On Learning Third Series: Trusting the Process

I didn’t think I ever really wanted to learn third series. Or maybe I just thought I wasn’t capable of even getting to that point. I’m still not sure I am, but I’m letting go of my uncertainties and trusting the process.

During the first few years of my ashtanga practice, I had the typical mindset of an endurance athlete. I mean, what do you expect – I run. A LOT. My competitive nature sought instant gratification in each posture. That attitude led to my eventual plateau in my practice, as it probably does with anyone who gets onto their yoga mat with that mindset. Beginning a daily practice and becoming part of a devoted Ashtanga community helped instill a sense of humility and patience that I was lacking. It really needed to happen before I could even think about progressing.

I remember the day my teacher, David Garrigues, gave me the first few postures from the second series syllabus. They seemed to be almost impossible.  Pashasana? Yeah, my heels were never touching the ground (or so I thought). Krounchasana? My tight, distance runner hamstrings hated even the thought of that one (they still do). I am blessed (and cursed) with a flexible back, so even though postures like Laghuvajrasana and Kapotasana were challenging, they didn’t torment me the way Eka Pada Sirsasana, Dwi Pada, Yogi Nidrasana and Tittibhasana did. Telling me to put my legs behind my head was the equivalent of telling most people to poke their eyes out with a spoon. Ugh.

For awhile, DG wanted me to practice all of primary series and every posture I was working on in second series. My full practice was upwards of three hours long (thank God for summer break, or I really would have gone crazy). Finally, when I was learning the last few postures in second series he cut me from practicing both primary (although, my hamstrings could still use all of the primary series they can get) and second series together each time. Primary began to look like an old friend that I didn’t get to see very often. When I completed my weekly primary series practice, I noticed progress in postures that challenged me prior to completing second series.

Second series didn’t get easier but it started to flow a little bit more with each practice. I started to feel somewhat comfortable with the asanas and enjoyed the challenging pace. When I began learning the intermediate series, I used to think the postures were beyond what my body is capable of and that I would never practice it in it’s entirety. As I continued to visit the Ashtanga Yoga School of  Philadelphia (AYS) , I watched in amazement as the dedicated students at the shala progressed in their own practice. Seeing their progression was inspiring, and made me realize that if I kept persevering I would finish learning second series at some point in my lifetime. For me, that point was the end of August 2012.

Getting on my mat six days a week is always a challenge in itself, but it’s teaching me more than just the physical benefits of the practice. I’m learning to be patient with myself, and to acknowledge the postures that challenge me without placing too much emphasis on them. It seems that challenges in my practice are more complex than just tight hips or hamstrings. It’s a reflection of how I carry my emotions and deal with things like stress and anxiety. Practicing consistently helps me view things with a different perspective and face up to situations that I’m avoiding.

So, like I said – I never really wanted to learn third series. Even when I completed second series, I thought I was content. Third series, or “Advanced A” is known as Sthira Bhaga, loosely translated to divine stability. I like second series, and I was pretty sure I was about as stable as I was going to get (or maybe I just wanted to avoid attempting more variations of sticking my legs behind my head).  But I’m trusting the process.  It’s undoubtedly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. That’s where my yoga practice is at this point. On a more superficial note, the actual asanas are pretty fun. I’m fairly certain that means that I’m doing it all wrong. But it’s all part of the process, and I’m just going with it.