Thursday, 30 April 2009

Towards Navasana to handstand

For the last two weeks or so I've been pretty much doing just Primary. Approaching it Sharath style with nice tidy vinyasa directly out of the pose and on the breath. Polishing off the half lotus Jump backs, but generally an unshowy practice not even a handstand thrown into Sury A or B. Though I have been taking it up to kapo and karandavasana on my days off.

However the gods of frivolity will not be so easily dismissed. I started to notice something in my Navasana, A bit more lift, a couple started to feel a little Linoesqu. Where before, my Navasana to handstand, grandstand had been more of a swinging my hips up, this has started to feel more of a lift. Still not there yet but getting close perhaps. Either way I really like the coming down from handstand and swinging through to Navasana.

videoFoolishness I know, but as the fair Kino says, it's not traditional but can be fun (loosely quoted from her DVD ). One of the benefits of being a home Ashtangi is that we can pull this stuff occasionally in the middle of our practice. Remember really looking forward to Navasana this morning while in Mari C. How many can say that?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Developing a Home practice Part 10

I want to try and remember why I originally started this blog as the motivations have changed over time. I'd become fixated on the Jump back and jump through and had made some progress, I'd started to believe I would be able to achieve it. I was annoyed that, so often, the response to asking about the Jump back seemed to be 'Work on your bandhas'. There was information out there, but it was scattered all over the place. I wanted to try and bring it all together, all the articles, Videos, forum comments and my own experience so far. I wanted to write about and video my progress and catch the first real jump back as and when I finally achieved it. I saw it as a resource. I also hoped that others would send me videos, comments, advice so that anyone wanting information about the jump back had somewhere they could go, with constructive advice and ideas to work on, as well as finding encouragement and motivation to stick with it.

I'd actually started putting some videos on YouTube and even made a lame attempt at bringing together some of the things I'd picked up on the Jump through for a video on overcoming the fear of landing. Makes me cringe a little now to watch it, but Owl just asked me about why I never speak to camera when I make my videos, well here's why, Once was enough.

Back to the blog

This was my first post back in July 08

I've heard it said, and been told that the Jump back is not so important and not something to get hung up on, that it will come with time etc etc. And I agree with this. I know and accept that it's just one aspect of the practice and there are many ways/variations of the jump back that allow you to string the asana together. And I'm aware that Nancy Gilgoff, supposedly, never employed the jump back.


I like the the jump back!

I want to jump back!

I WILL jump back!

I like how it links the asana. I like how the asana flow together when you can jump back out of one asana and jump through into the next. Ashtanga is a flowing practice so what's wrong with focusing on the flowing aspect.We shouldn't have to defend our keenness to master it.

That said, there have been times when I've stopped my practice midway through my practice frustrated at not being able to lift up and this is where the "don't get hung up on it" comments are important. I've found that the best way to go about it is find a comfortable jump back variation that fits within your practice and then start developing your jump back outside your practice.

I've just checked and I'm now on post 212. The Blog quickly became addictive and started to take over my practice. Once I'd caught up with the things I had already planned on posting I would find myself in the middle of a Jump back thinking 'Oh this is interesting must post this' or 'That was better, must video it for the blog'. This was both good and bad, distracting but motivating. I became very critical of my practice by looking at the videos, which began to distance me from it, but I also gained inspiration from finding some small improvement. It forced me to think about what I was doing more, about different elements of my practice, mostly just my jump back and jump through, for the first six months or so at least.

Everyone seems to say that maintaining a strong home practice is difficult and that without the support and encouragement of a teacher as well as other students it's so easy to start practicing less and ultimately give up altogether. I wonder, if I hadn't started this blog, if I'd still be practicing now or if I would have become frustrated and given up. If your practicing alone, I highly recommend it.

Next : I originally planned on ten posts for this, stroll down memory lane. I'm having fun it with it though and think I'll carry on with it through this last year of practice to cover moving on to intermediate. Probably mix it up with more of the old style video posts though. So next up is a regular post on Navasana to handstand.

Developing a home practice Part 9

The practice IS the mediation.

For me at least.

