Who has never wished to slow time down, or speed it up, or stop time altogether? It might be the stuff of science fiction, but what if I were to tell you that the ultimate time machine can be found on your yoga mat? I know, I know, it might seem like I’m peddling some strange siddhi, or yogic super power like time control. Well…yes…and no. It’s much more down to earth than all that.
Primary Series is the first series of the astanga method (there are 6 in all). Mostly, ashtanga is practiced in a self-paced setting. One performs their postures according to their own breath and abilities. In such a room, you can have beginners doing just the most basic postures while others twist, fly and contort themselves into shapes that one might not think humanly possible. This way of teaching is supplemented by what we call Led Classes. In the later, students practice together led by a teacher who is calling out the asana names and brief but key instructions while counting each vinyasa (breath and its corresponding movement) so that students can develop a steady rhythm and a clean, undistracted yoga practice. It is a class where one’s mental and physical stamina is tested, while one is harmonized into one collective moving breath.
When I really started studying the count of the first series of ashtanga yoga, I become fascinated with how it played with units of time broken down into units of breath/movement or breath/stillness, and how it moved between the two states, each beat with its own number. Until that point, I’d never truly observed time. I didn’t even like numbers. Time happened to me. I waited for it sometimes. It escaped me at other times. Time is and was always there, while I engage in some activity, conversation, even while doing nothing at all. Led Primary changed my relationship with time.
The succinct sanskrit count which is seamlessly coordinated with vinyasa (movement and breath together), drishti (gazing point), and āsana (posture)–what we call tristāna, the three pillars of the practice–allows us to simply be in the moment, to be in time. As we experience time in such a focused and deliberate manner, we learn to just be: be in the inhale or the exhale, be the posture, be in the challenge if its difficult, be in the comfort if it’s easy. We learn to change, to shift quickly, to experience time which is always changing. We learn to drive ourselves, to get past the potential distractions in order to focus on the moment. We learn to be imperfect because we might not always be able to breathe as long, or move as quickly as is asked of us–and because that moment/breath/posture passes in a flash, we also learn to let go, to take things easy, to move on because there’s no time to waste. Every moment is really precious.
Moreover, when we learn to breathe evenly in both the inhale and the exhale, the speed in which time passes become immaterial. The pace of the count can be fast or it can be slow, but it little effects the steadiness of mind when we are breathing in a balanced way. In that way, we also overcome time.
The ashtanga yoga method as a whole has done so much for me, it’s hard to explain how transformative this odd succession of postures strung together with breath can really be. It’s scope is so very wide in my life. But with led primary, learning to count, learning to surrender to the count is a very specific and concentrated experience. I love it more now than ever. The more time I spend with it, the more time it gives me. Time really slows for me between the beginning and the end of each breath, so much happens, and yet the whole series can be done in a flash. In that hour and a half, we can learn to expand and compress time. Ok, not time itself, which is constant, but definitely our experience of time evolves. We learn to be present, which in this day and age is pretty challenging.
I got married recently, and it’s true what every one says that the build up to a wedding can be so big and then the whole crazy thing is done in a flash. I wanted very much to be present and to enjoy this incredibly special day in my life. I remember when I started walking this incredibly long beach aisle to our odd shaped ceremonial arch, I decided to just breathe and take it one step at a time, there was nothing else to do, no one else to be with, nowhere to be other than right there and then. It did go by all too quickly as all greatly lived moments do, but I can also say that I savored it. I can’t imagine I could fall so easily in that space, slowing myself down, without having that blueprint from the practice.
It must be said that led primary can be very difficult and it might take a lot of practice to even start to observe each breath especially when someone is leading you through it. But that too comes with the practice.
So, no, you can’t dial back to whatever year and redo whatever wrong. It’s not that kind of time machine. But Led Primary does help us tune into the world in front of us, into that precious yet fleeting present so that we can simply enjoy it. It helps us live our best possible moment, one we can happily look back on. And it helps us to continue to move on.p with grace and contentment.
Led Primary this Friday at 8:30am at Nūn Center, 4 Shafik Monsour. Mysore Zamalek has led classes twice a month. If you aren’t familiar with the series, please message us to find out the best way to start an ashtanga practice.