I think it was Mid March 2007 that I started practising. Many readers know the story already. We'd been burgled and I had seven Vintage tenor Saxophones stolen, although five were later returned by the police. I was angry but more angry that I was angry so decided to take up meditation again, I'd practised Zen years before.
Sitting was difficult, I was overweight 95 kilo or so and unfit, not flexible in the least. I googled ( did we have google then) and yoga was suggested to help with the sitting. The only books I felt comfortable taking to the librarian at the time just happened to be Ashtanga, one by Tara Frazer the other by Liz Lark. This is all fleshed out I think in my Developing a home practice series of posts (up to 36 posts now, this may turn into part 37, haven't decided where it's going). Enough to say I started off practising in my pants on a bath towel barely able to reach below my knees let alone the floor for my first sun salutation.
|More on this story in my post and Elephant journal article|
And that was basically it for the next nine years, picked up different books along the way but mostly just flicked through them, to be honest books aren't great for practice. David Swenson's is still the best, the only one you need. David's book has BIG pictures, minimum text and best of all two variations, easier versions of the asana, steps towards it.
David Swenson's simplified variations of an asana are controversial of course but shouldn't be, Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois (according to his son Manju) both employed more simplified postures to work towards an asana when students were struggling. Supposedly there are 84, 000 asana or as many as there are beasts on the planet, which suggests that all those variations in David's book should of course be considered asana in themselves.... and we still have another 83,900 odd to find. Srivatsa Ramaswami's Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga is based on the idea of one asana leading to another, the impossible or improbably (asana) becoming possible over time. Krishnamacharya was Ramaswami's teacher for over thirty years and had a more flexible approach, groups of asana rather than sequences, he seems to have added on postures on.
So once you could do Janu Sirsasana....
work towards putting the leg behind the head.
|Madonna - eka pada sirsasana|
When that became possible, fold forward and/or lay back,
now try it standing up
and.... bending over,
or in an arm balance.
Sit back down, and try leg behind the head in marichiyasana,
Put in some kind of sequences, something like this perhaps (that's not me in the final photo but BNS Iyengar with his leg behind his head in headstand, never tried it, not sure I want to.
It should be stressed that while working on these variations Krishnamacharya's students would have been working on other asana. They would no doubt have learned all the Primary asana and then, depending on the area of their proficiency, added on variation after variation, some would have no doubt been proficient in backbending, others with leg behind head postures, still others with arm balances. These were mostly young boys with flexible bodies and we can no doubt expect some degree of proficiency in all areas, those who were most proficient, like Pattabhi Jois and later BKS Iyengar were have chosen to accompany Krishnamacharya on demonstration tours/trips.
But I get ahead of myself.
Videos were better than book, I practised along to senior teachers in the 'tradition', Mark Darby's DVD was the first, David Swenson's and Richard Freeman's talk through the practice videos came next, I practiced with them regularly, later with Sharath's counted class for a couple of months and also the Pattabhi Jois led classes. It's often said ( really often said) that you can't learn the practice through books and videos, I disagree, I was talked through my practice by senior, experienced, eloquent teachers who had been exploring the practice themselves for many years.
Can you learn Ashtanga through books and videos, yes, if they are the right videos.
But really we learn through practice and Ashtanga is wonderful for this ' especially if you have David Swenson's variations. You're working on the same asana day after day, that's significant. In home practice there is no teacher to rely on for support, you explore, hopefully, with an appropriate balance between courage determination and common sense. As your practice grows so does your discernment, body awareness increases, you gain more awareness of the breath, your problem solving skills, you work out the techniques. A good shala strikes me as somewhere you can freely explore, (research is the word in the Ashtanga tradition) your practice without fear of the Ashtanga police IE. a too narrow view of what constitutes practice.
I visited a shala in I think my second year of practice, AYL in London, Louise was assisting, wonderful, made me realise that Marichi D was possible for me at my age, I would have realised that anyway sooner or later of course but it was a big Ahaaa moment, so too her taking me back further over my shoulder in Urdhva Danhurasana again, Ahaaaaa. It was tricky to make it to the Shala on Sundays's possible but although I liked the room I felt I would end up working where the teacher or assistant drew attention too rather than what came up in my practice that morning. I was already two years into home practice, practicing alone at home was more natural to me.
