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The Lesson of Third Series: Burning through Ego & Pride

On my recent trip to Mysore to continue my journey as a student of yoga I noticed that there were more people than ever in the Guided Intermediate class on Sunday. There are no words for the awesome feeling of seeing a room full of more than 50 people moving gracefully through the challenging postures of the Ashtanga Yoga Second Series. One day there were about dozen students out of the twenty who completed the Intermediate Series who were also doing some of the Advanced postures. Sharath then guided this small group of people into the first two postures of the Ashtanga Yoga Third Series. I was not lucky enough to ever do Guided Third with Guruji but I do remember than he kept saying that he wanted to go a Guided Third. He told me that I should prepare for it because as soon as there were eight students doing full Third Series he would split and make a guided class. A friend of mine told me that Richard Freeman said that if you get the chance to do Guided Third, don’t. If you’ve seen any of the video clips on YouTube of Guruji leading senior practitioners that include Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, Chuck Miller and a few others through the practice you can understand why. That practice is hard enough by itself. There are days when I can barely make it through the Advanced practice following my own count, so I cannot imagine having to follow Guruji’s count through the hardest postures!

As Ashtanga Yoga grows and reaches more people there are more Intermediate and Advanced practitioners. When I teach I often get many questions about Third Series, such as what the lesson of that Advanced practice is and when you are ready to start practicing it. I created my new DVD of the Third Series of Ashtanga Yoga in response to the increasing number of Advanced students practicing Ashtanga Yoga today. I also wanted to share what is for me my most personal journey, my most intimate struggle and now my most consistent daily practice. When I first started learning Third Series I felt like I was not worthy, not good enough and not strong enough. I wanted to quit every day and I felt humbled by the postures. But my teachers, Guruji and Sharath, kept pushing me to be stronger, do more and literally lift higher than I ever thought possible. Just when I felt I reached a certain level of accomplishment and started to feel a sense of pride, they would tell me to go deeper and keep my ego in check. This DVD is an offering to lineage of Ashtanga Yoga and a heartfelt thanks to my teachers who believed in me before I believed in myself. I would not recommend that anyone practice along with me on the Practice disc, instead use the Introduction and the How to Work disc to inform your practice. Even if you are a relatively new student of yoga the How to Work disc contains a discussion of the bandhas, core strength and other useful techniques for all levels.

The practice of the Ashtanga Yoga Third Series is not something to be taken lightly or to play around with. It is a devotional practice that burns through some of the deepest blockages that exist in the human mind and body. It is a practice that contains the essence of Ashtanga Yoga and one not to be taken for granted. If you are considering starting Third Series there are few key elements to consider before you are ready. First you must have a committed six day a week practice of the full Intermediate Series and have been practicing for around five years. That practice should be done smoothly and effortlessly so that when you finish you have more energy to give. The key gateway postures of Second Series should ideally be well-established. Second, backbending should be deep enough to catch your heels in Kapotasana and in your ankles in Urdhva Dhanurasana regularly. Third if you are working on the challenging movement of Viparita Chakrasana, known as tic tocs, those should be established as well. And then the last and perhaps most important consideration is that you should have an established relationship with a teacher whom you trust to guide you through the whole process. There are many factors that go into the transmission of the practice of the Ashtanga Yoga Third Series and it is a practice that must be approached with humility, grace and integrity.

If you do start to practice the Ashtanga Yoga Third Series you will feel energized, special, stronger and excited in the beginning. In fact one of the most common effects of the practice is to actually increase the ego during the phase when the student learns the Arm Balances. Many students suddenly feel as though they have accomplished something and are now very advanced. But this initial period of fascination and intrigue is only temporary. The true lesson of practice comes when you move through that initial phase into a daily devotional relationship with the practice. At first the postures are fun and exciting, but when you realize that you have to maintain that same level of intensity every day the excitement wears off. Many students of Ashtanga Yoga have the physical potential to do the postures of Third Series once or twice a week, but not the endurance needed to sustain it as a four day a week practice over many years. The key with Third Series is to do the practice when you feel good, when you feel just ok and also when you feel bad. This Advanced practice is a daily practice and you take whatever body you have, whether it is sore, tired, tight, open or strong, into the practice and just do it without adding anything special. It is a lesson gained not in the first years of sustaining this practice, but after five or ten years of consistent Third Series practice. Only then can the ego be burned through enough to realize that it is just your practice.

First published on Elephant Journal here: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/02/the-lesson-of-third-series/

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