Doing all of Ashtanga’s First and Second — with a little mod here and there

I used to love — looooove — Sunday moon days.

A great day to sleep in. More time to do something fun: a museum, the beach, a nice lunch, maybe a rigorous hike if I was feeling in the athletic mood.

Now, I hate them. Sunday is too good a day to get in a full, lengthy, intensive Ashtanga practice. Other days in the week just can’t compete.

(I’m 100% sure this change in heart came with my home practice. A big benefit of paying to go to a Mysore space is you’re paying and therefore need to ring all your money’s worth.)

So this past Sunday wasn’t a day of rest in our house. Just the opposite. It turned out to be an opportunity for me to do all of First and Second for the first time.

With a few modifications here and there because stiff.

It happened because Bobbie was going to do both, and so she said, essentially: “Why don’t you do them, too?”

Why didn’t I come up with a good response?

Here are a few impressions and takeaways. Keep in mind, I’ve been doing some parts of Second for a while (frequently after all of First) but some of the poses late in Second aren’t ones I’ve done outside, maybe, of an improv class here or there:

  • The overriding one is how the different twists — Bharadvajasana and Ardha Matsyendrasana, Parighasana and Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana — fit into the series. We’ve talked — lots of people talk — about the intelligence of the Ashtanga sequence, and I’ve always seen the focus as being on the balance of it — mainly folding forwarding and bending back. But it’s these pauses to adjust the body via these twists, I think (as of today, but thinking subject to change), that really is a key to why it all works. I’m not experienced enough to say why, exactly. It might just be the nature of the pause I mentioned already; it might be the change in direction. I’m trying to think how the twists in First work, as well — and how all of them, in their place, function collectively.
  • Hey, yeah, Karandavasana is tough. Who knew? (Oh, right: Everyone.)
  • Modifications can be worthwhile, and that might be the biggest argument against keeping students from advancing there is. There was some muscle exertion and mental focus to be found in playing with Tittibhasana and working toward Eka Pada Shirshasana that differed from other poses. Same for a pose like Parighasana. Maybe it is the experience of the pose that is worth giving students access to, at least occasionally.
  • One thing I do think is a bit missing is good stretches of the quads in fairly safe, controlled ways. The Virabhadrasanas get them a little, but for me to move right into Tiryam Muhka Eka Pada Paschimottanasana or Bhekasana can be a little sketchy. But it’s also my knees I’m thinking about. But I miss a nice deep stretch of the quads.
  • Bobbie’s written — I can’t find where — about how Second Series helped her back problems due to the extreme forward folds (Yoga Nidrasana, say) mixed with the back bends (something even like Mayurasana, not just the Kapos of the series). I understand better what she’s talking about but I’m tempted to think that there’s something in the combo of the twists with the strengthening from poses like Gomukhasana and the Shirshasana sequence that might be playing a role.

That’s the Uddiyana Bandha reaction. Also, I’m definitely sore in different ways: more in the shoulders, perhaps an unexpected amount in the hamstrings and some hard to identify parts of my back.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

7 thoughts on “Doing all of Ashtanga’s First and Second — with a little mod here and there”

      1. It was probably reader error :). I was just wondering because I have attempted to start second series on my own, and it made me feel crazy! Too much nerve cleansing! I didn’t know if their was a technique to successfully navigating through without a teacher; at this point I’m thinking I just need to go to an immersion.

  1. I think everyone should be doing Shalabhasana A,B at the minimum as part of their daily exercise routine (even if they are not into Ashtanga). That is a pretty standard (more benign compared to deadlift) back strengthening routine commonly employed by physios. In my opinion that should come way earlier in the series, possibly part of primary series.

    I wonder why leg strength is not emphasized that much (i also wonder where Kino’s quads come from when all other accomplished ashtangis seem to have stick legs!).
    I see many people struggle to just squat down with feet flat on the floor in pashasana. Perhaps, Utkatasana should be modified to a full squat pose; the overhead, half squat only can help damage the knees.

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