Sunday, December 11, 2011


 I have been guiding and leading Primary Series (and the occasional Second Series) since 2005, and in that time. I’ve watched quite a few people move through the sequence, just as I’ve practiced it myself, week in and week out, and in that time I’ve had the occasion to discuss, speak about, and answer questions about the series.

The Primary Series takes root and flowers in bed of soil that is the tristana, techniques that emphasize that we are going to work with the breath, the body-mind, and our attention.

This emphasis says several things: first, we work from a fundamental, internal point — the breath — and move outward.

Second, everyone and anyone, of any economic class, physical disposition and background, gender, class, caste and inclination, can use these techniques. They are scalable and adaptable to all.

Third, the tristana are a pyramid — all three form fundamental points of the foundation. There is not one part of the breath, body-mind, and attention or consciousness that is superfluous or irrelevant.

This is an implicit and structural acknowledgment that we are multi-layered beings whose embodiments are not limitations or impediments, rather gifts and tools that can be used to experience and savor ever deeper realizations.

So Guided Primary Series classes are unique among Yoga classes in that they’re absolutely prescribed — every breath, movement and looking point is directed. At first glance there is no chance or opportunity for spontaneous free will or expression to arise.

One way to look at led Primary is as an overly formalized ritual. The tristana and the established sequence create a set of rules, boundaries and limitations (thank you, Cesar Milan) that in effect form a container or vessel.

The Sanskrit root “dhri” generally means to carry, to bear, to hold  — “dhara” is “the one who bears” (or the earth), while “dharanam” can mean prop, support, pillar, stay, hold.

You see where this is going? The practice of Tristana plus Primary Series can be thought of as dharana itself. This versus dharana as a byproduct or result of the two.

I am indebted to Dr. Douglas Brooks for this more esoteric notion of a collection or grouping of the last three limbs of Ashtanga.

This vessel creates and sustains value and meaning, and therefore relationship and intimacy (Holy shit, Yoga!) — value and meaning are never inherent, and rise from the delimiting of choices: by choosing to practice this posture and not that one, in this order of postures, and not that one, we say that this posture and that sequence have value and meaning to us.

Even the most freewheeling and loose hippy-dippy types (“No limits, man! No boundaries! Freedom! He's Captain America, man, and I'm Billy!”) create implicit value and meaning through kala and desha, space and time.

Meaning, we choose to begin practice at 10 a.m. at Yoga Pearl, not in the parking lot of a 7-11 at midnight. At first glance this seems arbitrary, but the consequent value and meaning of these details play a powerful role in creating deeper relationship and connection.

However, the conception of tristana plus Primary Series as a rigid container of dharana, like all large, firm structures such as skyscrapers and suspension bridges, paradoxically also contains a tremendous amount of flex.

The expression of the shapes/seats/asanas, the individual expression of the transitions, the length of breath, all vary from person to person, day to day, often moment to moment.

It's this inherent flex that allows the series to be so "rigid."

What follows from this conception of dharana-as-vessel is the question: with what do we fill this vessel? 


Again, this is an esoteric understanding of this meaning. The vessel of dharana collects the “single flow” of attention in one direction (as Patanjali says, “pratyaya-ekatanata”). We fill this vessel with our object of contemplation, be it devata or otherwise.

Samadhi becomes then not so much an ecstatic one-ness but a deep and abiding savoring (svada) of this “single flow.”