Primary Friday: Finding the Balance

Took another trip to the Mysore room this week and got a few more pointers on my practice.  Class was taught by a sub, someone whose Ashtanga classes I've attended once or twice before.  Though, at the time, I was merely an Ashtanga tourist, sight-seeing and gathering tidbits of information.  I had not yet begun my own practice of the Primary series.

I enjoyed the opportunity to get a different perspective on my Primary.  However, as understandably happens in this rich and varied practice, I received some instruction in total opposition to a technique the usual teacher instructs for deepening my forward folds.  One says to use the spinal extensors to extend and then fold.  The other recommends first to round the spine down over the leg(s) and then extend, using the bandhas to pull the body forward.  Which is right?

In answer to my own question, I think they're both right.  I think both techniques are effective in different ways, and the appropriate method for our practice depends on what we are working with, where we're coming from, physically.  I might even venture to say that different methods could be best used on different days, depending on the needs of the practitioner.  The regular teacher (let's call her "T" from now on, shall we?) likely suggested the "round, then extend" method to me because I have a habit of overusing my spinal extensors, flaring my ribs and hyper-extending the spine at the mid-lower back.  Perhaps T has the same problem, which causes her to notice this first in her students.  But, for many, the opposite is true: the back is habitually rounded, causing compression of the vertebrae.  I'd guess this is the case for the sub (we'll call him "M"), who recommended that I "extend, then fold." 

M helped me refine Chakrasana, something I'd been at a loss with in my own practice.  T had tried to get me to tone down my jubilant backward-somersault Chakrasanas the first time I came to class, but I never understood how to make it work until M explained.  Toes touch and then push into the hands.  Got it.

There were no drop backs in class this week.  I thought about going for it alone and/or asking M for assistance, but since I was already running long in my practice, I decided to skip it.

I realized today that this has been the first week in which I practiced the Primary series every day.  I didn't even think about it.  Just unrolled my mat, as usual, and out came Primary every time.  I never missed my free-flowing Vinyasa practice, until today.  Primary gives me almost everything I need, but not quite.  I'm thinking maybe five Primaries and one Vinyasa practice... or four Primaries and two Vinyasa might be about right.  I'm tempted to believe it doesn't have to be so structured, but part of the power of Primary, in my opinion, is the commitment we make when we step on the mat.  We know what we have to do.  And we do it, somehow, no matter what.  That's the character-building element of the practice that I am so intrigued by at this time, and to only do Primary on days when we care to is to reduce the potency of the practice.

I'll have to think about this some more.  In the meantime, Saturdays are Vinyasa days, full of backbends and arm balances and all the fun stuff I want.

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