Articles Tagged with: Primary series
The journey is the destination

On the face of it, the practice of Ashtanga Yoga seems like it is progressive. And it is. The asanas, as we go further into each series, get progressively more physically demanding. The names of the different series’ even support that. Primary series, intermediate and advanced A, B, C, and D.

So, if it’s a progressive system, how long does it take to get to the end? And what are the rewards of getting further through the series?

The truth is that it doesn’t work in this linear way at all. Quite the opposite in fact. A complete beginner to the practice is just as likely to experience yoga (defined as the stopping of all thoughts) as a student who has been practising for a long time. The beginner might not identify the experience in the same way as the ‘advanced’ student, but the experience is the same.

As an aside, there is a famous concept from Zen Buddhism called beginner’s mind. The idea is that, in the mind of an expert in any field, the possible outcomes of any action or stimulus are mostly predictable. The expert thinks “I have done/seen/experienced this a thousand times and I know what’s going to happen next”. In the mind of the beginner, however, the possibilities are endless. Not having any frame of reference for a particular experience means that we can fully participate in the experience without expectation of the outcome. We are encouraged to try to adopt this beginner’s mind. In other words, to live without expectation.

Getting back to the ashtanga practice, we can be fooled into thinking that an expert, or an advanced student, or your teacher (what I’m trying to say is; anyone who can do more asanas than you can, or can perform the asanas like you saw Kino McGregor doing them on youtube) can tap in to this experience of yoga much more readily than you.

This is not true.

The experience of yoga (stopping the mind, remember) is an experience which is deeply rooted in the present moment. The asanas are just a method to cultivate this. They are designed as a distraction for the mind, so that it discontinues its normal thought patterns. In the same way as some mindfulness practitioners meditate on the flow of breath in the body, or transcendental meditators meditate on a mantra, ashtanga practitioners meditate on the asanas.

The reason they get progressively more difficult is so that the mind doesn’t creep back in once the particular asana upon which you are meditating becomes easy (or easier anyway). Or, in other words, the series’ progress in difficulty in order to make sure that the student is always operating at the limit of his/her physical capability. In that way, complete concentration is required to perform the asanas.

It is only afterwards that we realise our minds stopped just for an instant. And that is yoga.

The beginner trying to touch his toes is having the exact same experience as the long-term practitioner trying to balance on one arm. The experience of yoga is just as readily available whether it’s your first time on a yoga mat or your ten thousandth.

So there is no pot of gold at the end of the sixth series. The gold is in each individual breath, if only we can bring our one-pointed attention there.

I came across two clips which illustrate this point much more effectively than I can. Neither are overtly related to yoga practice. They both agree, though, that it is the journey, not the destination, which is important.

“Don’t hurry” – Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Jois

 

 


Benefits of Primary Series Asanas

This week we’re including (almost word for word) the benefits of each asana of primary series as specified by Pattabhi Jois in his Yoga Mala.

The Surya Namaskara (sun-salutations) are essential in the practice of yoga as they help to gather the strength of the mind in one direction, control the breath and help mental focus.

The first 2 standing poses (thumbs to feet and hands to feet) Padangushtasana and Padahastasana: They dissolve the fat of the lower abdomen and purify the egg shaped nerve plexus in the anal region and rectum as well as purifying the kidneys.

Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle): Dissolves the bad fat around the waist and brings the body into shape. It also expands the narrow portion of the breathing channel and strengthens the spine.

Uthitta Parshvakonasana: Purifies the ribs and lower abdomen, dissolves the bad fat at the waist and softens the limbs so that the subsequent asanas can be practiced more easily.

Prasarita Padottanasana A to D (The 4 wide legged forward bends): These asanas cure constipation, purify the top part of the spinal column and the waist. The anal canal is purified and the bad fat in the lower abdomen is dissolved.

Parshvottanasana (Prayer position behind the back): Like the asana above.

Basically all the above asanas loosen the limbs of the body. For people who suffer from rheumatic or joint pain, the sun salutations and first six asanas are especially important. If they are practiced properly with the correct breathing method, the pain that occurs in the joints will be eliminated and the body will become light and healthy.

Utthita Hasta Padangushtasana (The leg balancing pose that you really realy don’t like): This asana loosens the hip joints, destroys defects of the testicles and male organs of generation, strengthens and purifies the vertebral column, waist, hips and lower abdomen. It also eliminates constipation.

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (half bound lotus): This purifies the rectum and liver. It also prevents gas in the stomach and prevents diarrhea.

Utkatasana: Strengthens the waist and makes the body light.

Virabhadrasana (warrior): All the joints of the body, as well as the lower abdomen, spinal column and organ of generation are purified. Pain associated with the knees as well as the pain from standing or sitting all day while working, is eliminated.

Paschimattanasana (the first seated pose): this pose eliminates gas problems in the stomach, it strengthens the organs of the digestive systems.

Purvatanasana: Purifies and strengthens the heart, anus, spinal column and waist.

Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana (seated, half bound lotus): Alleviates the enlargement of the liver and spleen. Also cures abdominal distention due to bad food and actiities. Constipation is also cured.

Tiriangmukhaaikapada paschimattanasana (right, then left foot back): Cures a number of afflictions including: body fat, water retention, thighs swollen out of proportion to the size of the body (elephant leg!!), piles and sciatica. Also makes the body symmetrical.

