If advanced asana can be endlessly promoted through Instagram then perhaps we can also promote Primary asana and the proficiency we can explore there, in postures that most can approach.
|Krishnamacharya 1938 (aged 50)|
In Krishnamacharya table of asana in Yogasanagalu (Mysore 1941) he included three groups of asana, Primary, Middle and Proficient. Primary and Middle were turned into the Primary and Intermediate (2nd) series by Krishnamacharya's student Pattabhi Jois mostly following the order of the table. The proficient group with other asana Krishnamacharya was teaching at the time came to be taught by Pattabhi Jois as Advanced series A and B (later 3rd,4th, 5th and 6th series). I'm choosing in this project to think of proficiency as an approach to asana rather than a category of asana. Few will manage to practice all the asana Pattabhi Jois and Krishnamacharya presented, Krishnamacharya never thought it necessary that we should ( although perhaps a few of us). Krishnamacharya never it seems intended asana to be fixed in a series, most will never complete 2nd series, many will not complete Primary. However if we maintain our practice for a number of years, even if we practice only half the primary group or series of asana along with our pranayama we can still develop proficiency in our asana practice, explore the asana we have in ever more subtlety of breath and bandha and focus. Advanced practice can look like this.
It is not necessary to switch ones whole practice overnight ( if at all) to longer, slower breathing with longer stays and perhaps kumbhaka, resulting in less asana practiced. We might begin with just one asana taken more slowly, a different asana each practice. Regular Ashtanga of course already includes longer stays in finishing.
|Sharath in baddha konasana|
I find it a useful reminder that it is challenging enough to remain steady and comfortable and focussed in even one primary asana and to carry that equanimity throughout the day and that this is considered proficient practice.... or just practice - no circus skills required.
It strikes me that no book is required for the above, no workshop on technique, no classes on alignment, no shala or studio pass, no journeys or pilgrimages, the 'source' is within us, me merely need to sit, breathe and focus our attention. At some point we may want to read more Patanjali and see what he suggests we do with the the concentration we develop.
However one might equally choose to practice half vinyasa between sides or after each asana or perhaps after a group of asana variations. Rather than taking Krishnamacharya's regular Vinyasa outlined in Yoga Makaranda and familiar to Ashtangi's one might enter and exit a seated asana via uttanasana as in Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama presentation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fR5MoNlzAs.
Kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) can be practiced after the inhalation and/or after the exhalation.
Most of the asana and mudra below present the kumbhaka after the exhalation, however we may 'balance out' the kumbhaka throughout our practice.
When sitting up we might practice the kumbhaka after the inhalation or exhalation, when folding forward (into the asana for example) we might include a short kumbhaka of 2-5 seconds after the exhalation).
Kumbhaka tends to be avoided in twisting postures
Below, my typical practice
see below for an approach to each asana and mudra
The asana below might form our practice in and of themselves or they might form a framework around which one might add other asana or variations from Vinyasa Krama ( see my practice book or better still Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga) or other asana variations and groups from regular Ashtanga series.
One or more Optional Asymmetric asana approached as mudra
3. Maha Mudra
5. Padma Mayurasana (optional )
Or Vajrasana with stomach lock.
Dwi pada pitam
7. Bhujamgi mudra
9. Baddha Konasana - 6, 12, 24 breaths
10. Yoga Mudra
|Vrikasana/Bhagirathasana (left). Parvatasana (right).|
|Maha Mudra before folding into Janu Sirsasana|
|Mudra approach to Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana|
|Mudra approach to Tirieng Mukha Eka Pada Paschimattanasana|
(or Vajrasana with stomach lock)
|Mayurasana, practicing on the toes or perhaps lifting up first one leg then the other would be perfectly acceptable.|
An alternative to mayurasana that I tend to practice is is the stomach lock that Krishnamacharya taught to Ramaswami. Take up virasana or vajrasna, press the heels of the palms into the lower abdomen a couple of inches apart, link the fingers and fold forward on the exhale, stay for six to twelve breaths. This perhaps has similar benefits/effect to mayurasana ( an no doubt nauli) and is I find excellent for digestion.
Mayurasana is also a posture Krishnamacharya recommended practicing regulated breathing (kumbhaka is perhaps suggested by 'proper practice' of pranayama, I include a two second kumbhaka after both inhalation and exhalation).
