This morning I posted on the new magazine version of the Ashtanga Parampara interviews that I have been featuring here on the blog over the last couple of months.
In this post I want to pick over some of the ideas presented in the Ashtanga Pranampara Mission statement and intro. I do this because while I love Lu and these interviews and am interested in the stories of the excellent teachers involved, it concerns me that it may present a one sided view of what defines Ashtanga Vinyasa.
This is very much a personal, alternative view (it is a blog after all) of a mostly home Ashtanga vinyasa practitioner and of only eight years.
|Home practice: Advanced series is unnecessary,|
Primary or even half Primary are more than sufficient.
"Authorized and certified teachers have demonstrated strength and sacrifice towards this practice, leaving behind family, friends, and professional obligations to practice in Mysore, India, over the course of years. This guru-shishya tradition, also known as lineage or parampara, defines the Ashtanga practice, and is one of its most potent aspects.” Ashtanga Parampara
Looking at the first sentence
"Authorized and certified teachers have demonstrated strength and sacrifice towards this practice, leaving behind family, friends, and professional obligations to practice in Mysore, India, over the course of years."
This does indeed demonstrate commitment and sacrifice as well as perhaps a passion for the practice. However in no sense, I would argue, is this required of the Ashtanga vinyasa lineage, all the sacrifice and commitment that is required is to (get on the mat and) practice as much as one is able in ones life presently as well as, more importantly, to try to bring the yama and niyamas, in whichever form they manifest themselves in our culture, into our day as much and as fully as possible. Somebody who practices daily year after year without making a single trip to Mysore or indeed to a shala, who never writes a blog post or posts a selfie on social media may be just as committed (perhaps more so) as any of the excellent teachers who grace Ashtanga Parampara.
"This guru-shishya tradition, also known as lineage or parampara, defines the Ashtanga practice, and is one of its most potent aspects.”
I would argue that while there is an ancient tradition of guru-shishya in which one would be guided in depth in all areas (limbs) of yoga practice (traditionally living with one's guru for seven years) and also clearly a modern tradition ( 'Tradition' is an interesting word in that it can suggest ancient and recent) of either visiting Mysore or wherever Manju may happen to be teaching or any other senior, long term practitioner for advice and guidance this certainly does not define the practice.
Practice defines the practice.
NOTE: This should in no way be interpreted as a criticism of Lu, the Interview platform nor anyone else who may hold the above view. I suspect that Ashtanga Parampara defining Ashtanga may well be Sharat's view, not surprising perhaps given his relationship with his grandfather. It may also be the view of many of the senior, long term practitioners who had a relationship with Pattabhi Jois. This post merely intended to present an alternative view, that a relationship with the practice may well be enough.
This lineage is a linking of movements to the breath, of embedding the asana in a vinyasa that includes it's pratkriya (counter), each breath counted (or implied). Krishnamacharya's flexible table of primary, middle and proficient groups of asana become fixed (but perhaps not too strictly) in a sequence of postures in his student Pattabhi Jois (in response to a particular pedagogic situation IE. the request for a four year colleage syllabus) who also increased the number of drishti from two to nine. The focussing of attention was always a part of the lineage it seems as was the exploration of bandhas.
That lineage is available to us in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (1934), Yogasanagalu (1941) and in Pattabhi Jois' Yoga Mala (1950s), we see it in convenient table/chart form in Yogasanagalu and in the 1973 ( and may go back to the 1940s) syllabus that Pattabhi Jois gave to Nancy Gilgoff and David Williams. There may have been some variations over the years, a slight reordering and shift of attention from full vinyasa to half vinyasa but the lineage essentially remains the same (although I would argue that the ball was dropped somewhat in leaving out kumbhaka, present in Krishnamacharya).
However we learn or have learned this practice, whether directly from Pattabhi Jois or from one of the teachers he himself taught or they taught in turn and so on down, whether from Yoga Mala directly or one of the books or videos produced by one of the students of Pattabhi Jois ( who suggested to Richard Freeman that he make a video), whether at home or in a shala. If we continue to practice pretty much in line with Yoga Mala ( and it offers several flexible options for practice) in a shala with or without a teacher, in a studio space or at home then I would argue we are very much following the lineage.
The practice is the lineage, not where or from who but practicing sincerely and ( here I very much agree with my friend Lu) with commitment and some degree of sacrifice.
|LINK to FULL 1973 Ashtanga syllabus|
I've tended to see Authorisation as an unnecessary evil ( and I wonder how many of the interviewees in the Guruji book Lu refers too as an inspiration for his project are on the current authorised list). What we do have is Pattabhi Jois' Yoga Mala and that strikes me as about authoritative guide to this practice as we need, all the authorisation that we need. A chart/table based on that book showing the order of asana and vinyasa (along with it's caveats), the drishti, where to look for the bandhas is all that we require, that and it's practice, years of practice.
Note: When learning alone at home from materials presented by a teacher of this lineage it is also important to listen carefully to the teacher within, common sense, wisdom, the inner guru call it what you will. Know when to push ahead bravely and challenge perception of self as well as when to err on the side of caution and be patient for the strength and flexibility to arise in due course. The tendency, the temptation, is to rush ahead but there really is no hurry and there is nothing more frustrating than a foolishly brought on strained hamstring ( or worse) that makes practice uncomfortable for weeks on end. Ahmisa, non harming, begins with ourselves.
If we do want a teacher, help in this practice, than what we need to know perhaps is how long they have practiced with sincerity the methodology they propose to share.
Don't get me wrong there are great teachers out there, great guides to practice whether authorised or not, recognised or not.
The Yoga Tradition is vast but I remember Ramaswami (who was a student of Krishnamacharya for 33 years) saying that Patanjali's yoga Sutras and Vyasas commentary (which may have been written by the same hand) speak directly to us and it's only the commentaries that confuses us, likewise with the Gita, the Upanishads. Ramaswami also teaches that meditation can include the reading of appropriate texts. Our practice of bringing the yama and niyamas into our lives, our asana and pranyama, our pratyahara prepare us for our meditative activity. Our practice then is perhaps all the preparation we need for encountering and engaging these texts of similarly appropriate material of our own tradition and culture.
Teachers, Gurus, shastras (spiritual texts) are guides only, shortcuts, as I suggested in the previous post, the Yoga tradition is based on a simple insight that reaches back before lineages and traditions and across cultures,we don't need to read any ancient text or visit a teacher to rediscover that first insight for ourselves.
Simplify your life
focus the attention.
David Garrigues is excellent on lineage, tradition and parampara in the new Ashtanga Dispatch podcast, I highly recommend it.