Primary Friday: My First Rodeo

Primary Series on Fridays is happening.  I'm making it a weekly event. Yesterday was my first go at leading myself through the entire Ashtanga Primary Series and it was quite a wild time.  This is going to be a fun project, I can already tell.

I spent the better part of Friday morning studying the breath counts in Maehle's book so I could carry on with some sense of flow.  Once I got to the mat, however, I needed to peek at the series in Swenson's manual from time to time to remember the sequence, upon which I made little pencil notes to remind myself which poses flow directly into the next and which require a full vinyasa.  I noticed Maehle and Swenson use slightly different counts.  Swenson's is more accessible -- no grand, complicated gestures to be done in a single exhalation -- so I'll probably try to follow his version for the time being.

The standing sequence is quick.  It was as if I blinked in Trikonasana and immediately found myself on the floor.  There seems to be a distinct lack of strengthening in the standing sequence, at least compared to my regular Vinyasa practice which tends to be full of lunges and balancing work, but all the stretching of the standing sequence is nice. I practiced the most comfortable and stable Parivrtta Trikonasana I've ever had coming into the pose straight away without all the fussing and preparation I usually give it.  Hmm... maybe there is something to the pace of this practice.  Just do it.  Just find the pose and stay for five breaths.  Then move on.  No tinkering, no undulations of the spine, no subtle adjustments of the hips as I explore the distribution of weight in my feet for a few extra breaths.  It's all very direct and deliberate.  I like it.

The only standing posture that eluded me was Parivrtta Parsvakonasana.  The traditional variation of this pose, with the back heel turned down, felt completely impossible.  I made do with the anjali mudra variation (palms pressing together) and worked on squaring those hips, but it was not pretty.  It was tempting to spin onto the ball of the back foot and simply substitute the lunge variation of the pose, which I normally practice; but then, what's the point of this whole adventure?  I stuck with it.

The standing sequence is nice and mellow for the most part; the seated sequence is where the insanity begins.  All the vinyasas made me feel as though I were spinning, just a whirling ball of feet and breath flying from one pose to the next.  Eventually, my jump-backs became drag-backs and I could feel all the extra work very distinctly in my core. I also did Chakrasana for the first time.  Wheeee!  I could hardly contain my giggles at the image of myself in my mind.  If you've ever thrown a cat (which I would never do), you know how they look when they prepare for landing.  I felt like that, my claws extended and ready to cling to the earth when I came down.

I took my forehead down to the mat in Bhujapidasana and lifted back up quite easily, which was a surprise to me.  I have not been able to do that in the past.  I even tried jumping into the pose and came closer than I though I might, but my right wrist pleaded "no more!" so I moved on.

The whole thing took me two hours.  I skipped Marichyasana D, Supta Kurmasana, Garbha Pindasana, Kukkutasana,  Baddha Padmasana, and Tolasana.  I did not fold forward in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana and I substituted Siddhasana for Padmasana.  Do you see the pattern here?  Lotus legs.  My lotus has shrivelled and died.  I can't do it anymore.  I'm not stupid, though.  I'm fairly certain there's a correlation between all the hip/butt/thigh strengthening of my usual practice, with tons of lunging and abduction of the legs in balancing postures, and my total inability to approach the lotus or even half lotus, both of which stretch the outer hips and are mainstays of the Primary Series.  Maybe this is why the standing sequence is short on hip and thigh strengthening: any more and it would inhibit the openness needed for the seated sequence... interesting.


  1. Loved reading about your ashtanga primary experience. As an "ashtangi" its always interesting to hear what others think of it. :) http://thedomesticyogi.blogspot.com

  2. I know exactly what you mean about Parivrtta Parsvakonasana. I've always wondered about that pose because not only is it difficult to twist deeply and keep my heel on the floor, but on the left side I always feel a twinge in my right knee.

  3. Samaya Kingdom - Practicing the whole series was quite the experience. I'm excited to try it again this week!

    Rachel - Not sure what it is about that pose, but the traditional variation just never feels right. Glad to know I'm not the only one who has problems with it.

  4. the trick to revolved side angle is putting your left knee down, positioning the hand right into the inside of the foot, slowly rising the back leg off the knee simeltaneously grounding the whole back foot & then reachingwith the arm last. it helps to push the bent leg out of the way to get the best twist. if you are doing it in namaste, the hands should touch the heart for it to eventually open up. doing this on the toes makes it very difficult to balance. but you have to start somewhere. i let people stay on the knee as long as they need to until they are ready for the rest. it works.

  5. Hi, Bindithug - Great tips, thank you! I like the idea of taking the back knee down in order to get the twist, and working the pose from there. Revolved Side Angle is still one of the hardest poses in the series for me.