I progressed as I wished, there are different approaches in the tradition, some add on asana slowly over time, holding students back often and finding questionable justifications for it, others, Manju for instance and Pattabhi Jois too much of the time (but not all of the time) encouraged you to move quickly into and on through second,
I jumped straight into 2nd, ended up practising most of the series within a couple of weeks/months of starting it, although a couple of postures I was to struggle with for much longer, kapo of course, Dwi Pada Sirsana..... Karandavasana.
On reflection I think I would have done better with a more gradual approach. I feel now I lost my way a little, didn't like second, it seemed disjointed whereas I loved my Primary, perhaps it was too sudden a transition, depends on your temperament perhaps.
Few paragraphs ago I realised the direction this post is taken, hadn't planned to go down memory lane, oh well.
Being older, in my 40s when I started, I remember thinking that I might not have that many years to explore Advanced postures, I jumped right in. An untidy second series led into a shabby Advanced A and even a chaotic Advanced B (but for two asana- Kandasana, never thought mine really counted and the one with both feet under the armpits, Yoga dandasana was OK but not both feet). I wish I had seen Pattabhi Jois' advanced class video back then where I would have fit right in, very untidy practice throughout the room and Pattabhi Jois going from body to body each adjustment more terrify than the preceding one.
My firend Maya from Mayaland Blog and I have been chatting about the old days of the Cybershala/Blogosphere, there was a nice period of a couple of years when many of us writing blogs or commenting were working on similar postures, discussing different aspects of practice, exploring, researching, sharing amateur videos of where we were at, unconcerned about how we looked, just blogs barely a website or reputation to risk among us, more innocent times perhaps.
As I began to get into Advanced series I came across Ramaswami's book, LOTS of asana in that, I bought it but it turned out to be all about the breath, long slow breathing. Wasn't Ashtanga all about the breath, when did it become all about technique.
We used to say that 3rd had become the new 2nd but now there are so many inexplicably doing third series and posting beautiful pictures of their favourite party-trick asana. In the blogosphere/cybershala days the only photos of interest were those working towards an asana or the first time we actually got into it, after that there wasn't any reason to take another, kapo perhaps, dwi pada sirsasana when we were working on getting a little deeper to a more comfortable place but otherwise what was the point, no Instagram in those days. That said I'm sure ego got to us all occasionally, damn my ankle grabbing kapo looks good, Conceit. And then I see my friend Susananda up past her calves, sigh). To stand out the celebrity Ashtanga teacher now needs to go further 5th has become the new 3rd. And it's not enough to do the asana, to play with and explore over time on your mat, you need it too look instagramatic, you need a circus trainer for heavens sake. A new photo, new words of wisdom everyday, leave it a week and the new guy or gal on the block with a better circus trainer might steal the limelight and your workshop schedule. The argument of course is that you had an asana teacher in the shala through Primary and second so having a circus trainer for 4th and 5th is no different. I'm not convinced perhaps you are.
A statement will no doubt come out that Sharath is the only Ashtanga practitioner doing 8th series, it's like Rocky or Friday the 13th X
So many blog posts, 2000 odd and another three hundred left in draft. Mostly just about practice and shifting attitudes to it. The odd rant or crusade on this and that, on Home practitioners being respected, when and when not to start 2nd, whether one should go to Mysore or not, how things have changed or perhaps haven't, Authorisation, teachers who are or aren't, distractions we're fed by those who should know better.... the next rant is probably on circus trainers, I mean really? What does any of it matter, this is just a blog on the edge of a corner of the yoga world, a personal blog, like the page of a diary. Tomorrow I might think circus trainers are the best thing in the world, what does it matter what I think, why are you reading, caring and why am I leaving my diary out on the table like this anyway. Perhaps writing the blog allowed to keep my head more clear through practice, a meditation technique, something comes up in practice you just say you'll think/write about it later and let it pass on through. perhaps it helped. And the community that sprung up for awhile was nice, some good friends made.
