of the shoulder on the outside of the knee, you can feel how this pose will help you later.

Prasarita padottanasana A-D—I’m very grateful to Tim’s stress of the head making contact with the floor, or until the floor, a block. And I’m also grateful that I learned to use the floor with my head, to push. This helped to strengthen my neck for the seven headstands that end Second. Your hands are actually in the same position in prasarita A as in mukta hasta sirsasana A.

Words to live by while practicing.
Words to live by while practicing.

Now, here’s where the wonderful research at Tim Miller’s shala has been of great benefit to me. Those of you who have practiced in Tim’s Mysore classes know that he allows his students to integrate hanumanasana and samakonasana into the practice after prasarita padottanasana. Neither of these are Second Series poses, but they have helped me a great deal in both First and Second, as well as therapeutically. I have a lot of trouble with the sacrum/hip relationship (I suffered from chronic bursitis in both hips for four years before Ashtanga), and integrating samakonasana and hanumanasana has helped with a wide range of poses, including unexpected things, like the tittibasana sequence.

If you are unfamiliar with it, Tim follows a logical breath sequence, samakonasana, hanumanasana right, samakonasana, hanumanasana left, samakonasana one more time, then standing. Fly, monkey, fly!

Parsvottanasana—The squared hip and forward leg stretch have helped me keep my torso stable in eka and dwi pada. And don’t forget that bonus IT band action.

Ardha badda padmotanasana—The dynamics of this pose are different from the seated version, and will serve you well in vatayanasana, especially its entrance and exit, but also in the transition from right to left, when you must fold into ardha badda from down dog. This is really true if you’ve learned to push your heel into the hip for a bonus lock.

Utkatasana—Once again, here’s your chance to find pashasana. But I’ve also discovered that the required drop and spread of the shoulder blades here and in virbhadrasana A help prepare for the shoulder rotation awareness required in kapotasana.

The “up” exit from utkatasana is interpreted a variety of ways, but in Tim Miller’s class it’s bakasana for the inhale, then shooting back for the exhale. It should be no shock that this will prepare you for…bakasana.

(Tim also teaches an eka pada bakasana exit from virbhadrasana B—that’s a Third Series pose. And while we may be getting ahead of ourselves, I always do this transition because my sacrum releases—a great relief!)

Part 2 tomorrow!

Posted by Bobbie

* I’d like to dodge the whole “First vs. Primary” name controversy if possible, but I will say that I prefer the number choice, simply because they’re more ambiguous, less hierarchical. Others may dislike them for the same reason.

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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