Friday, August 6, 2010


No flash allowed! 
I came to the primary series in my early 20s. I was stiff, weak, and suffering profoundly from the disconnect between my intellect and my physical and emotional intelligence. My consciousness orbited about 6 inches above and just to the rear of my skull, an unfortunate Cartesian ghost haunting the machine.

The primary series, "yoga chikitsa" as it's known in Sanskrit, or "yoga therapy," definitely fulfilled a therapeutic function for me. In my first yoga class, that consciousness spread to my skin, bones, muscle, and sinew in a way that was at once a total surprise yet entirely inevitable.

After the peregrinations of my early 20s, when I lived in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, I once again settled down in Encinitas and began practicing six days a week. I had a flexible job that allowed me to drift in between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m., and so I began attending Mysore classes at Tim Miller's Ashtanga Yoga Center.

At that time I don't believe Tim taught the primary series in the old Mysore-style, pose-by-pose. I recall only ever hearing him teach one person that way — surya namaskara A, surya namaskara B, lie down, come back tomorrow. That person didn't come back after a week.

So I don't know if he taught that way because his Mysore classes had 25, 35, sometimes 45 people in them, or if beginners and newcomers just opted to attend the led classes.

It was during Tuesday's 7 a.m. led primary series class, in which Tim said nothing but the pose name and "Five," to indicate the ending of the pose, that I eventually learned the primary series in its entirety.

It taught me strength, both physical and mental. It showed me that discipline was a muscle and a skill that could improve with practice. I began to pay attention to what I was putting in my body because it directly influenced how I moved, felt, and thought. I began to more consciously organize my life and the direction of my attention to sustain an early-morning practice, which meant an earlier bedtime and less partying.

Primary series really worked for me — it still does — in that all the forward bending and hip mobility was so immediate and so intense that I simply had to breathe or I was going to die.

Yoga chikitsa was the way I learned and practiced the absorption, dissolution, and direct participation (the Brahma-Shiva-Vishnu aspect) that is the wonderful byproduct of engaging ujjayi breathing, vinyasa, drishti and the bandhas. It's how I learned to practice both the diffusion and collection of effort, attention and breathing, or what I understand to be prana.

Despite my monastic and ascetic leanings, there's something wonderfully communal about primary series. Every Friday around the world, rooms full of people inhale, exhale as one, folding and rising.

"Primary series, very important!" Pattabhi Jois used to say. It may not always be easy, but it's always there in some form to keep me grounded and focused. I practice the primary series and my ghost-consciousness is firmly exorcised. For a while, at least.