In the Primary Series, we talk about getting new poses, but with every new pose also comes the vinyasa that follows it.
For the uninitiated, we ashtangis do a vinyasa in between most poses, and in between the left and right expressions of them. After exiting the posture, we inhale, press the palms into the ground, lift our bodies up, exhale, and toss our legs back to lower through chataranga dandasana, then inhale to urdhva mukha svanasana (updog) and exhale back to adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog). Then it’s inhale and jump up, lifting the hips and exhaling to float the body through the arms and into position for the next pose.
Watching a practiced ashtangi transition between poses can be magical. The connection between breath, mind, and body is never as apparent as it is when hundreds of muscles fire in a specific order to create a set of movements.
Doing these transitions often feels…well…less than magical. I inhale to lift up and my butt feels like it’s been padded with bowling balls. Instead of floating gracefully to the back of my mat, my feet sometimes drag, squeaking audibly along the rubber. Then I inhale, bend my knees and jump my hips toward the ceiling before exhaling them through my straight arms to land with a muffled thump. I’ve been known to get “stuck” with my hips in the air and topple ass-over-head in a noisy handstand-somersault. Sometimes I land on top of my feet instead of my rump, which forces me to wiggle-scoot them the rest of the way through, which is as graceful as a mallard duck doing a 5k.
But other times, it all clicks, and it feels like flying. My body moves with my breath, my bandhas control that movement, and my mat is like a little microcosm of anti-gravity madness. I’ve decided that walking on the moon must feel like a good vinyasa.
Some of the postures have special exits into the vinyasa. Kukkutasana is one of those, and Auriel and I both recently received it. After taking five breaths in the arm balance, legs in full lotus, I slip my hands out, plant them in front of my knees, lean onto my elbows, float the lotus up, then toss it back and un-pretzel my legs into chataranga dandasana. It’s a fun transition, but it takes some core strength and coordination to pull it off. Here’s Auriel (top) and me (bottom) demonstrating at home. Sam Banana is the lovely hound mix assisting me.
The beauty of the Primary Series of Ashtanga is in its flow from pose to transition to pose. Paraphrasing from Guruji, it’s a mala: a strand of beads all linked together. The poses are important, but how we get from one to the other is just as significant.