The practice itself, from Sury A to Savasana, the whole thing, it's a flowing 60 -120 minute meditation. I've never understood the whole, Practice as preparation for Savasana thing. It just doesn't make any sense to me, I'm not judging here, it just doesn't. Taken that way the practice seems more like a drug to put you in a state to have some meditative experience. Isn't this why Buddha left the ascetics in the forest and sought the middle way? Take some mescalin and be done with it.

But each to their own, clearly I'm missing something, I've read about some of the profound experiences people have said they have in Savasana. Perhaps it's the difference between the Zen empty mind style of meditation and the Vipassana mindfulness style. My 90 minute flowing meditation is, when it goes well more mindfullness.

That being the case I want to be able to flow through the practice. I like that the asana are always the same, the sequence the same. I don't find it boring, I don't want to think about what comes next, I don't want to get too hung up on a pose but just move into it on the breath, stay there on the breath and then move into the next, again on the breath. This happens in standing within a month or so, but in Primary proper, there's a problem.....the Jump back.

In the beginning you finish one asana cross your legs, half step up and step back, then step forward again, sit down and go into the next pose. It's awkward, disjointed, doesn't go well with the is, in fact,.... a sore thumb.

It began to irritate me, in the sense I felt it was a hindrance to the vision I had for my practice. But also, I just wanted to be able to do it. Come on, the vinyasa is the defining image of Ashtanga. You don't see the Ujii breath or the bandhas. The drishte is just someone looking somewhere, not a defining image, the asana could be from any stle of Yoga.

And there are some, oh so cool Jump backs and Jump throughs around, just check out YouTube.

This aspect of ashtanga has always appealed to me. whether it be the Jump back or later the Drop back and coming up,again, Karandavasana, Handstands. I liked that moving the body through space. Defying gravity, a Calder mobile type idea. Plus of course the challenge of the poses that appear most challenging and dramatic. Now of course, I know that it's often the seemingly simple poses that are the most challenging. What's the most challenging asana in all the ashtanga series? Some say kapo, some karandavasana, Dwi pada or perhaps Gandha bherundasana. No, your all wrong for me it's Utthita Hasta pandausthasana. Forgetaba.

Checking out YouTube for Jump backs was my problem. I ended up with an idea of how the jump back should be, taken from videos of guys who had been doing Ashtanga for years. And those were the jump backs I tried to imitate. Here's Lino Miele that was the jump back I was trying to do. In my dreams!

Here's the link to my Jump back progress post have a look at the videos from Feb-May to get an idea of how I was struggling with it. Actually, I'd got a smoother routine going on in the Jump back but the Jump through was a real problem for me.

The breakthrough was coming across a Jump back video by Paul Fox. I can't seem to find this video anywhere now (Please send me the link if anyone has it). but below is my version of it which is pretty close.
videothe great thing about this was that it was smooth, close to the 'Jump back proper' ,but doable by pretty much anyone. All the elements were there for developing a full lift up and jump back and jump back through. My practice was smoother, more flowing and I knew that I could, and would be able to Jump back properly soon.

Next : Jump back blog

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Developing a Home practice Part 8

Next up was supposed to be the Jump back and blogging, but before I write about blogging I should probably say a few things about coming out of the Yoga closet.

