Customizing Your Practice Is The 7th Series

27 March, 2019
In this podcast I discuss the evolution of your ashtanga yoga practice. What happens down the road, when you are years or decades into your sadhana? There are many clear rules that get you started such as practicing 6 days a week or learning a series one posture at a time. The most talked about or emphasized ashtanga practice tenets can serve you well for many years. But sooner or later there comes a time when you need more or different or further guidance.


At some point just getting on your mat each day and unvaryingly trying your best to go through your series in strict order ceases to nourish or heal or give you the same potent benefits as before.  You even begin to find that you are harming yourself by trying to do what you did before.  And you can become sad about it—sad that what was so inspiring and helpful before has changed.  You can also become angry at the prospect of having to change and having to leave behind the known.   There is much to be gained by knowing exactly what you are going to do. Strictly adhering to the series gives you security and certainty and teaches you to build amazing heat, skill, and mastery.     

But all things, the good as well as the bad, end whether you like it or not practice long enough and you will come to a dead end, an impassible impasse, you will not be able to do what you have been doing.      The title ‘Customizing your ashtanga practice is the 7thseries’ comes from the idea that your ashtanga yoga practice begins a new and essential chapter when you take what you’ve learned and begin to work with a more individual, creative, and practical application of the hatha yoga technology that makes up ashtanga.   

The decision to allow yourself to customize your practice marks a significant new beginning point in your ashtanga evolution.   It’s as though all the time you’ve spent dutifully repeating, faithfully putting your time in, going through each painstaking jump back and jump, doing that same series in that same order has been preparing for a major leap into the unknown.   By taking the view that customizing is part of the evolution of your ashtanga practice you can drop sadness or anger, stop feeling guilty or thinking that you are doing something wrong because you are not following the sequences in strict order.  The reality is you go wrong when you fail to take control of and develop independence in practice.   The rules of ashtanga are meant to teach you how to thrive in a wider asana world beyond those rules.   The practice you’ve been doing is training wheels, scaffolding that you must release to find the freedom to ride in space.  The rules of ashtanga prepare you well, they give you healthy parameters that help you to go to unknown places internally and externally—unknown postural, energetic, and psychic places –places that no one has ever gone—places that are meant to be discovered by you and only you—places that no person or system could lead you to.    

I offer this podcast because there is far too little acknowledgement of, discussion about or instruction in what happens later in your practice-- as time passes and you gain experience, skill, and knowledge.  What happens later is what I am calling the 7thseries.  I call it this because your custom practice is just as valid and part of ashtanga as all the other series.   Honor and celebrate the new, more independent, individual way that you will eventually practice—then you’ll know that your daily practice can thrive and continue to evolve no matter how old you are or despite other limits that may be imposed on you.  You can choose to do a practice that suits you and is rooted in the hatha yoga techniques that you have been doing all along and have come to love.  


In the podcast I discuss some of the main reasons to embark on the journey of customizing your practice.  


Here are some important, relevant reasons to customize your practice: 

Time constraints


Essential variety 

As a natural, spontaneous, fitting, and just result of experience and mastery of ashtanga and hatha yoga technology

Because it brings you enjoyment and joyousness

Because it is myth or fallacy or untruth to think that the ideal ashtanga practitioner practices the same series in the same way for all time 

Because it is the beautiful, right, and necessary evolution of this grand, power system of hatha yoga 

Because the farther you go, the longer you practice, the more independent and solitary the path becomes


Ways to customize your practice

The 7th series is making your own series combining together the important techniques and the methodology in your own ways.  7th series is just as essential and as part of the lineage as the other 6 series.  

Think in sections (examples include the first and second half of each series represents a section or from Marchyasaana A to D, the finishing postures).  Learn to play with the sections emphasize sections, spend more time with a specific section, don’t do a section on a given day, take only a one or a few postures from a section instead of doing every posture from a section

Think in categories of asanas (examples include:  Surya Namaskara, Standing Poses, back bends, forward bends, hip openers, arm balances, inversions and also combinations of categories such as inversions that are also back bends or arm balances that are hip openers).  Focus on a category of postures like decide in today’s practice will emphasize or highlight back bends.  

Use props whole new worlds can open up for you if you take to the art of using props to support your practice.  Why props because props make it easier to do a lot of stuff—and that’s a great thing when you want to do a whole bunch of challenging stuff—like continue to make progress or do a version of more advanced or difficult postures.  

Do fewer postures 

Stay longer in the pose(s) it eventually becomes an insult to only remain in a pose for 5 breaths—yoga is about nirodha-stillness, striking an immovable spot, steadying your body, senses, and mind and entering into contemplative poise.   At first all the variety and dynamism of doing many poses in a series with vinyasa leads you into tiny moments of genuine, high quality stillness—but with the passage of time you don’t require as many poses or dynamic transitions to enter into stillness.    

Repeat postures or groups of postures—doing a pose many times in a row is an excellent way to extract knowledge and benefits from that pose.   There is no limit to the power and sacred knowledge that you can extract from each pose.  

Utilize the basic basic recipe more creatively

The basic recipe of ashtanga is to to Surya A and B, standing, then a series (1st, 2nd, etc) and then finishing (consisting of back bends, shoulderstand, head balance, and breathing).   This template gives you a perfect general order to do your practice and it shows you the root categories to represent –start with Surya Namaskara, then Standing, end with Finishing—and in the middle do some other types of poses.   There are virtually endless tiny differences that you could create and still use this basic recipe.  Ashtanga provides you with one really great example—but you can play with it—spend more or less time with any of these groups of postures.   

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