Ashtanga 101 : When to Start a New SeriesSep 28, 2019
Ashtanga 101: When is it time to start a new series? And how do you do it?
A question that I hear a lot is, how do I know if it’s time to start a new series? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of when (or how) to move onto a new series. It would be best to ask a teacher who you’ve worked with personally and who knows your practice, but I can share some of the things I take into consideration when I introduce a student to a new series.
A relevant starting point when you’re wondering about this is Patanjali’s yoga sutra 2.46 – sthira-sukham asanam, most commonly translated to mean that posture (asana) [should be] stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha).
Sthira is the ability to “hold steady” in an asana, not only in the body but in your mind and in your energy – all three of these things need to be in balance for an asana to be considered steady. Muscles would be evenly engaged, you wouldn’t be losing your balance, and there would be no tension or strain. When this happens, the breath flows evenly with a rhythmic cadence, energy flows through the body easily, and the mind is patient and steady.
Sukha refers to “good space.” In asana practice, this is the comfort that arises when the joints and bones are aligned with gravity and the muscles are free of strain. When there is good space, energy (or prana) can flow more freely through the body. While Ashtanga may be a practice that’s unlikely to ever feel comfortable, per se, it definitely shouldn’t be uncomfortable either. Finding good space in the practice might mean holding a pose for five breaths, or breathing freely and easily, or making a bind, or finding room to move deeper in any posture, or it might manifest as a meditative quality of joy or spacious awareness. You can never know quite what you’re looking for until you open yourself up to it.
This sutra also provides a valuable way of thinking about how the practice’s vinyasas flow together. It is a steady flow throughout the practice, with even breath, steady dristhi, and focused mind. This also can include feeling particularly activated by a posture or having an especially strong reaction to a pose. When I’m evaluating whether a student should start a new series, I consider the overall flow of their physical and emotional body throughout their current series, looking for a quality of evenness in the practice.
In the context of sthira suhka asanam, there are a few questions that I pose when considering advancing a student to a new series.
- Is the student receiving the intended energetic benefits of the series? Each series has a different set of energetic benefits and as a teacher I prioritize this over what might be considered a traditonal “benchmark” in terms of the series. In fact, I try to avoid that word altogether in my teaching. Instead I emphasize the intent of the series and if I feel the student is achieved that in the context of their unique body and mind.
- Is the student proficient in the postures? I don’t want perfection, but I do want proficiency. Can the student reliably enter and exit a pose on or near the vinyasa count? Can they achieve an expression of the pose? Again, I consider this question in the context of each student and their unique strengths and limitations.
- How long has the student been practicing the current series? I’d say it typically takes most students about three years to “learn” a series, and another decade to really learn it. But, from start to finish, we can say it typically takes roughly three years. So if a student were to do a nearly perfect job in Primary Series after only a month of practicing, I would likely pump the brakes and wait a few months to start them on Second Series. It’s crucial to allow the benefit of Primary Series to really settle into the student’s body and mind. That said, if a student has been working on Primary Series for eight years and doesn’t necessarily have perfect-looking “by the book” asanas but also isn’t straining and is consistently breathing well, I’d absolutely move that student onto Second Series.
- Do they show up five or six days a week? I’m certainly more likely to start a student on a new series if they’re already consistent with the practice they’re doing.
- Is the student having a strong emotional or physical reaction to their practice? If a student cries regularly, gets angry or agitated, reports being very sore, exhausted, or has frequent practice related injuries then I would have the student continue to refine what they are currently working on.
In support of this last point the practice should be giving energy, not taking it away. At the end of the day, the practice is meant to support our lives and improve functioning. While there’s much to be gained from starting a new series, sometimes the timing just isn’t right, and that’s ok.
The question of when to begin a new series can be difficult when you’re practicing without a teacher. However, if you can be honest with yourself, you might be able to find even better clarity than a teacher could, because you can tune yourself to your practice in a way that no observer ever could. So do your best to judge your practice without emotion or attachment to the outcome. Is this a clichéd thing to say? Sure. A difficult thing to do? Extremely. Possible? Absolutely.
If you’re practicing on your own, I suggest these basic guidelines:
- Consider how long and how consistently you’ve been practicing.
- Pay attention to the flow of your practice and your breath.
- Seek help from experienced teachers/co-practitioners when you can.
- Continually pay attention to where you are so that you can better understand where you’re going.
Directing your own practice can be an incredibly empowering thing. But you don’t have to go it alone, if you’re not certain that that’s the way for you. So take a look at my free 5-day Second Series for All video training, and remember that registration is open now for my Interactive Online Second Series Course starting October 26. You can always go it on your own if you want to. But you don’t have to. Your journey is yours alone, but you should never feel alone on it.
Stay tuned on how to add new postures! Coming soon.
Registration is OPEN! Second Series Interactive Online Study begins October 26. All the strategies you need to succeed in Second Series are here!
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