Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Ashtanga Yoga - The Intermediate Series: Anatomy and Mythology by Gregor Maehle

So Gregor Maehle's new book is finally out today (It was original due out early November ). I managed to blag ( obtain by wheedling or cadging) an advanced copy from the publishers and have been practicing with it for the last few weeks.

Here's what the publishers have to say ;


Description: Gregor Maehle, an expert teacher and practitioner, offers a detailed and multifaceted exploration of Ashtanga yoga's Intermediate Series. A student of Sanskrit as well as anatomy and physiology, Maehle guides readers to the next level with unprecedentedly detailed anatomical explanations and unparalleled attention to the practice's philosophical and mythological heritage. More than 25 postures are meticulously articulated through photos, anatomical line drawings, and practical, informative sidebars. Maehle also goes deep into the mythology behind each posture's name, discusses the philosophical and spiritual background of yoga, and contextualizes Ashtanga yoga within the millennia of Indian cultural history. With passionate erudition, Maehle prepares readers to reap physical, spiritual, and mental fulfillment in their evolving practice.
Gregor Maehle's first book, Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, provided a comprehensive introduction to all eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga and a detailed discussion of each posture in Ashtanga's Primary Series of postures. In Ashtanga Yoga - The Intermediate Series, Maehle addresses the postures of the Intermediate Series, with the same unprecedented quality of detailed anatomical explanation and the unparalleled deep roots in ancient Indian philosophy and mythology. The Intermediate Series is the next level of practice in Ashtanga yoga. While the Primary Series is intended as "yoga therapy" - seeking to bring balance to the body and mind and to develop strength, endurance, and flexibility - the Intermediate Series is the first step on the path to purification of the "subtle body." With a Sanskrit name meaning "purification of the nadi system" (the system of subtle channels circulating energy throughout the body), the Intermediate Series shifts focus from the hamstrings, hip joints, and bandhas to the spine, chest, and shoulder joints. As he demonstrated in Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, Gregor Maehle writes with a level of expertise that few Western teachers possess. Readers will come away from Ashtanga Yoga - The Intermediate Series well-prepared to take the next step with their practice.
And here is a link to the book on Amazon.com where you can look inside.










Maehle's first book had a translation and analysis of the Yoga Sutra's, this one too, delves into the Roots of Ashtanga Yoga. Chapter 2, for instance, investigates Indian myth and cosmology and Chapter 3 takes a closer look at Sanskrit.
I liked the Sanskrit chapter a lot, having recently come around to some chanting. Maehle stresses the importance of Sanskrit when he says;
'Correct pronunciation requires at least some knowledge of the Sanskrit language, particularly the fundamental relationship between sound and spirituality that is at it's core. p21
And why is correct pronunciation important? Because,
'Sanskrit is a mantric language, and it is nothing but the science of sound itself.' p21
Chapter 4 gives us 24 pages on the Mythology of the Intermediate postures. After the heavy'ish Sanskrit chapter this is a lot of fun, stories that show why the frog or the thunderbolt say, were considered important enough to have an asana named after them. It's a Chapter to dip in and out of. Like me you might jump straight to the story behind Tittibhasana. I wont spoil it for you but it's about a pair of Tittibha (insect) living by the sea concerned about their eggs... or at least the female is. Reading it I had an image of the the insects walking around like Yogi's in Titthi B rather than the other way around.
Chapter 6 is the first chapter of Part II Practice, and looks at anatomy. This is a different approach from Maehle's earlier book on the primary series where the anatomy was spread throughout the treatment of the series and related directly to each posture.
Here he considers the Intermediate series, at an anatomical level, to,
'...expand the focus to the spine, the sacroiliac joints, and the shoulder joints, while giving intensified attention to the hip joints.' p63.
He explores each focus in turn and includes a number of anatomical pictures showing what's going on in say, the Sacroiliac joint and it's surround while in an asana like Kapotasana. There's also his usual use of sidebars, I'm looking at one now titled, 'English versus Sanskrit relationship of Uddiyana Bandha to Sacrum nutation'. If you haven't come across Sacrum nutation before then your in for a ride, it took me from my toes to my heels in Kapotasana and made a hell of a difference to my dropback. Karandavasa too gets five pages of step by step instruction.
Another thing I appreciated about this book was how Maehle employs some preparatory poses which he refers to as warm ups, this is similar to an approach from Vinyasa krama that I was employing in the summer with regards to Leg behind head poses. He has this to say.
'Although some yogi's sneer at the idea of warm ups, the execution of warm-ups is preferable to desperately cranking your leg behind your head without the necessary opening and hurting yourself, particularly your intervertebral discs, in the process. there is nothing traditional about injuries, only nonsensical. if somebody suggests tradition is more important than the integrity of the spine, you would do well to question that person.' p135
Jumping to Part 3 and the Postures of the Intermediate series, the main reason we'll buy the book (though I have a publishers copy I'd like the real one to go with his Primary ), your likely to be as overwhelmed as I was. But that's OK because as we know by now, we're constantly revisiting postures, becoming more aware of different aspects of how they're working on our bodies. This is a book and a treatment of the asanas to keep coming back to. This is surely something Maehle had in mind as in Kapotasana, he has the pose broken down vinyasa count by vinyasa count for both an intermediate version and an advanced version. It's in the advanced version that you'll come across sacrilliac nutation.
Maehle breaks down the Structure of the Intermediate series;
'When analyzing the structure of the series of asanas we discern two different elements: One element, the active one, consists of the three essential sequences that produce the effect of the series( back bending, leg-behind-head postures and arm balances); the second element, the passive one, consists of the four connective sections of the fascia and connective tissue surrounding the essential sequences.' p93
I couldn't help wondering throughout Maehle's approach though, how much of this did the old Yogi's have in mind when they came up with the Primary and Intermediate series, whether it be the Yoga Korunta, Brahmachari, Krishnamacharya or Jois. Had any been to an autopsy or taken an anatomy class. At what level was the series developed. Krishnamacharya seems to have the asanas divided up into Supine and Standing, lotus and inversions, etc. Some asana were considered Key and these were the ones that seemed to be arranged into the series with the variations dropped. There seems to be an intuitive even logical sequence, Standing, Forward bends, back bends, shoulder stands, inversions. Occasionally as with the Marichiyasanas and Kapo we find some preparation postures clearly they had an excellent understanding of the body but I suspect their understanding was very different from Maehle's treatment. But it's a minor criticism if that. I thoroughly enjoyed his approach to the Series, learned a lot, my practice has improved and I know I'll be coming back to this book again and again.
NB. I should point out that my edition was an advanced publishers copy and the Published edition may be somewhat amended. and obviously the printing of better quality. I imagine that the pictures will be coloured in a similar way to Maehle's Primary series.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks G, great review, I will get the book. I had their first book and really enjoyed the anatomy part, for example it was them that taught me there was something called "psoas". I find I always learn with them

