Making Friends with The Second Series

By Tom Griffith

Even in its infancy my yoga practice involved poses from the second series of Ashtanga yoga. I of course had no idea at the time that I would find Ashtanga and practice these same poses almost daily, or correctly for that matter. I would use deep forward bends and twists to crack my back and lots of backbends to help reset everything. My hobbies were very physical and I worked on my feet all day, as a laborer, cook and ultimately twelve years on a concrete floor selling beer all day. Back then I would sleep on the carpeted bedroom floor a couple nights a week because I couldn’t find a comfortable position to lie in otherwise. After about ten years into my beer-store-manager days I began taking classes at Yoga on High. I loved the flow and heat of Ashtanga. Some of the poses were familiar, and linking the breath with each movement was the missing piece in every other “practice” I had dabbled in up to that point: running, skateboarding, snowboarding and Tai Chi. The primary series became a place out of time where I could focus my mind to move meditatively into my injured body. I had significant low back pain, a pretty badly damaged hamstring tendon and a knee that would swell with any exercise at all. The set series helped to keep me focused specifically on what I was doing each practice (alignment in the poses, postural and structural alignment in my body, how I was moving in AND out of postures, and so forth). More importantly it provided insight into what my mental and physical blocks were—into what limits and changes, good, bad or otherwise, I could be aware of.

A year or so into my love affair with Ashtanga I began Teacher Training at Yohi, which meant I HAD to take a six-day workshop with Tim Miller. I was concerned that my teacher’s teacher would come to town and I would injure myself irrevocably. Thankfully at some point I realized what I was telling myself. I began to look much more deeply at what and how I was practicing. I also began to look ahead in David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga a Practice Manual to the second series. In many ways I saw it then as I do now, as a companion to the primary series. They are complimentary to each other. Together they help to balance the body. So Tim came to Yohi, and Sunday morning he led us through an improvisational class during which we worked into modified versions of second series poses and some from other, more advanced series. Following that introduction I began to practice the poses in the way that Tim showed us. Working with modified second series poses helped me to look more intelligently at the primary series as a whole, and it helped to balance my body structurally and physically.

Gratefully, since that first workshop years ago I have had more Sunday afternoons with Tim, some second series workshops and of course classes at Yohi. Over the last three years, the second series has become my main practice. Each day I am more honored to practice as a student and be a teacher in the Ashtanga lineage. As a teacher I try to interest people in practicing the second series. Not to progress or to get that next posture, but to balance and compliment the great work they are doing with the primary series. These first two series are a foundation on which anyone can build. By modifying poses appropriately, everyone can have an individual practice that is just right for them.

Oftentimes when students ask me about a specific pose I find myself saying something like, “Well, yes, let’s look at how that relates/resolves/reiterates in the next pose.” In my personal practice I have found a needed balance of thought or evolving theory about how each posture links to another, how each series links to the other and, again gratefully, a balanced physicality as a result of my ongoing Ashtanga yoga research.