First we have to separate London from the rest of the UK. And the UK from the US. I live outside London, the image of Yoga out here is probably still the Green Goddess from Good Morning TV or some such Breakfast show. She was this woman in a Bright, full length, green leotard. Production costs were low, a bare studio, she would do Yoga for couch potatos in front of their TV sets (and occasionally businessmen, accosted on the way to work in Paddington station, in one of those awful, yoga on the way to work segments). That was the view of Yoga out here, that or perhaps some weird thing they did in India. Guys didn't do yoga.
We tend to have packages delivered to work, books, Cd's etc. It would be a minor talking point, what you got, CD? put it on. Book, what you reading etc.
Yoga stuff started turning up.
The Swenson DVD, John Scott's.
Swenson's book.
A mat
A very very big mat (my Manduka).
At first I just put the package away, I wasn't hiding the fact that I was doing Yoga, so much as not coming out and saying hey, you know what, I do yoga now.
I think a mat turning up with YOGAMATTERS on the wrapping brought it out into the open.
'That for you?'
'............. yeah'
'...........You doing yoga?'
'.....................................yep.......................Ashtanga yoga'
'............................I think your Sax repad came in '
'......great, .....I'll get right on that.'
Nobody came right out and said that I had now been put in the box labeled 'Weirdo' but I guess I was already in the box labeled 'bit strange' so not such a big change.
It kind of amused me. By the time it began to come out, I'd been doing Yoga for a six months or so and was feeling good about it. I'd lost some weight, was fitter, feeling a lot healthier and I was loving it. I really didn't care what anyone else thought.
It started to amuse me to play on the uncomfortableness it elicited and how the subject would get changed quickly. A middle aged guy bouncing about on a mat in his pants wasn't the image some guys wanted to deal with.
Not everyone was the same. I've had a few people come up and ask me about it. Someone had a bad back or some other ailment and would ask about Yoga and if it might help, or I might suggest it. Interesting to see who was and wasn't open to it. After a couple of years doing Ashtanga and having lost almost twenty kilos and clearly looking healthier and fitter, people are asking about it more, curious, beginning to wonder if it might be good for them too. I wonder sometimes who I know who might be getting up a little earlier in the morning and doing a few Surya namaskaras.
Next : Jump back

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Developing a home practice Part 7

The John Scott DVD brought me to realise that I wanted to practice Ashtanga rather than any other style or variation of Yoga. I should probably consider here why it was that I decided to continue practicing at home alone, rather than seek out a Shala to practice at. I mean, if I had been so taken with the practice and wanted to commit myself to it then why not?

Good question, and one that I've never really attempted to answer in any detail, probably because I'm really not sure of the answer. Curious thing Yoga, there you are..... on your mat, it's your space, you focus on your breath as you move within this space, It's private, solitary and yet you look up and there's another eleven people in this little room, doing the same thing, or a hundred in some giant studio. Something doesn't fit. And yet..... your engaged in a practice and a practice tends to be social, it has a history, it has a world. Strange how the personal and the social come together here on the mat. The practice then is never private.

Perhaps I just got used to practicing alone. I can see how practicing at a Shala, with others, can be a rewarding experience. I've heard about the energy in the room , the sound of the breath, and the movement of all these other bodies. The video's I've seen of practicing in Mysore, for instance, I've found moving. Something wonderful about all these people from all over the world coming together in this room, practising together with focus and sincerity.

I'm tempted to go, I am. I know there's so much I could learn from generous teachers, and yet I love practicing alone. I love getting up in the morning and going into my practice space in the near dark. I love the little rituals, the sound of my mat rolling out, aligning my towel perfectly. I love, best of all, taking my place at the head of the mat, I can hear cars going by outside the window and yet here it's like a sanctuary. With that first reaching up in Sury A the world drops away for an hour , hour and a half. I don't notice the cars again or the voices outside until sometime in Savasana.

But then no doubt it's a similar experience at the Shala.

That wasn't what I said was next in the last post.

So John Scott's DVD made me realise that I wanted to practice Ashtanga again. However, I found the DVD hard to practice with, it's long too. Luckily, I came across Sharath's Primary just in time. I think I bought it on eBay The first time I practiced with it, everything changed. the practice took about an hour and five minutes. I'd been practicing Swenson's 40 minute short form, four days a week and full primary twice. Now I began to do full Primary every morning. I could even shave a little time off the finishing to bring it in under an hour if I needed to. This revolutionised my practice. I was working towards Mari B and D every morning and supta Kurmasana and Garbha pindasana........ there's something about doing the whole practice too, the short form always felt a bit of a cheat. Now I felt more committed to the practice. By the end of the first week I remember being exhausted, all those extra Jump backs (even my lame jump backs).But I was becoming fitter and stronger.

I was losing weight too.I was feeling healthier. I'd already started to eat better, eat less, drink less wine in the evening. You don't feel like eating so much when you know you have this full on practice in the morning. In March I also became a Vegetarian, mainly due to a growing disgust with the meat industry. But Ashtanga had something to do with that decision too.

