Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Primary series kicks my ass again

Before I went to India, I was getting pretty comfortable with my primary series. Sure, bhujapidasana could use more work; jump back/jump throughs weren't happening; but for the asanas that I could do, I was pretty happy with them. The practice itself felt enjoyable and rewarding. I was ready to expand and move forward with my practice. First week of class, my chaturanga was corrected. Apparently I have been doing fake ones where my elbows bent at ~110 degrees rather than 90 degrees, with my butt sticking way up in the air. With that single correction my entire practice became 10 times harder. For the rest of the month I could barely push up from real chaturangas into upward facing dogs. My down dog and up dog got corrected. That made my sun salutations feel totally awkward. I had trouble "flowing smoothly" from one position to the next. I was never given tips on the fancier stuff like bhuja or jump back from the supta kurmasana exit. Instead, all my standing postures got fixed (mostly just take a wider stance, which changes everything actually). With these changes added to my practice, I could barely get through the standing series before I felt totally exhausted. Back home I used  to love my teacher's led primary series practice. In India I hated it. I thought I might drop dead at any point during the practice. Back at home I was really pampered; we had pose modification options, small jokes thrown in here and there, often laughter filled the room when 80% of the class couldn't do something and the teacher brushed it over before we moved on. Here, the led class was the real deal. The counts were strict; no going into a pose before the proper count was uttered; I've never had to hold shoulder stand for so long (it's the real deal!); normally I never had problems doing 3-4 urdhva dhanurasanas, but one day I just collapsed in total defeat when called to do a 5th one. I never used to believe Ashtanga yoga was designed to discipline 14 year old boys, but in that led class I believed. I totally felt like I was in a bootcamp/military training for young boys. None of this bliss out / be jolly stuff. This was the "real" Ashtanga: how it was taught by Pattabhi Jois.

I was so angry. My ego was completely crushed. I thought I was good at Primary series, but I've been faking it all these years. Doing it the "proper" way sucked. I got tired so easily during the series. Savasana did not restore my energy. Sometimes I fell asleep during savasana (this never happens to me back at home) and still woke up tired. I would often have a nap in the afternoon, and wake up feeling groggy. Sometimes I'd nap after breakfast. A couple times I went back to bed right after practice. I really did not enjoy this. This practice is supposed to energize me, not drain all my energy for the rest of the day. I started doubting myself and doubting the Ashtanga practice. When the month-long practice was over I happily slept in and did not practice at all for an entire month. Not even basic sun salutations.

I tried to figure out what exactly happened. When I finally returned home, the first thing I noticed was the ultra-crispness of the air. That must have been it. The heat and the humidity really took a huge toll on me, not to mention the fact that my digestive system wasn't always happy to process all the spices and curries. I wasn't sleeping through the night for the first couple of weeks, perhaps due to crappy mattresses and an unfamiliar surrounding. Also, I normally practice in the evening time back home; switching to a 6am practice probably made a difference in my flexibility  and energy level. On top of all this, I was attacked by multiple mosquitoes during practice, and the incense in the shala often made me feel nauseous. The combination of all these would made my practice a lot harder than it does back home even if my asanas didn't get corrected at all.

So I take this trip as a sort of a "kung-fu" training, where I practiced the primary series with the temperature cranked way up, with (what felt like) lead blocks strapped to my wrists and ankles, and deadly (okay maybe just hungry) mosquitos released into the training room, all with the purpose to strengthen my body and my practice. My ego had to suffer because the training wheels were taken off the tricycles.

Now that I am back home, I've only done two full practice so far. They felt okay. Still tough, but not nearly as draining as I felt in India. One strange thing: my muscles never felt all that sore in India even with all the corrections designed to make my muscles work harder; only my energy levels were deeply affected. Back home I am easily sore for days after each practice, but my energy levels are fine. I have no explanations for why this is the case. Does a dip in the ocean after practice a couple times a week help with the soreness?

I am humbled by the experience and grateful for the teacher for showing me how difficult it is to do primary series properly (not to say my teacher back home taught anything wrong; he just wasn't on my case all the time for cutting corners in my vinyasas and for being lazy in my warrior II lunges). I just need to slowly ease myself back into the practice and hopefully one day feel good about it again after incorporating all the corrections.


  1. Replies
    1. I wonder how long it will take before I make peace with Primary Series again :)

  2. That's what I was waiting for Y! Generously told. A dip in the ocean solves everything, didn't you know? Nature's salt bath! hahaha.

    1. Does that mean I should do the same at home? Salt and seaweed bath??

  3. Did a slightly dodgy supta kurmasana yesterday. It was not a flexibility issue but a mindfulness issue. The lower back is feeling a little tender today – my own stupid fault for not allowing the time to do it properly. note to self: it’s the journey not the destination!
    i have misgivings now and again that the ashtanga method does not allow enough time to explore a pose. maybe this issue only applies to a LED class where the pace is prescribed by the teacher.
    for today at least i’m putting the asanas to one side and working on my yamas and niyamas


    1. Thanks for commenting! Supta kurmasana takes a long time to feel good! Mine's still on and off depending on the day!