Well no, not really, I'm not convinced the Advanced postures are best suited in a series or were ever intended as such but rather as optional extensions or perhaps substitutions for postures in the previous groups/series.
I remember Manju saying that these days he practices part of Primary, part of Second series and a couple of postures from Advanced series, 'just to feel I've still got it'. That struck me as quite a wise approach. It's similar to one I've been using in my own practice. In Vinyasa Krama the postures just keep progressing within the different groups of postures. So in the Asymmetric series we will move from Janu sirsasana's all the way up to leg behind head postures found in the Ashtanga 2nd series and then from the 3rd and 4th series. You practice just as far as you're able, eventually the more challenging postures become doable or more approachable.
In my own practice, I would go through my Ashtanga Primary and then, after the janu's add a couple of leg behind head postures before continuing on with the series. If you also practice 2nd series you may well be doing something similar by including the dwi pada sirsasana, the both legs behind the head, entry to supta kurmasana ( Manju frowns at this approach btw, too much strain on the back of the neck).
In my Ashtanga 2nd series after Kapotasana I will often add the third series kapotasana variations. it seems natural to do so.
This is an alternative approach to introducing the more advanced asana rather than approaching these postures as a set series, it has the benefit of working up to the more challenging posture, of preparing for it with the primary of intermediate postures rather than jumping straight in.
It does seems to be more in keeping with Krishnamacharya's intention in Yoga Makaranda and Yogasanagalu.
If Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya's student, had taught a two year course at the Sanskrit college then there probably wouldn't be an Advanced series anyway.
There's the classic Jois'ism that 'Primary series is for everybody, 2nd series for teachers and Advanced series for demonstration'. And we can see how useful the advanced postures are for getting your name around the circuit, for self promotion. "Come to my workshop, here's me in a ten minute Paschimottanasan" doesn't cut it as well as here "I am in a handstand version of kukkutasana".
Do we need the Advanced series? It's fun to practice but hard work (bit of extra tapas-never a bad thing), but it seems to me, and I know I'm not alone in this, that everyone is stuck in a cycle of the next posture, the next series.... approaching 3rd or 4th just as they did their Primary and 2nd series, the same emotional breakdowns at durvasana as at eka pada sirsasna, or at kandasana as when first approaching badha konasana ( puts my own hand up, yep that was me "WHY can't I get this pose", thankfully I'm now a little more chilled about it, it'll come....or not).
And I'm serious about this, I struggle with it myself. I feel I'm doing interesting work trying to go ever deeper within Primary and my Second series, exploring Krishnamacharya's original instructions from Yoga Makaranda, written by the way at the time he was teaching the young Pattabhi Jois. And yet part of me keeps thinking that perhaps I should get back to my Advanced A and B, that I'm losing those postures through lack of practice and I'm not getting any younger, perhaps when they've gone they've gone for good this time.
But what if we dropped the Advanced series altogether, and here I probably alienate the last of my Ashtanga friends. What if Sharath stopped teaching it, if in Mysore you just practiced Primary and Intermediate and nothing else. So you practice Primary three days a week, Intermediate three days a week for the next ten, twenty, thirty years perhaps occasionally filtering in an advanced posture here and there as merely a natural extension of a posture, how would that be?
Wouldn't that be how Pattabhi Jois learned his asana from his teacher Krishnamacharya back in the 20s and 30s in Mysore, there was no Advanced A and B or 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th series. Pattabhi jois would most likely have learned the primary asana and then at some point have the middle and proficient group asana layered on top of the primary group, extending the basic asana into more advanced variations in preparation for the demonstrations he would have to perform. What a relief it must have been to no longer have to give demonstration.
From what I hear most long term practitioners drop most of the Advanced series postures anyway..... eventually.
Perhaps the Advanced series, the next series, the next posture is a distraction, dropping it might encourage us to explore the earlier series in new ways, a return to Krishnamacharya's original approach, to the asana instruction in Yoga Makaranda, an 'Advanced' approach to Primary series perhaps, more subtlety, more sophistication. Good news for those who perhaps never see themselves practicing beyond Primary series anyway, a going inside rather than outside to the next, next, next.
Every time I see a teacher busting out their Advanced moves these days I wonder at the effect on those working on the primary postures. Is it inspiring in the right way or rather most helpful way. Does it make us think we have to get the next posture rather than go deeper into the one we have, How many postures do we need. Sometimes we wonder why there are only a handful of postures in the Hatha Yoga Pradipka and other old yoga texts, why don't they show all the other asana,why are they hiding them from us. Perhaps it's that they had just moved on, got passed all that.
Sure there are 84, 000 asana but perhaps we only need ten and a handful of variations.
There is something going around at the moment attributed to Sharath, who supposedly at a conference suggested that the West has only imported 5% of Yoga, asking the question what about the other 95%.
I feel like
Why have we only imported 5%, is it perhaps the strong asana focus, the structure of the practice.
Ashtanga's greatest strength, that sense of progression that it's thought keeps us interested may well be it's greatest weakness.
I'd like to ask Sharath what his plans are for the next forty years, how does he propose to encourage us to explore the other 95%.
I know there are some teachers reading this, do you just go with the student, give the student what they want, more candy or rather what you believe they need. Do we really need 3rd series, 4th, 5th....?
Next step here is a for a follow up post, to look at how and where the Advanced asana could be introduced as options/extensions/substitutions into the Primary and Intermediate series, to bring them into play other than as a distinct series.
Of course I only have to look as far as Ramaswami's Complete Vinyasa yoga Book for this, it's all there. Krishnamacharya had done the work already. Just need to pick it all out and put it back into the Ashtanga context.
It's an alternative, an option for those who have no interest or expectation of approaching or beginning a full Advanced series but would like to extend certain postures or areas of practice into more advanced asana.
This approach too was part of the tradition.