My feelings about the practice of Ashtanga, referred to as the Primary Series, have ebbed and flowed over the years. While I began my teaching with six Primary Series classes weekly and appreciated the comfort and structure it provided me as a new teacher, I soon became bored and burned out. Not that each practice and each student did not offer something unique, but that I could hear myself cue in my sleep and there was little heart behind the rigid breath, bandha, and dristi lingo I regurgitated daily. One could say I fell out of love with my first love.
I think somewhere along the way in my yoga journey, I bought into the idea that Ashtanga stifled creativity and limited my postures. Hey, there was more than one way to skin a cat, right? While living in Austin in 2005, I took my first Anusara class with a fellow teacher/peer who invited me to the Texas Yoga Teachers Conference. Unbeknownst to me, John Friend was teaching. Yes, my first ever 75 minutes of Anusara happened on the front row just steps behind John, who was ever so casually decked out in a Cat in the Hat tank top. I had no clue who was adjusting me (and for those who know John’s story, I *promise* it was NEVER inappropriate! For those who do not know his story, Google it.). My heart had been stolen away from my beloved Ashtanga practice, and I knew a new freedom in teaching and practicing. Since spring of 2006, I have taught a blend of alignment based Vinyasa flows with a little hint of Ashtanga, but heavily rooted in the Anusara principles of alignment. I found the best of both worlds. I found home.
I would be dishonest if I did not share that a good Primary or Intermediate Series taught straight out of the manual still feels like coming home to play. And today, I do not find it limiting or rigid at all. I find it refreshingly simple.
You see, we all need limits and boundaries – necessary technical cues, if you will. If there were not rules in society, can you imagine what one would steal, kill or destroy on any given day’s whim? I tell my son (who pushes every boundary laid out for him) "There are rules to keep you safe - to save you from yourself." And, they are there out of love...not limit.
I think it helps here to make a parallel between the practice of Ashtanga and the Ten Commandments. Both are a covenant of love. Yes, there is law. There are specifics. There is alignment, placement, breathing, and gaze. But it is more than the manual saying "This is the way to do this posture" - it is like a loving father/teacher saying "This is the way to stay safe."
Ann Voskamp writes*:
"The Ten Commandments are more than God saying, “Here is my law for you”. They are God saying, “Here is My love for you.”
Here, I take you to be Mine, to be My treasured possession – have no other gods, no other lovers that woo you, that take your attention, but Me.
Here, I give you My name, my very name to make you mine – do not use it in vain.
Here, I long to spend time with you, holy time for you and Me – set apart the Sabbath day as holy time for you and Me.
Here, I love you, bride – be united, not coveting or lying or stealing or murdering or cheating one another, but honoring and loving and living out of love. (Deuteronomy 5: 5-22 paraphrased)
God gives the Ten Commandments as more than Law. He gives them as a true commitment of Love. God gives the Law, because He wants there to be love. The Ten Commandments are a command to relationship. To love vertically, to love horizontally, to love relationally - and it’s not a suggestion.
I need the structure of Primary Series to always be part of my practice and my teaching. I need the Law…because I need to be loved. What do you need?
*(Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), 89-90)