Notes on the Intermediate Series
Just as in the first two weeks of the month we explored a modified version of the Ashtanga Primary Series, these past two weeks we’ve explored a modified version of the Ashtanga Intermediate Series. While the Primary Series focuses mainly on forward folding and twisting asana, the Intermediate Series has a strong focus on backward bending, legs behind the head and inverted asana.
The Primary Series is known as Yoga Chikitsa (yoga therapy) and it’s postures are mainly thought to influence the body’s digestive and endocrine systems. The Intermediate Series is called Nadi Shodhana (nerve cleansing) and seeks to influence the yoga practitioner’s nervous system and energetic body (chakras, nadis, meridians, marma, etc.) The progressively deeper backbends and forward folds (via legs behind head poses) are thought to stimulate and tone the spinal cord and the body’s energetic pathways. This repeated hyper extension and deep flexion of the spine can be thought of as a “wash, rinse and repeat” action for both the central and peripheral nervous systems. The many inverted and strength building poses also have a noticeable effect on the nervous system that is hard to explain but easy to experience by simply inverting the body for a few moments.
In the same way that Yoga Chikitsa is far from a primary or fundamental sequence of poses, Nadi Shodhana is goes far beyond what would commonly be considered an intermediate asana practice. For the curious among you a Google search of Mayurasana, Dwi Pada Sirsasana and/or Kapotasana will bring up photos of a few of the more interesting and challenging poses of the Intermediate Series.
Modification this week
The second half of the Intermediate Series is far more demanding and challenging than the first half. So much so that I question if it is even possible to modify it? And if in doing so does it retain enough of it’s essence to really qualify as a modification or does it become something else entirely?
In this modification I have tried my best to look at what the individual postures and overall arc of the sequence is trying to achieve and substitute a preparatory or equivalent pose when the classic posture is not available to most of the students in class. An example of this is the legs behind the head sequence which consists of Eka Pada Sirsasana, Dwi Pada Sirsasana, Yoga Nidrasana and Tittibhasana A,B,C. My modification for this sequence of poses is Marichyasana A, Malasana, Baddha Konasana, Upavista Konasana and Tittibhasana A. All of these hip opening forward folds are preparatory actions for putting your legs behind your head, and some students can manage a presentation of Tittibhasana A that somewhat resembles the final posture.
A less clean swap of postures happens for the strength building sequence which consists of Tittibhasana, Pincha Mayurasana, Karandavasana, Mayurasana, Nakrasana and Vatayanasana. Outside of Tittibhasana and perhaps Nakrasana none of these poses are safely available to the average yoga student. Here I took a much more convoluted route, I included Virabhadrasana 1 and 3 with the standing poses to build leg strength and integration of the upper and lower body. I then substituted the strength sequence with just three postures Tittibhasana, Vasisthasana 1 and a forearm plank.
Full Intermediate Series
Here is a video of the Full Intermediate Series as taught by Sri k. Pattabhi Jois - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTknvzGsGE0
To see near perfection in asana practice pay special attention to Richard Freeman - left side of screen, middle mat, maroon shorts. My teacher's teacher Eddie Stern is also in this video - right side of screen, middle mat, green shorts.