Finding Second in First, Part Second

When we last left First Series, I was mulling over the foundation work that it gives you for the Second Series poses. One of the many amazing things about the Ashtanga sequence is the variety and range it asks of the body, and how over time you gain a kind of knowledge, a new awareness of connections. I like to think this means I’ve become less attached to each pose; the kapotasana drama is gone, now that I can see it in its full context, for instance. (Links to First and Second for reference.)

But before I continue, I’d like to emphasize the very different purposes of First and Second. “Nadi shodhana”—“nerve cleansing” is the name of Second. “Yoga chikitsa” is what we call First: “yoga therapy.” While First will encourage health and endurance, the viyasas and asanas of Second are deeper and subtle in their effects. I’m just beginning to understand the ways the two knit together. It’s not as…well, gross as this makes it sounds.

In any case, to continue:

Paschimatanasana B—I suppose you could say that all the forward folds of First are preparing you for the extreme forward folds of Second. But eleven years of forward folds were hard on me, and my hamstrings found their limit pretty early on. When Tim and Maria Zavala freed me to complete second, I learned many things about First, some surprising. I learned that if I rotated my shoulders down in paschimatanasna B, I could open up the space in between my shoulder blades if I also used the bind to pull. This helped me in kapotasana, but also to get the correct shoulder rotation (external) in pinch mayurasana, vatayanasana, gomukhasana B, and backbends.

Purvotanasana—Is of course a way to learn to actively curve the lumbar and cervical vertebrae, so a great help in shalabhasana, bhekasana, and dhanurasana and—most especially for me—parsva dhanurasana. Actively resisting the floor in purvotanasana involves a kind of equal yet opposite movement when you’re pulling on your ankles and resisting with the legs. The strength will also helpful for that upward lift you need in mayurasana.

Ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana—Like the standing version, of great help in vatayanasana. But the more comfortable you are in half-lotus, the more comfortable you will be doing one leg at a time in karandavasana.

Trianga mukhaikapda paschimottanasana—The pose with the name you can dance to will help you with both krounchasana and bhekasana. That dynamic knee/hip relationship is a tough one, and the source of many Ashtanga injuries. Using this pose to help develop internal rotation of the hip (as opposed to the knee!) will, in Patanjali’s words, help you avoid “future suffering.” Trianga is also of use in bharadvajasana and supta urdhva pada vajrasana where the leg is in the exact same fold.

Janu Sirshasana—In all the “janus,” I appreciate the lateral stretch. Very useful in eka and dwi pada, but also in tittibasana B.

Marishasana B—Dropping the knee down in half-lotus is a lesson for vatayanasana.

Marishasana C—The bind will teach you the correct shoulder rotation for the bind in pashasana. The twist in the upper torso and drishti is essentially the same, and feels familiar. Also true in:

Marishasana D—Many lessons here for Second, but you get them rather simultaneously in D: shoulder rotation for binding in pashasana and the hip opening needed for vatayanasana. There’s also a balance lesson in D: maintaining the center while in awkward positions, something that happens often in Second.

Navasana—This may sound nuts, but I think the internal leg rotation and stress on bandha relationships here helped me build strength for laghuvajrasana.

Lolasana—Added bonus: The pick up between navasanas will help you build strength for the pick up after eka pada and dwi pada sirsanana B.

Bujapidasana—Very useful for tittibhasana A, as well at the transitions, making the entrance and exit seem familiar and secure.

Kurmasana—If it hadn’t been for my long and frustrating struggle with this pose, and for all the squashing I received from my teachers, I certainly would not feel as comfortable as I do now in eka pada and dwi pada, as well as the tittibasana series. Learning to situate and actually use the leg and hip actively in this pose was very therapeutic for me.

Supta kurmasana—Hello, dwi pada sirsasana and yoginidrasana. I know there’s some discussion over whether or not you should pause and sit up, and put yourself into supta. I’m in the very fervent yes, you should try camp, because that’s exactly what you do in dwi pada. Also, the bind helps to make tittibhasana B and C seem less…weird.

Ubhaya padangusthasana A and B—Both assist with supta urdhva pada vajrasana because of the swing up into the pose, holding balance.

In the closing sequence, urdhva padmasana gives you the opportunity to learn to fold into lotus without using your hands. Years ago, there was a sub in my regular led First class who taught us this skill. I don’t remember her name, but I am eternally grateful: Although the balance is totally different, it made karandavasana possible.

Pindasana—Feeling my heels planted firmly in my hips in this pose also made folding into karandavasana possible, and helped with supta urdhva pada vajrasana.

Sirsasana—Of course, it may seem obvious that headstand will prepare you for headstand. But the longer you remain in sirsasana in the closing sequence, the better. There are seven headstands at the end of Second, and you need the neck strength, but also the security of your balance. Tim often adds “urdhvasirsasana—pushing the arms into the floor so firmly, the head comes off the floor—this was very helpful to me when the time came to combine the seven headstands with the movement involved in a vinyasa count. And ardha sirsasana helped build strength for the transitions between the seven.

Baddha padmasana—Getting comfortable with the bind here will help you in supta vajrasna, as will the ability to hold that bind into yogamudra.

So there it is. All this being said, the relationship between these two series, I believe, is not linear. It’s dynamic, and First can be found in Second just as well.

Posted by Bobbie






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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

2 thoughts on “Finding Second in First, Part Second”

  1. These are great observations and I’ve recently had the same experience: they are not linear progressions, but all part of each other and all necessary. I’ve been surprised over the past year at how much practicing Second has informed and deepened my understanding of the first series, which I though I had down pat after so many years of doing it. I love that about the practice – there is always, always room to deepen.

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