“One of my goals in life is to do the slowest Primary Series anywhere… rather than the quickest”. Richard Freeman

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Developing a home practice Part 25 Vinyasa Krama and what happened in August?

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.

Asana
Pranayama
Chanting
Yoga Sutra's.....

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.

11 comments:

  1. Clafifying question: What does "a week of four 121, 2 hour lessons" mean?

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  2. sorry Roselil 121= one to one, just me and him, private lessons : )

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  3. This all sounds delightful and deep. Very rich. The idea that AVY is young Krishnamacharya (when he was teaching young boys!) and VK is mature Krishnamacharya (when healing and mature, more developed students were more the focus) explains a lot-Ramaswami puts it that way as well.

    One quibble--this idea that something had to go to enable the ashtanga flow, and that this something was the breath. This was very much your interpretation, one that resulted from not working with a teacher. The reason I don't really talk about posture, and a lot of ashtanga teachers (the mature ones who don't care if they please people) treat posture as a process rather than a thing, is that it is for many of us it is principally a breathing practice.

    By contrast, I hear you talking about posture, about the way VK's pacing enables deeper postures. That's great, and sounds delightful!, but belies the notion that AVY is more about making shapes than VK. Indeed, because AVY is constantly moving, those who do a breath-focused interpretation definitely don't go as deep in postures as we would if we didn't move around as much. Doing envelope breathing means the asana stuff is contained by and dependent on breath... so in my case, it's the practice that has taught me to breathe, with posture as a by-product.

    This is very much the result of practicing in a group, where the main input from others is the sound of the breath. And this is why I care to do the traditional thing--purely for the power in consiprination.

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  4. Hey Owl, been quiet your place, busy huh.

    Your quibble.....don't think I've said anywhere that AVY wasn't about the breath, I agree, it's very much about the breath and something I always found very powerful about the practice. Something too that I was struck by the couple of times i did go to the Shala, the sound of all that ujaii, really quite something. The mala is strung on the breath no.

    How can I say it, not that the breath is more central to VK than AVY but that..... how can I say it without it seeming I'm saying one is better or lesser than the other. It's just different. In AVY you set your ujaii going and off you go, riding the breath, but in VK it seems like your working with the breath more, thats it your 'working' with the breath. In a forward bend or a twist the inhale is more shallow and yet the exhale is longer, slower. In Paschimatanasana for example there's a short inhale of three to five seconds and yet a very long slow exhalation of five to ten, even fifteen seconds engaging bandhas fully at the end of the the exhale.

    Actually the AVY Paschimatanasana is pure VK. No jump back between the hand variations you just straighten and then back into the next, each of which is taking you deeper into the pose. It's not that one is a breathing practice and the other a pose practice. However, it does feel, to me at least, that the breath and each individual asana are more inextricably linked in VK, as opposed to say this asana and the next asana linked by the breath in AVY.

    I don't think I've said either that AVY is just about making shapes, is that another criticism often made, haven't heard it but come to think of it I can see how someone from the outside might think that, it can appear that way. It does feel in VK that your working with a pose more (like this working with idea) You don't tend to go straight into it but work your way in. You might go in on the inhale then come back out again on the exhale and repeat that three times going a little deeper each time. On the third time you might hold the pose for three to six breaths or even twice that in some poses. Primary would take you three hours if you did that.

    I'm not criticizing Ashtanga here, I've said again and again that it's a marvelous practice. Vinyasa Krama is different or rather it's a different way of practicing the same thing and that I find myself currently drawn too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. :-) Please criticize ashtanga. That's a good thing to do.

    My comment originates in a sensitivity to the way students distract themselves by looking around for better programmes the second there is some mental discomfort. Mental discomfort is interesting and very good... it means something is happening.

    This VK and AVY stuff... eh, it's all the same. Why make invidious distinctions? One can come to the breath and bandha through either method... as you suggest, bandha and breath attention signals deeper practice... that's true in whatever system. VK and AVY aren't even different systems, really, any more than your version of English language is different from mine.

    As for the possibility that someone would look at AVY from the outside and conclude it is mostly about postures, I agree, if they're locked in their gross bodies (which is totally normal for a few years). If you decide to practice with a very seasoned group and allow that to affect you, I think you'll see that it's really just about subtleties of shared energy and breath. This is why it's hard for someone like Susan, who is so refined and developed, to answer your question about "what's the point". The point doesn't have a concrete shape.

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  6. Well I could start with the almost endemic defensiveness...... : )

    First you say I'm not coming out and criticizing Ashtanga and then I'm making 'invidious distinctions', which is it? I am drawing distinctions, but invidious, INVIDOUS, oh come on!

    I don't feel the need to criticize Ashtanga, it's a great practice and I was tempted to sneak in a Primary this morning in fact just for the joy of it.

    Besides I don't think it's particularly appropriate for me to criticize it now that I'm practicing something else. There are the odd criticisms scattered here and there in this blog, things that irritated me from time to time that I wrote about from within the practice, just as you've picked up on things that have irritated you and written about them over at your place.

    Not interested in playing that game.

    But I think it's of interest to write about what attracts me to Vinyasa Krama (otherwise what's the point of this blog), perhaps it's not a different practice but it IS a different way of practicing. I feel completely different before, during and after the practice and I like it.

    I wasn't consciously looking for something else nor was I suffering mental discomfort, quite the opposite, I've enjoyed all the challenges I've come across in Ashtanga. I've never become frustrated or disheartened by a pose or suffered Kapo angst, Karanda misery or LBH despair, quite the opposite. Practicing at home I haven't been held back by a teacher but have been able to move on 2nd and 3rd series as and when I felt ready. The most I can say is that I never particularly enjoyed practicing Intermediate. I could do it, practice it on the breath in an hour, but never enjoyed it in the way I did Primary and was starting to enjoy 3rd.

    Perhaps there is something about Ashtanga that can bring out a tendency to focus on the poses and getting the next one, have come across a lot of Ashtangi's saying as much. I've focussed on poses a lot in my blog and yet I've also gone on constantly about how focussed I was on the breath in my primary and how 'meditative' I found it and that was what I enjoyed most.

    In the end what does it matter, I'm not criticizing your practice, there's nothing to defend. I'm clearly happy with what I'm finding in VK and getting a lot out of it, perhaps I could have come to the same place through Ashtanga but as it happens I didn't and came across it by accident here. Be happy for me.

    And as for the question to Susan, I thought it was quite a relevant question, she seemed to as well and I thought her post in response excellent, but pull me up on it there in context if you feel like it.

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  7. I'll cut the feedback if it's not useful to you.

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  8. Always useful and interesting owl....but invidious : )

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  9. Touche? Oh you thought I was suggesting that you were being invidious.
    No "...... but invidious'
    I should probably have had a question mark at the end of that to denote my raised eyebrows and intonation as in, I wasn't so much irritated by your 'feedback' but just by your use of invidious, that's all. The smiley face was to show that i wasn't irritated anymore but still wanted to have a gentle dig at you for it.

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  10. It seems some things between us are lost in translation. Even though we've both read Veblen.

    :-)

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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