That refocus on the breath, slowing the practice down that I learned from Ramaswami had quite an impact on my practice and led me to question Ashtanga for a couple of years. At the time I was able to practice Ashtanga in the morning Vinyasa krama in the evening, I could question while still practicing them both, trying to make Ashtanga more like Vinyasa Krama or Vinyasa Krama more like Ashtanga.
There had always seemed to be an early Krishnamacharya (Jois) and a late Krishnamacharya ( Desikachar, Ramaswami, Mohan) but studying Krishnamacharya's texts line by line with Ramaswami on his TT and continuing that research when I got back it became apparent that it wasn't really the case. Krishnamacharya was talking about long slow breathing and kumbhaka back in the 30s when Jois was his student, and there was Jois' sequences but while listed in pretty much the same order they were in more flexible groups rather than sequences.
But there was no inconsistency, you can practice your Ashtanga slowly, just do less asana and occasionally be a little more flexible in the asana you practice.
Perhaps the fixation on asana kept us coming back to the mat as we built our discipline (and for some their reputation and celebrity status). I think teachers could have done more to encourage independent home practice but they believed in shalas and in their role as teachers. there is an argument that the best teachers have the fewest students and those they have are rotating or perhaps still coming to the shala (because it's more convenient than home) and getting on with their own practice with minimal assistance or input.
I like the idea of teachers holding the space.
Pranayama has never really caught on in Ashtanga except with a few it seems, perhaps it's hard to promote, only so many fancy locations you can sit on and look profound with your finger on the side of your nose, same goes for meditation of course, don't you just hate the 'smelling a fart' expression on somebody who is pretending to meditate on a rock somewhere, Sit, Lotus, Smell the fart, Photo, Jump up and take one of handstand.
Pranayama and meditation take discipline, a lot of it, more I would argue than asana practice and it's unglamourous
Ashtangi's are essentially lazy : )
Can't for the life of me remember why I started this post.
Practice now, nine years later, still Ashtanga, as far as I'm concerned at least.
Because of work I only have time for one practice but no longer see a distinction between Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama, even Sharath has started to call Ashtanga, Vinyasa Krama.
M. is practising now, might be nice to go to Chuck Miller sama workshop, three days on samatithi, something like that... and I'm planning on the Bali conference next year, I need to keep some semblance of a regular Ashtanga up.
I do tend to do a straight Primary on Friday.
The rest of the week I slow it right down. Full Vinyasa but less asana. Pattabhi Jois, In Yoga mala, gave us pretty much carte blanch after we reached fifty.
|Bharadvajrasana, practiced to looking behind |
and here for a longer stay to the frount with janadhara banddha
*Because of the longer stays and to support my dropbacks, I will often shuffle in one or more of the early 2nd series Ashtanga backbend postures in between these postures, Bhujangasana, Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, occasionally even kapo
So is that still Ashtanga Vinyasa, Jois yoga?
It's just practice, what does matter what we call it, practice is sufficient.
This has two forms: dakshina ekapada sirsasana and vama ekapada sirsasana. Both these forms together have 18 vinyasas. The first picture depicts dakshina ekapada sirsasana and the second picture vama ekapada sirsasana. The 7th and 12th vinyasas are the asana sthitis of these different forms. For this asana, you need to do sama svasauchvasam (same ratio breathing). In the 7th vinyasa, the left leg, and in the 12th vinyasa the right leg, should be extended and kept straight from the thigh to the heel. No part should be bent.
Keep the hands as shown in the picture. In this sthiti one needs to do equal ra- tio breathing. When the hands are joined together in ekapada sirsasana paristhiti, one must do puraka kumbhaka. One must never do recaka.
While doing the 7th and the 12th vinyasas, the head must be raised and the gaze must be fixed at the midbrow.
In the 7th vinyasa, the right leg, and in the 12th vinyasa, the left leg, must be placed on top of the back of the neck. Study the picture carefully. The other vinyasas are like those for ardhabaddhapadma pascimottanasana.
This has 14 vinyasas. It is the same as for pascimottanasana up to the 6th vinyasa. While practising the 7th vinyasa, place both legs on top of the shoulders, and do uthpluthi as in the 7th vinyasa for bhujapidasana. Then lean the rear of the body forward and sit down.