And Sharath's practice was so simple, nothing fancy, no.....flourishes, no fancy handstands and lifts. And his Jump back, he just lifted and jumped back. None of that lifting up in pike that Lino does in his DVD before crossing his legs and lifting back through. And his jump was almost a little hop. I'd been trying to do a Lino jump back and of course failing miserably, but Sharath's jump back now that was doable.....wasn't it?

Next: the Jump back and blogging.

Developing a home practice part 6

It's probably good to consider why I decided to stop practicing Ashtanga and take up The Rocket. I could get through all of Primary by now, though with the help of Swenson's variations, but it was difficult to see myself going much further. I didn't think I would ever get Marichiyasana D, or get my legs over my head in Supta Kurmasana. My legs were still, bent in all the forward bends, still miles from the floor and the Jump back just wasn't happening. There seemed no way to lift my backside off the floor far enough to get my legs through. Looking ahead in Swenson I couldn't imagine ever being able to do Intermediate. Wasn't I too old now for Eka Pada Sirasana or Kapotasana ( not at all, as it turned out).

The Rocket seemed to promise to develop my core strength, which, I thought, would enable me to jump back eventually, and to offer me some of those cool, Intermediate and Advanced arm balances without having to worry about all those weird pretzel poses. It turned out I was quite strong and was already having a bit of fun with handstands. The video below shows the kind of thing I was beginning to play with, it's no wonder that The Rocket attracted me.
videoDec 07
At first I thought I would practice both. The rocket on my days off and the 40 minute Swenson Short form on work days, though I ended up just practicing The Rocket

The Rocket is basically a Power vinyasa flow type, Ashtanga inspired practice. As I remember it Larry Schultz had learned Ashtanga and put together a sequence of poses that lifted freely from Primary to Advanced. All the cool poses were in there but without the asana's that would take years to develop. Supposedly he developed the series while on tour with the Grateful Dead, a band who are supposedly an institution in The US (never heard of them!).

The following link takes you to It's yoga, home of The Rocket. In the top left you'll find some videos about the rocket, the top one is a little video that shows you the sequence

Got to say I had great fun with this. Sometimes Ashtanga can feel like it's more about what you can't do....., rather than what you can. All kinds of justifications get presented for protecting the series in it's purity, the asana's build upon one another, they act as counter poses etc. Thing is I don't think it needs any justification. What's wrong with , 'It is what it is and we want to keep it that way', end of story. I don't have a problem with that.

So the DVD arrived and I gave it a go on my day off. A man and a woman on a couple of mats at It'sYoga, the guy is some ex American football player, Touchdown Todd, big big guy. Larry is doing a voice over calling out the poses and the count. I got through the whole series, takes around an hour and a half. There was Bakasana, kapotasana, Pincha Mayurasana, Eka pada bakasana , Koundinyasana....well you get the idea. Asanas that weren't even in the Swenson Intermediate section. I had to look them up later and found they were from Advanced A or B, Cool. There was some core work in the middle that seemed to come from the Scary Twins on Youtube. It begins with a jazzed up Standing and ends with the standard Ashtanga finishing. It was familiar, felt like I was still doing Ashtanga, but Ashtanga on crack.

videoFeb 08

I think I practiced The rocket for about a month possibly two. It was great fun, I became stronger and fitter and more fearless but the Jump back didn't seem to be getting any closer. I was beginning to have doubts. It was a cool practice, but somehow....soulless. It felt more like an excercise program where Ashtanga had felt, if not a spiritual practice then at least a meditative one. I could focus on the breath in the rocket but I didn't feel as if I was meditating on the breath.

I came across my John Scott DVD again, put it on and was just blown away. Here's a link to the Intro on youtube In his Primary he's practicing on a black mat in an empty, white studio. There's this big booming ujaii breath and a voice over giving the count and drishte. His gaze is fixed and he moves through primary with such Strength, and yet..... grace. It's a very powerful, controlled and focused practice. I watched Lino Miele's Practice too and ordered the DVD, getting a similar impression. Inspiring stuff

The Rocket may have all these cool asana but it had nothing on John Scott doing his Primary. Yes he was throwing in some handstands and lifts but they made sense within the practice, they didn't seem out of place, unlike the core work in The Rocket. There was an integrity to the practice. It wasn't about being able to do cool poses or being strong and powerful. It was something about moving the body through space on the breath. Body, Spirit, Will.

