Sunday morning was led primary at 6am, and I stayed after to watch from the foyer as Sharath taught counted led intermediate series at 7:30 am.
I have to admit, watching from a distance as 50+ Ashtangis practiced second series in unison was some crrrrrrazy looking yoga. I often think that about this series. It’s not pretty. If you’re not that down with yoga anyways, you might find it downright insane. Hey everyone, let’s do a series of freaky backbends followed some extreeeme forward bending with our legs behind our head in various orientations, followed by some padmasana while balancing on our forearms. Then we’ll do some seated poses which combine every twist and bind imaginable and finish up with about fifty headstand variations. Ok, go!
To the untrained eye this seems like a big heaving breathing twisting contorting yogi mess. I get that. But energetically, there is something really magnificent going on. And I could sense that in the room.
Primary series is a lot of forward bending, of working in the hips and the hamstrings, strength building and all in all refinement within the realm of the gross body (Annamaya kosha, if you’re into the sheaths).
Watching the second series of ashtanga yoga I became very aware of the opening and lift created within the series. A lightness generated through its purification of the nervous system via diverse yet sequential spinal movements, as well as the mental challenges (and sometimes even fear) which these poses bring to the practitioner.
While there continues to be much action in the outer sheath – the physical body which may be sensed outwardly, there is a wealth of movement happening within the more subtle realms of the pranamaya kosha.
For the western mind I might describe this as a sort of aerobics for the nervous system. Or maybe an iron-man triathlon. Or climbing mount everest on your synapses.
I’ve been learning the intermediate series for just over two years now. Watching the full series, I know I still have a long sojourn ahead of me. But I was able to watch much of the led class with a kinesthetic understanding, a recognition of the form on the outside as well as an understanding of the inner life of the series.
I worked on pinchamayurasana for a very long time (still learning!). Each day when I reached this point in the series I felt like I was full of electricity. Sometimes this even manifested outwardly in small tremors or shaking. Sounds like a totally normal thing, right!? Well actually, maybe it is. Kate once described the shakti stirred up by this series. So I looked up Shakti on the ol’ Wikipedia and here is what I learned:
Not only is the Shakti responsible for creation, it is also the agent of all change. Shakti is cosmic existence as well as liberation, its most significant form being the Kundalini Shakti, a mysterious psychospiritual force. Shakti exists in a state of svātantrya, dependence on no-one, being interdependent with the entire universe.
Mysterious psychospiritual force? Sign me up! Thanks Wikipedia.
So maybe there are concepts that cannot be fully understood from reading a Wikipedia entry, but it’s a start. And tomorrow morning I return again to my own laboratory of research: the mat, my body, the practice.
Sharath wrapped up his epic led intermediate class with 5 poses from the 3rd series, Advanced A. By now there were only a dozen or so students still practicing. All others had stopped sometime prior at their individually assigned last pose. As we watched bhairavasana, another student sitting next to me in the lobby said, perhaps I will only want to stay with Primary series forever! There is always a challenge waiting for you Ashtangis, on your yoga journey.
May the force be with you,