"For maximum benefit Pranayama should be done for 5 minutes, when the body is held as a plank in the horizontal position. Proper practice of Pranayama is difficult, but becomes easy after practice".
"If at this stage, regulated breathing is practiced in Padma Mayurasana position, it becomes easy later to practice Pranayama even in the ordinary Mayurasana position".
This is from the Mayurasana instruction from Yoga Makaranda part II. Interestingly Krishnamacharya doesn't mention employing kumbhaka in the Yoga Makaranda instructions from part I which is where we usually find kumbhaka indications. And in the main body of the Yoga Makaranda part II instructions he specifically says NOT to include kumbhaka ( but this fits in with the apparent introductory focus of YM2.). The reference to practicing pranayama and thus kumbhaka comes as an addition at the end.
How Long to spend in Mayurasana
Three durations are mention for mayurasana, the shocking...
"This asana sthiti should be held from 1 minute up to 3 hours according to the practitioner’s capa- ability".
which thankfully is followed immediately by...
"If we make it a habit to practise this asana every day for at least fifteen minutes, we will attain tremendous benefits".
And finally in Yoga makaranda part II
"For maximum benefit Pranayama should be done for 5 minutes, when the body is held as a plank in the horizontal position".
Which is attainable.
Krishnamacharya stressed the importance of including three key daily postures held for an extended period,Paschimattanasana(posterior forward bend), Sirsasana (headstand) and Sarvangasana (shoulderstand). On his Vinyasa Krama TT course Ramaswami would recommend spending five to ten minutes in Sarvangasana, the first three minutes or so with the legs relaxed.
We can employ sarvangasana as both a preparatory pose for Sirsasana as well as it's counterposture. On Ramaswami's advice I save the shoulderstand variations for the sarvangasana after the headstand.
Before sarvangasana preparatory postures are advisable, Dwi pada pitam (table posture) especially.
After the first long sarvangasana a counterposture is advised perhaps bhujangasana or its mudra equivalent Bhujamgi mudra (see tomorrow). Because of the longer stay a blanket or folded mat under the shoulders might be considered.
One of the key principles of sarvangasana is slowing the breathing, if sarvangasana is currently too challenging most of the postures mentioned earlier in this project, practiced as mudra may be suitable alternatives, so too laying with the feet up against a wall.
The breath may be slowed to two even one breath a minute, if a kumbhaka is included after the exhalation then it should be short, 2-5 seconds, if taken after the inhalation it may be longer.
See post and video here
Ongoing #proficientprimarypost page here
If we can promote advanced asana through Instagram then perhaps we can also promote Primary asana and work on proficiency there. Ramaswami and his teacher Krishnamacharya suggest timing how long we stayed in a posture, then repeat it staying the same length of time but taking only half the number of breaths.
Here I'm working on 8-10 second inhalation, equal exhalation and a 2-5 second kumbhaka (breath retention, here retaining the breath out) at the end of the exhalation. Staying in that posture for five to ten minutes. Padmasana is a counter posture and feels much more comfortable following a longer baddha konasana. For this reason I tend to shift it to the end of my practice just before my Pranayama and Sit.
If you don't want to explore such long stays in regular practice this makes a nice pre-Sit evening practice. Five minutes each side in Maha mudra (janu sirsasana A without folding forward and long slow inhalations and exhalations perhaps with jalandhara banndha and kumbhaka 5-10 seconds after the inhalation), then baddha konasana, Siddhasana for some Nadi Shodhana pranayama perhaps and then padmasana (or other preferred meditation posture) for your Sit.
See also the Ashtanga Rishi Series
'Then, once one has mastered all of the asanas, one can practice "the rishi series", the most advanced practice. One does the 10 postures that one intuits will be the most beneficial and appropriate for that day, holding each posture for up to 50 comfortable breaths'. David Williams loosely quoting Pattabhi Jois.
T. Krishnamacharya - Yoga Makaranda. Mysore 1934 (see free downloads page top of the blog)
T. Krishnamacharya - Yogasanagalu. Mysore 1941 (See translation project page - top of blog)
Pattabhi Jois. Yoga Mala. Mysore 1950s
(David Swenson - Ashtanga yoga the practice manual)
Srivatsa Ramaswami - Yoga for the three stages of Life
TK Sribhashyam - Emergence of Yoga.
Patanjali- Yoga sutras