Janu Shirshasana: This posture cures cystitis. There’s a lot more in the yoga mala about the benefits of this asana but too much to reproduce here.

Marichyasana A to D: The benefits of all four are different, though all cure diseases in accordance with one’s physical nature. They each cure gaseous movements in the stomach and intestines, as well as the rectum, such as diarrhoea, and restore digestive power. With that, flatulence, indigestion and constipation are eliminated. Abdominal pain during menstruation is removed. The womb becomes powerful and enables a woman to carry a child strongly. The vata pitta kosha (large intestine and gall bladder) are purified, as is the manicure chakra (the third chakra at the navel centre), and the body gains strength and power.

Navasana (boat pose): The anal channel, spinal column, ribs and lower abdomen are purified. The digestive fire is increased and the waist gains strength.

Bhujapidasana: Purifies the oesophagus. The body becomes light, and the shoulders and waist become strong.

Kurmasana: Purifies the nerve plexus in the anal region from which all 72,000 nadis grow. Also purifies the heart and lungs, and eliminates ailments caused by an imbalance of kapha. The chest becomes broad, bad fat is dissolved, and the spinal column becomes strong. Chest pain due to over-tiredness is cured, disorders from bad food remedied and the fat in the lower abdomen is dissolved, allowing the body to become healthy.

Garbha Pindasana: Dissolves fat of the lower abdomen, purifies the manipura (third) chakra, and wards off diseases of the liver and spleen.

Kukkutasana: The intestines are purified, the fat of the lower abdomen is dissolved, and diseases affecting the bowels and urinary tract, as well as excess phlegm, are cured.

Baddha Konasana: Constipation and piles will be destroyed and indigestion will no longer haunt an aspirant. There is a lot more information relating to Baddha Konasana in the Yoga Mala.

Upavishta Konasana: The grdhrasi nadi (sciatic nerve) will be strengthened, gaseous movements in the stomach will no longer occur and peristalsis will be resolved.

Supta Konasana: Same as Baddha Konasana and Upavishta Konasana

Supta Padangushtasana: Purifies and strengthens the waist region, knees, food and anal channels, and the sperm passageway (virya nala). It dissolves bad fat on the sides of the body and the waist, making the waist slender and strong, and the body light.

Ubhaya Padangushtasana: Purifies the anus, waist, stomach, genital organs and the granthi traya (three knots) which begin at the anal canal. It also eliminates the burning sensation that can occur during urination.

Urdhva Mukha Pascimattanasana: Purifies the lower back and oesophagus, and the swadishtana chakra (region between the anus and navel). When the swadishtana chakra is purified, bodily activities become light, all physical activities are free and easy, and impediments such as disease, do not torture one.

Setu Bandhasana: Purifies and strengthens the waist and neck, purifies the muladhara (root) chakra and increases the digestive fire. It also purifies the oesophagus, heart, and lungs, making them strong.

Next time: Finishing asanas.

Pattabhi Jois specifies (in the notes on the benefits of Baddha Konasana):

A point must be made to readers and aspirants that they should be careful to remember. When one follows the methods of asana and pranayama, there is no doubt that all diseases will be cured. But if an aspirant thinks that this will occur by his merely practising asanas while continuing to eat rajasic (stimulating) and tamasic (heavy) foods, then he is misguided. Such a course will actually lead to an increase in sickness.

If you’re interested in reading more about the practice you could pick up a copy of Yoga Mala by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. It’s the first book I ever read on Ashtanga yoga.

 

 

 


Practising with an injury

I saw a video the other day with two guys practising Ashtanga yoga primary series. One of these guys had a fractured femur. I never thought I would see someone practise with a broken leg. This video just proves that anyone can do the practice.


Primary Series Asana Names

I have been meaning to add this to the site for a while now. Below is a list of all of the postures of primary series in a transliteration of the original Sanskrit.

I have taken the spelling of the asanas directly from a hand-out that was given to us by Lakshmish at the KPJAYI in Mysore.

  • sūryanamaskāra
  • pādāṅguṣṭāsana
  • pāda hastāsana
  • utthita trikoṇāsana (A+B)
  • utthita pārśvakonāsana (A+B)
  • prasārita pādottānāsana (A,B,C,D)
  • pārśvottānāsana
  • utthita hasta pādāṅguṣṭāsana
  • ardha baddha padmottānāsana
  • utkatāsana
  • vīrabhadrāsana
  • paścimattānāsana
  • pūrvattanāsana
  • ardha baddha padma paścimattānāsana
  • tiryaṅgmukha ekapāda paścimattānāsana
  • jānuśīrṣāsana
  • marīcāsana
  • nāvāsana
  • bhujapīḍāsana
  • kūrmāsana
  • supta kūrmāsana
  • garbha piṇḍāsana
  • kukkuṭāsana
  • baddha konāsana
  • upaviṣṭha konāsana
  • supta konāsana
  • supta pādāṅguṣṭāsana
  • ubhaya pādāṅguṣṭāsana
  • ūrdhva mukha paścimattānāsana
  • setu bandhāsana

Finishing Postures

  • ūrdhva dhanurāsana
  • salaṁba sarvāṅgāsana
  • halāsana
  • karṇa pīḍāsana
  • ūrdhva padmāsana
  • piṇḍāsana
  • matsyāsana
  • uttāna pādāsana
  • cakrāsana
  • śīrṣāsana
  • baddha padmāsana
  • yoga mudrā
  • padmāsana
  • utpluthiḥ