Next : Returning to Ashtanga, turning Veggie and Sharath

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Developing a home practice Part 5

In November 07 I moved out of the awful flat that had been burgled into a nice house with a garden fifteen minutes by bike from where I worked. There was an extra room for Nietzsche (my chinchilla) and a lot of space to practice downstairs. I'm still here now and all the video's on this blog have been taken in this house. The first video I have of my practice is from this time, an early attempt at Jumping back.

videoNov 07

That the first video I have is of a Jump back suggests that I was already becoming obsessed with it. Now that I had a steady practice in the Swenson 40 minute short form and didn't need to keep referring to a book, flow began to become more important to me. I wanted a seamless practice, but after each asana here was this awkward transition, a half step, half jump, back into chaturanga. Jumping back through was even more awkward and halting.

I would read that teachers in the shala's would tell their students the Jump back wasn't so important, but it was important to me. For me, the practice was a meditation and by now it had pretty much replaced my Vipassana practice. Throughout the practice I would focus on the breath, or try to, but here was this awkward move getting in the way again and again throughout the practice. I started to search all over the web for any suggestions I could find, any video that might help me get a handle on it.

The bandhas were of course referred to a lot. The secret to the jump back...the bandhas. great, what's the secret to the bandhas...silence. I read about core strength. I couldn't jump back so clearly my core strength was wanting. Off to Youtube and I find twins demonstrating insane Pilate's exercises that were supposed to develop the core. Don't try this at home ..... no really, DON'T try this at home.

It was around this time that I came across Larry Shultz's The Rocket. There's a section in there that is supposed to develop the core and it had all these arm balances taken from Advanced A and B as well as backbends from 2nd. It wasn't my fault, I was seduced, enticed to the dark side, to Power vinyasa flow Ashtanga power plus . I sent off for the DVD

Next : Flirting with THE ROCKET

Developing a home practice part 4

As far as my practice was concerned, Summer 2007 was a kind of golden age for me. Nice warm mornings that helped with my flexibility. I was still quite new to the practice so still really excited by the newness and otherness of what I was doing. I 'd lost five or six Kilos and was feeling healthier, fitter, much more flexible. I was eating less, drinking less (though had never really a big drinker). I was feeling calm and relaxed, practice was good, life was good.

I'd settled into the Swenson short practices on work days, the 30 or 40 minute program. I didn't need to keep referring to the book now so could begin to focus on the practice more, on my breathing. On my days off I would work through the full practice with Swenson's book, employing his different variations.

I read about Ashtanga more. I'd never been to a Shala and so was still very much outside the whole tradition and didn't feel much connection to it. That was fine by me I was only interested in the practice anyway. I'd traveled for much of my twenties hitchhiking and living in different countries, although not India. The whole run off to India to study yoga thing didn't entice me as much as it might have done if I'd come to Ashtanga earlier. My background is Philosophy so I'd read and studied to lesser and greater degrees world philosophies and religions. I'd been interested in Buddhism in my youth and done some Zen, explored the Tao a little. Heidegger was my philosopher of choice and while I might have been interested in the past concerning comparisons between him and Sankara or Heidegger and Buddhism I wasn't in the market for a new philosophy or belief system. The practice was enough, still is.

I went to Paris in July 07 for 10 days and took my mat with me. I tried to find a little hotel that had enough room to practice. This was mainly a reading week for me. I liked to go to Paris with some Heidegger and sit in the Tuilleries with some wine and a sandwich and do some close reading all day. I did the full series every morning for the first time since I'd begun Ashtanga.
And in November I took my mat to Japan when I went home and practiced there every morning.

During that summer I became quite the Ashtanga consumer. I bought John Scott's DVD and his book well as the Richard Freeman collection on eBay. I didn't get on with the Richard freeman DVD's (although now I use his intermediate all the time ) and John Scott's was too advanced. That said I was blown away by John's practice, the strength and grace he brought to it. I couldn't practice along with it, but watching it again a few months later would bring me back to Ashtanga after I began to flirt with The ROCKET.