Benefit: It will remove diseases of the spleen, of the liver, and of the stomach. It will clean the muladhara cakra. It will greatly help with uddiyana bandha. Practise it after first studying the picture very carefully. Women who are pregnant should not do this posture. Those who are prone to miscarriage must practise this asana regularly for some time and then discontinue it before they conceive. If they stop practising this asana during pregnancy, it will enable a strong healthy birth and will help the uterus wall expand and be healthy. People who do not wish for progeny must always practise this asana. If they do, then they will not have any children.
This has 12 vinyasas. The 7th vinyasa is yoga nidrasana sthiti. The first 6 vinyasas for kurmasana are the first 6 vinyasas for this. In the 7th vinyasa, sit like you did in dvipada sirsasana and instead of keeping the two legs on the back of the neck, first lie back facing upwards. Then lift the legs up and place them on the back of the neck.
In dvipada sirsasana, we joined the hands together in prayer and placed them next to the muladhara cakra. In this asana, following the krama, take the shoul- ders (that is, the arms) on both the left and right sides over the top of the two thighs, and hold the right wrist tightly with the fingers of the left hand beneath the spine. Study the picture.
In the 7th vinyasa, after doing only recaka, arrive at the asana sthiti. Then, one should do puraka kumbhaka and lie down. The 8th vinyasa is caturanga dandasana. The last four vinyasas for this asana are exactly the last four vinyasas for pascimottanasana.
Benefit: Tuberculosis, bloating of the stomach, dropsy and edema (swelling of tissue due to accumulation of water) — such serious diseases will be cured. It will cause the vayu to be held at the svadhishthana cakra and the brahmara guha cakra and as a result will cause long life. It will help to rapidly bring the apana vayu under one’s control. It is not for women who are pregnant.
This has 20 vinyasas. The 8th and the 14th vinyasas are the right and left side asana sthitis.
The first picture demonstrates the right-side buddhasana and the second pic- ture demonstrates the left-side buddhasana.
The 7th vinyasa of the right-side buddhasana is the 13th vinyasa of the left-side buddhasana. These are like the 7th and the 12th vinyasas of ekapada sirsasana.
While doing the 8th vinyasa, it is just like the 7th vinyasa for ekapada sir- sasana. Study the picture carefully.
The 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th vinyasas for this are just like the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th vinyasas for ekapada sirsasana. The 14th vinyasa is the left-side buddhasana sthiti. In this sthiti, take the left leg over the top part of the left shoulder and place it on top of the back of the neck. Then hold the wrist of the right hand with the left hand. A different form of buddhasana sthiti is depicted in the second picture and here the hands are clasped together behind the back. The practitioners need not be surprised by this. Some think that since Buddha advocated siddhasana as superior to any other asana, hence siddhasana and buddhasana are to be practised in a similar manner. This is contrary to all the yoga texts and their descriptions of the connections among the nadi granthis in the body. Hence, the practitioner must understand that the siddhasana krama and buddhasana krama are different and must be practised accordingly.
Benefit: It will cure hunchback and will create proper blood circulation in all the nadis. It will clean the svadhishthana, anahata, visuddhi and brahmara guha cakras and gives complete assistance for kevala kumbhaka.
This asana is very beneficial for curing long-term persistent fever. Pregnant women should not do this.
This has 24 vinyasas. Kapila Maharishi discovered this and because he helped spread its practice, it came to be called kapilasana.
The right-side kapilasana is the 9th vinyasa and the left-side kapilasana is the 17th vinyasa.
Up to the 8th vinyasa follow the buddhasana krama. Then, as though you are doing pascimottanasana, place the chin on top of the bones of the front of the knee of the extended leg. Do recaka in this sthiti.
The 10th to the 14th vinyasas are just like the 10th to the 14th vinyasas of pascimottanasana. But until you complete the 10th and 11th vinyasas, the right leg must remain on top of the back of the neck. In the 10th vinyasa, the hands must be clasped together behind the back.
Benefit: It will maintain the muladhara, svadhishthana, manipuraka, ana- hata, and visuddhi cakras in the proper sthiti. It is extremely helpful in guiding one along the path of dharana and dhyana.
