So August I pretty much took a break from blogging with the intention of focusing on one pointedness in my Intermediate and meditation practise. I wanted to get over the growing dissatisfaction I'd been feeling with my practise and 'learn to love Intermediate'
The first couple weeks went well enough I guess, I was practising Intermediate everyday, meditating everyday and it was going OK. A few times I'd thought about doing a Vinyasa Krama sequence but I'd committed myself to this month of Intermediate so didn't want to go against that. Instead I tried to do a Vinyasa Krama version of Intermediate. Slow it down a little, make the breaths longer deeper, retain the breath and hold the exhale and tried to focus on engaging the bandhas more.
All those jump backs and jump through's started to feel like they were getting in the way though, can you imagine ME getting irritated with jump backs. I was trying to fit a round peg in a square hole , or was it the other way around. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with Ashtanga, with Intermediate even, it was just me, I was in a different place. I took a morning off practise and the following morning I did the Ashtanga standing and finishing but put the Vinyasa Krama Asymmetric seated sequence in the middle. I loved it and did the same the following day but changing the VK sequence and again the next day and the next. It just felt right.
I've heard it said the Vinyasa Krama is a gentle practise but I've not particularly found that myself, I find it very intense more intense than Ashtanga even, the bandhas, the breath, they generate a lot of heat. When you really focus on the breath, on those long deep, slow Ujaii breaths and engaging the bandhas fully on the held exhale it becomes very powerful. Many of the asana in VK are in 2nd, 3rd and even 4th series Ashtanga, but because they are introduced, logically, building on each other I found there were very few asanas that were beyond my flexibility allowing me to get deep into the sequences and these sequences allowed me to get even deeper into the asanas. I was hooked.
In June when I explored Vinyasa Krama briefly, though I loved the sequences, I didn't see how I could turn it into a daily practise and went back to Ashtanga. This time I was determined to find a way to make it my daily practise. I continued to sandwich a VK sequence between an adapted Ashtanga standing and finishing both of which are suited to the VK treatment. When you look at them the standing and finishing are the same Asana sequence of Vinyasa Krama sub-routines. We have Surynamaskara then an Uttanasana sub-routine, a Triangle sub-routine, an on one leg Sub-routine and then a warrior sub-routine. In finishing there's a supine sub-routine, an inverted sub-routine and a lotus sub-routine, you just need to add the VK treatment of breath and bandha.
I had 10 days booked off work already, I found a Vinyasa Krama teacher in the UK and headed off for a week of four 121, 2 hour lessons. I want to go into this in more detail later but for now I just want to say it was the best thing I could have done. In each lesson we would go through a sequence or two of the shorter ones. S. who had been on Ramaswami's 200 hour TT course, would adjust me here and there and point out certain things that Ramaswami had stressed. Some asana he kept me in for a long time, working on slowing down and deepening the breath and engaging the bandhas. Towards the end of the lesson we looked at Pranayama, some chanting and discussed some of the philosophical issues, the sutra's, meditation practise etc.
We discussed developing a daily practise and S. indicated the poses that Ramaswami and his teacher, Krishnamacarya before him, had stressed as being of importance and deserving to be practised every day and remaining in for a considerable time. The evening before my last lesson I came up with a way of building my practise around those key poses (calling them poses here rather than asana because one of them, Maha Mudra is a Mudra rather than an actual asana), that would allow me to explore and learn more fully all the different sequences from Ramaswami's book.
And that's pretty much where I am now. I had planned on practising Ashtanga one day a week but noticed that when I planned out my week I hadn't included it. A couple of weeks ago I couldn't bare the thought of giving up Ashtanga altogether, now it feels like it might be a distraction. Perhaps I'll reintroduce a day in a couple of months.
In a sense Ashtanga IS applied Vinyasa Krama, perhaps we can think of it as EARLY Krishnamacarya. A practise developed by Krishnamacarya and Sri k Patarbhi Jois, that Guruji then went on to develop in his own shala and latter adapt perhaps to the Western influence. Although there's still a focus on the breath in Ashtanga, with the main focus on the flowing from one asana to the next something had to give. The dynamic aspect of Ashtanga demanded that the extended stay in Asanas be sacrificed along with the slow, building up of asanas. The demands of a daily fixed sequence that could be practised in 60-90 minutes meant the sacrifice of hundreds asana both important in their own right and those important as preparatory poses, as well as a diaspora of asana over the different series. And it's a wonderful practise, a piece of genius but not of course for everyone at every stage of their physical and mental lives.
It was that dynamic fixed aspect of Ashtanga that allowed me to develop the discipline to practise every day and helped me go from being unfit and overweight to being in pretty good shape. It appealed to the 'warrior narrative' perhaps. I don't know if encountering Vinyasa Krama two years ago would have had the same effect. I think I would have become confused and frustrated and probably given up.
Again this is something that I hope to develop in another post but a quick mention here. Chanting, who'd have thought it. I never expected to become attracted to chanting, Pranayama yes, always wanted to explore Pranayama and I'm so glad that it's importance is stressed in Vinyasa Krama. I've included 10 minutes of Pranayama as part of my daily practise and have taken to practising it twice a day, but chanting.
In Vinyasa Krama Ramaswami has a version of the sun salutation that included the Sun salutation chant. The idea is that at each stage of the Surynamaskara you retain the breath and chant the three different mantras in your head before moving on to the next element of the salute. He has a sound file of the chant on his website and I managed to put it on my itouch. I couldn't stop listening to it and found myself humming it all day, mumbling little bits of it here and there. I've started learning to chant the yoga sutras, and am loving it which is also making the Sutra's themselves come a little more alive for me. I came across Sankara's treatment of them which appeals to the Heideggarian in me.
And of course meditation. While I was practising Vippassana there felt like a bit of a gulf between my Yoga practise and my meditation practise, two different traditions. I tried to work Vippassana into my practise but it didn't fit so well. A short while ago I started to focus on the samadhi aspect of my meditation and on Jhanas, and lo and behold what do I find in the sutra's but Pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, now they sound very similar to the discussions you find around Jhana.
So it's all coming together, a fuller more integrated practise. feels like a good place to be in.