This is something that's been ... giving me pause, off and on, since I started practising Ashtanga again after exploring Vinyasa Krama. For my own benefit, i've tried bringing the two 'systems' together in my practice, seeking to convince myself, that the two approaches were consistent with one another, picking up on the similarities and putting the differences to one side, for the time being at least. However just recently this question came up again on another blog.
Straight back or curved?
In the books and DVD's through which I learnt Ashtanga the back was straight, eyes to toes. However, in Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama, reflecting krishnamacharya's later teaching, the back is mostly curved with Jalahandra bandha engaged.
I hadn't noticed this before this week but on page 74 of yoga Mala we have both. SKPJ with curved back, forehead on knee and below, Sharath with a straight back, chin on knee, looking up at his toes.
Whats going on here, which should it be? Straight back or curved?
What does the text say?
For Tirangmukhaikapada paschimattanasana, the second picture above of Sharath looking up at his toes, Yoga Mala has this to say,
'...Then, doing rechaka slowly, place the forehead on the outstretched leg, and do puraka and rechaka as much as possible.' p75
Jois says the same for the other le
But for Ardha badha Padma Paschimattanasana it's,
'... slowly place the chin on the outstretched leg,' p 72
and interestingly he says,
'There are three types of Paschimattanasanasana : 1) holding the big toes and touching the nose to the knees; 20 holding on to either side of the feet and touching the nose to the knees; and 3) locking the hands and wrists beyond the feet, and touching the chin to the knee. All three types should be practiced as each is useful.' p68
For Janu Shirshasana A, b and C we have a choice,
' ...place the forehead or chin on the knee of the outstretched leg,' p77
So Yoga Mala tends to give you or your teacher the option of Chin or forehead. In Lino Miele's Ashtanga Yoga it seems to have become more standardised, in the pictures for each of the above asanas Sharath has his chin on his knee and is looking at his toes, Straight back.
But what about Jois' teacher Krishnamacharya.
In the Yoga Makaranda, Krishnamacharya says, with regard to Pascimottanasana,
' After first practicing the asana with the face pressed onto the knee, practice it with the chin placed on the knee and then eventually with it placed 3 angulas below the knee and calf.' p75
for Ardha badha Padma Paschimattanasana he just says,
'Lower the head and place it on top of the outstretched kneecap'. p75
Tirangmukhaikapada paschimattanasana is the same as above and Janusirasana is,
'...place the face onto the knee of the outstretched leg.' p80
However in each of the pictures for the above asana Krishnamacharya has his forehead on his knee, Curved back
It appears as if both Krishnamacharya and Jois tended towards placing their face or forehead on the knee, thus performing the asana with a curved back. However both mention the other method of placing the chin on the knee but without mentioning how it changes the curve of the back. Both refer to the chin method in the sense of a useful variation.
Krishnamacharya seems to retain the face
on knee approach throughout his career, if we go by his later students Srivatsa Ramaswami and T.K.V. Deskachar. In Deskachar's heart of yoga we find pictures of Krishnamacharya still practicing asana with his face on his knees in, what, his seventies or eighties?
Ramaswami was a student of Krishnamacharya for over thirty years from 1955 to 1988, he claims his book 'The complete book of Vinyasa Yoga' reflects that teaching. In his book the asanas mentioned above appear to be practiced just as Krishnamacharya practiced them back in the 1920's and 30's, in fact Ramaswami stresses the engagement of Jalahandra bandha (throat lock throughout his book.
Krishnamacharya then, appears to have remained consistent throughout his career with regard to placing the face/forehead on the knee, thus putting him firmly in the curved back camp.
Jois himself no doubt learnt the curved back, face on knee method form his teacher but by the English edition of Yoga Mala he is offering the option of chin or forehead, straight back or curved. Sharath has his chin on his knee in the Yoga Mala pictures, as he continues to do in his later primary series DVD.
In all the texts and videos I have on Ashtanga the chin is on the knee. and the gaze towards the toes, it appears to have become orthodoxy. i wonder how it is taught in the shalas. Talking of the gaze, of Drishti, this is something har
dly mentioned in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda. Occasionally there's mention of 'look between the eyes but thats about it. Of course there's not much need to focus on drishti if your locked in Jalahandra or have your face on your knee. Is there a connection perhaps?
I have two theories.
1. Due to the bad habits of sitting posture in the west, we tend to slouch, Jois saw the need to work on straightening the back of his students and thus encouraged them to place the chin on the knee rather than the forehead thus straightening out the back.
2. The focus on Drishti is something Jois developed in his own teaching, and this went hand in hand with the gradual shift from face on knee to the chin on the knee and the gaze at the toes.
I suspect the two may have coincided.
Obviously this is all conjecture, but I wonder how Jois taught these asana back when Norman Allan first encountered him and whether Drishti was a significant element of the practice.
What does my own inner guru say?
Straight back. To counter the curvature in my spine developed from a lifetime of sitting badly. If you look at the early videos on this blo
g I had a very pronounced curve to my lower back and the chin on knee approach seems to have gone a long way to improving that condition.
POSTSCRIPT: I just started to wonder about Maju Jois and how he practices and teaches the above asana, given that I consider him a window into how Jois was teaching before the coming of the western students. I searched on http://www.alltheweb.com/ and came up with this picture, that I have never come across before, and will end this post with it and without comment.