I was perusing Arturo’s blog when I came across an interesting comment from Arturo, himself, regarding the timing of giving out poses. It’s almost (but not quite) a dead horse here on my blog, but as I slowly (but not as slowly as it would be at some other shalas, including Shala X) make my way through Second Series, I find myself with new thoughts on the topic and a need to beat that poor horse further into submission.
I’ve practiced at a shala (Shala X) where poses are given out slowly, where the next pose is not given until the last one given is mastered to a point where assistance is not needed (although assistance might be enjoyable or beneficial for deepening the practice). I did a nearly 200 hour teacher training with Sir that covered the Primary Series, in which the discussion and the hands-on portion dovetailed perfectly to help me understand this methodology of pose-giving as a function of truly helping the students to progress as well as perserving the teacher’s energies for the good of all.
The Primary Series is nearly impossible for some students to master without daily adustments in certain poses. Sure, some students come in and are able to bind all of the Marichyasanas on the first day. And those students will likely progress quickly through the Primary Series, perhaps as quickly (or as slowly) as it takes for them to remember the sequence and the vinyasas (lest the teacher have to go over it with them each and every time they practice). But from what I have seen, both as a student and as a teacher, most students will hit a “wall” sometime before Navasana. And by “wall”, I mean a pose that they regularly cannot do without assistance.
If every one of those students were to practice all of Primary as soon as they could remember the sequence, then one of two things would have to happen. Either the teacher would be running around adusting every student in every pose in which assistance was needed, or more likely, students would not get daily assistance in the poses in which they need assistance.
In the first case, with students waiting for assistance in each pose that they cannot complete alone, practice would extend far too long, heat would be lost, the flow constantly interrupted, and the teacher would likely burn out quickly, even with assistance. In the second case, without regular assistance, students would make little or no progress. They would be simply approximating their difficult poses most of the time. With daily assistance in difficult poses like the Marichyasanas and the Kurmasanas, the impossible can become possible. Without daily assistance, in most cases nothing much happens at all, at least physically, in a student’s difficult poses. And without actually making the bind or the connection of head to leg or whatever we’re talking about, heat and energy is lost.
Now, If I were teaching a student individually, as opposed to in a group setting, I would certainly let them practice ALL of Primary because Primary has such therapeutic benefits, and doing all of Primary properly helps one do ALL of Primary unassisted. Later poses are helpful in the practice of earlier poses, and the calorie burning from doing all of Primary is huge, and yes, size might play a role for some people in being able to complete certain poses (people who are naturally flexible or have unusually long limbs might be able to carry more weight and still be able to bind, say Mari D, but people such as myself, who have are relatively stiff and relatively shorter limbs might need to be skinnier to make the bind; another dead horse here, yes).
On the other hand, all of this seems to change when it comes to Second Series. Pasasana is a strange little gatekeeper to the rest of Second Series, which seems more than anything else to be a nice heat-building combination of Mari A and C, which is great if you’re coming straight from Parsvotanasana, or a good spine-neutralizer, if you’ve just come from the forward bends of Primary. Pasasana has a “partner” in preparation for the rest of Second: Krounchasana, with its minor stretch of the quads and final return to a long, neutral spine. Other than counterposing Primary Series or warming up after a shortened Standing Series, neither seems to add anything to what comes next – the back-bending sequence that ends in Kapotasana and Supta Vajrasana.
Bakasana is akin to child’s pose, balanced on the hands, so I see it as a post-back-bending spine-neutralizer, like the easier-than-Mari-C-twists that seem to act as a buffer between the backbending sequence and the long leg-behind-head sequence that follows, which is not related in any way at all to whether one has mastered the back-bending sequence.
What do any of those poses have to do with being able to balance on forearms? Or to lotus the legs and lower the lotus legs onto the backs of the arms while balanced on forearms? Especially when most of the later poses are much easier and much more accessible to so many more people (check out any Jivamukti class and you might see a Mayurasana or even Nakrasana, but never a Karandavasana)? The rest of the sequence, like the tail-end of Primary, is kind of like a “hair-0f-the-dog” balm for what has just been done. It’s the downhill side of the hike. Challenging in its own way, but nothing like the uphill climb, and for which the uphill climb does not prepare the student.
I see each sub-sequence of Second Series – Pasasana plus Krounchasana, the backbending sequence, the leg-behind-head sequence, the strength-balance sequence, the downhill hike – as whole in and of itself. That said, I am not clear on why Arturo’s teacher won’t give him Yoganidrasana until he masters Dwi Pada. It seems to me that most people can get into Yoganidrasana fully and without assistance whether or not they can Dwi Pada themselves. And Yoganidrasana is helpful in opening up those hips to make Dwi Pada and the Eka Padas (which, to me are HARDER than Dwi Pada) happen. So, then, why not give them together? This I don’t know, and I don’t know Arturo’s practice at all. And clearly, obviously, there is a lot I don’t know about Second Series, not having taken any training in it other than having practiced some of it with Val.
But I do see the wisdom, in a CLASS setting, of giving out the poses in such a way that more than one major adjustment per student is not needed (and by major adjustment, I mean an adjustment that GETS the student INTO the pose). In a private setting, or in a tiny Mysore style setting, like, for example, five students or less, I really can’t see a reason for holding students back in Primary or in each individual sub-sequence within Second.