This has 20 vinyasas. The 8th and the 14th vinyasas are the right and left side asana sthitis.
From the 1st until the 7th vinyasa, follow the method for ekapada sirsasana. In the 8th vinyasa, instead of keeping the hands at the muladhara cakra (as in ekapada sirsasana), hug both arms together tightly as seen in the picture and lie down looking upwards. While remaining here, do puraka kumbhaka, raise the neck upwards and gaze at the midbrow. The 15th to the 20th vinyasas are like those for kapilasana. This asana must be practised on both sides.
Since Kalabhairava was responsible for the spread of the practice of this asana, it came to be called bhairavasana.
Benefit: Keeps vayu sancharam in equal and proper balance in the ida, pin- gala and susumna nadis and prevents any vata disease from approaching. Preg- nant women should not do this. But those women who do not wish for any children, if they practise this asana regularly following the rules for a period of time, they will definitely never conceive. Of this there is absolutely no doubt. Practising this asana will close the uterine passage and stop the fertilization from taking place.
This has 20 vinyasas. This is from the Kapila Matham.
After observing that this follows the form of flight of the cakora bird, this came to be called cakorasana. In the Dhyana Bindu Upanishad, Parameshwara advises Parvati that “There are as many asanas as there are living beings in the world”. We readers must always remember this.
Benefit: Diseases causing tremors (trembling) in the joints of the arm and in the wrists will be cured. Pregnant women should not do this.
This has 20 vinyasas. The 8th and the 14th vinaysas show the asana sthiti. The other vinaysas are exactly as for cakorasana. In pascimottanasana, we hold the big toes with the fingers of the hands as we place the face down on the knees. In this asana, instead of doing that, extend the arms out further forward, clasp the hands together in the manner of prayer, slowly bend the body forward and place the face down in front of the kneecap. You must do recaka in this sthiti. The gaze must be fixed on the midbrow.
There are two forms to be followed in the different vinyasa kramas for the left and right-side when doing skandasana. The first picture depicts the right-side skandasana sthiti and the 2nd picture depicts the left-side skandasana sthiti. Ac- cording to the sastras, Parvati’s son Skandan learned this asana from Paramesh- wara. Since Skandan spread the practice of this asana, it is called skandasana.
Benefit: Gives the skill of pratyahara through the knowledge of the light of the self shining in the crevasses of the heart.
This has 20 vinyasas. The 8th vinyasa is right-side durvasasana and the 14th vinyasa is left-side durvasasana. In the 7th and the 13th vinyasas stay in ekapada sirsasana sthiti. From there, in the 8th and the 14th vinyasas, get up and stand. Study the picture carefully. While remaining in this asana sthiti, the leg that is being supported on the ground must not be even slightly bent and must be held straight. Keep the gaze fixed at the middle of the nose. You must do sampurna puraka kumbhaka. The head must be properly raised throughout.
All the other vinyasas are like skandasana.
Benefit: Elephantiasis, vayu in the scrotum, trembling and tremors of the head — these serious diseases will be destroyed. It is a tremendous support on the path towards samadhi. Pregnant women should not do this.
This has 24 vinyasas. The 9th and the 17th vinyasas are the richikasana sthiti. The 7th and 15th vinyasas are like ekapada sirsasana. The rest of the vinyasas are like cakorasana.
The first picture shows the right-side richikasana and the second picture show the left-side richikasana.
In the beginning of the 7th vinyasa, remain in ekapada sirsasana. In the 8th vinyasa, practise following the rules for the first vinyasa of uttanasana. The 9th vinyasa is like the 2nd vinyasa for uttanasana. The 9th vinyasa has been demonstrated in the picture. While remaining in this sthiti, the legs and arms that are supported on the ground should not be even slightly bent. Only recaka must be done.
The 10th vinyasa is like the 8th. The 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th vinyasas are like the other vinyasas for kapilasana except for the kapilasana sthiti. The left- side richikasana, in the 15th, 16th and 17th vinyasa is done following the rules for the right-side richikasana in the 7th, 8th and 9th vinyasas. As mentioned earlier, recaka must be done in the asana sthiti.
Benefit: It corrects the recaka that is essential for the practice of pranayama.