    ReplyDelete
  2. Then you'll love this Claudia, in Kapo, in the advanced approach he suggests relaxing the abs and letting the Psoas do the job instead.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great review, thanks!! I'll definitely be getting it.

    Now all we need is for Maehle, Kino et al to bring out their instructional materials on 3rd series!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Susan, Maehle on 3rd, wonder if he will and wonder what what he'd put in there with it. Really like all the extra stuff in this one. This is one of the books I wanted to show you over lunch, the other was/is Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Grimmly, have already ordered this, it says on amazon uk that it was published 1st November. No wonder it hasn't been dispatched yet! Great review. It'll be great to have such an in depth view of second.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Grim,

    Great stuff; nice work getting the advance copy :) I've heard of s/i nutation, it's mentioned in Coulter's anatomy book. Sounds delicious in Kapo; the Maehle, I think, is supposed to come out this week, should be in hand in about mid-month, then.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Revised publishing date was 1st of December. That's what they're saying on Borders and Amazon too. Amazon Uk say it's going to take a couple of weeks for delivery though. Think it'll be worth the wait Helen.

    Hey Patrick, Idea of S/N or S/I as you put it seems to be to create more space, he also talks about opening the sitting bones at the same time and for the same purpose. Made quite a dramatic difference for me.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for that review - sounds like a handy Xmas present! I wasn't sure about this one, since his primary series book got thoroughly slammed from an anatomical perspective over on the yoga.com forum. I'd buy this just for the section on sanskrit though - I love listening to chant, and find it such a beautiful language. And of course, anything that might help my dodgy intermediate practice is a welcome bonus. I'm a sucker for books.

    What have you found to be the best way to tweak that S/I nutation? I read about it in Coulter too, but can't seem to figure it out - I usually just end up confusing the nutation with the pelvic tilt. Can you get there just by the spreading the sitbones visualisation?

    ReplyDelete
  9. hi Lew. I'm reading his Sacral nutation is the opposite of the pelvic tilt. If you imagine standing sideways in frount of a a clock face then clockwise is the pelvic tilt and anticlockwise the sacral nutation that Maehle is talking about. I think that's right or at least how I've been reading it. basically he's just trying to make more space and he figures the nutation and the spreading of the hip bones helps to do that. this is all in the advance section of Kapo, completely different from the intermediate approach he gives so I hesitate to take say too much out of context. It's a big big section on Kapo, probably not a good idea for me to paraphrase it.
    here's a link though to a similar thing

    http://www.himalayaninstitute.org/Yogaplus/Article.aspx?id=3490

    It's only a few pages on the sanskrit but I'm sure you'll find a lot in the book and consider it worth it.

    Must look at yoga.com. Did they slam him on anatomy because he was wrong or for concentrating too much on it?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yeah, the nutation is in the opposite direction than the (posterior) pelvic tuck - I just find it hard to isolate that subtle, micro-movement and wind up doing an anterior pelvic tilt rather than any movement within the S/I joint. I think you're right - probably best if I get the book myself!
    I've bookmarked that other link on nutation - thanks for that, I hadn't come across is yet.

    Maehle was being slammed for giving inaccurate, potentially injurious advice about protecting the knee joint in ardha baddha padmottasana:

    http://www.yoga.com/forums/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=28151&posts=1

    and a lot of what Nick is saying matches what the ortho was doing with my leg, and the discomfort I had when I had a cyst in the back of my knee. As I'm not an anatomist, I'm in no position to comment on who is "right" - enjoy the read!

    ReplyDelete

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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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