I also bought a new mat, the eCo mat this became my main mat until I bought my Manduka last year. It's an excellent mat. The hemp weave makes your feet grip really well. It was quite light and relatively thin and very cool. I could fold it up and put in my backpack and took it with me to Paris and Osaka.

Next : Larry Shultz's The Rocket series and beginning of a Jump back obsession

Friday, 24 April 2009

Developing a home practice part 3

I don't remember getting on the mat being that difficult in the first couple of months. I'd always got up early. And in Japan, a couple of years before, I used to get up in the morning and go and practice playing my saxophone beside the Kamo Gawa, the river that runs through Kyoto and was just outside my house. When I came back to the UK and lived in Oxford, I used to go down to the Ring Road in the morning to play. When I was burgled I pretty much stopped playing saxophone, it was if it was sullied somehow, didn't feel the same.

Still, playing everyday for the last five years or so had developed some self-discipline, it wasn't so hard to transfer that to practicing Ashtanga in the morning. The trick was to make it a routine that was pretty much nonnegotiable. With the saxophone, I would go down to the river whatever the weather, take out my Sax and practice. If it rained I would play under the bridge. In Winter I would cut the fingers off a pair of gloves. I might not play for as long, and I might not practice as many scales as I should have done, but I would always go down to that river and play.

With Ashtanga it was almost easier, I didn't have to leave the house. I just went into the next room and unrolled my mat, six days a week, nonnegotiable.I've managed to keep to that. The only problem for me being that you practice six days a week rather than seven. It's OK if you have a fixed day off, but my day off practice tends to float about a bit. There are mornings when I really don't feel like practicing but I know that once I get past the first couple of Sury's I'll get into it and be fine.

The problem for me, at that time, wasn't so much getting on the mat, but rather what to practice, how to practice. The Darby DVD was too long for me for days when I was working. I would do most of standing, a couple of seated, a bit of finishing, but there was no structure and it became a bit frustrating. Some mornings I would be flicking through the book trying to decide which poses to practice and just end up wasting time.

I'd come across mention of David Swenson's practice manual and managed to win it on eBay in May 2007. This book made a huge difference to my practice and I really can't recommend it enough. Up until I got that book I think I was doing a 'bit of yoga' in the mornings, though the books and DVD's were Ashtanga style. With the Swenson book I began to think of my practice as an Ashtanga practice. I began to take it all much more seriously. You open the cover and there's K pattabhi Jois smiling at you. On the next page there are some early pictures from 1975 of the guys who first practiced Ashtanga in the west and a little box called A Living Tradition. Cool.And he's an old guy! Well, around my age anyway. And the book contained not just the Primary series but the Intermediate as well. Strange, wonderful poses, Kapotasana, both legs behind the head in Dwi pada Sirasana, Titibhasana...this stuff was insane. I'd never be able to do any of that, I'd probably never manage to bind in Marichiyasana C let alone Supta vajrasana, but that didn't matter it was all just wonderful.

Best of all there is a section in the back called Short forms. 15 minutes, 30 minutes and 45 minutes as well as the full practice. You don't have enough time for the full practice, that's OK how long have you got? Thirty minutes, no problem, only fifteen, that's OK too, a couple of Sury A's and B's a couple of seated and a little finishing, there it ,was all laid out and in this 'serious' book. You could practice for just half an hour and that was OK. Love David Swenson for that.

Next : John Scott and practicing in Paris and Japan

Developing a home practice Part 2

I think in the beginning I didn't even think of myself as doing Ashtanga but rather just doing some Yoga. The book I was using just happened to be Ashtanga. I didn't read much of the introduction but just dived into Surynamaskara and the standing postures. Going to a yoga class wasn't something I even considered. A guy here, outside London, might think about going to a gym to get in shape but not a Yoga class, probably not even an aerobic class, at least not in the beginning. Besides getting fit and healthy was more of a by product. I was doing Yoga more as a meditative thing right from the beginning. I wanted to get absorbed, lost even, in what I was doing. I think it was that absorption that delighted me and that I looked forward to in the morning. It helped that it was the tail end of Winter, still dark in the mornings. I didn't want to put the light on and disturb the Chinchilla so would just throw down my towel (no mat then) and practice in the dark with just the light from the hallway to see the book by. After I finished I would sit for a while and do some Vipassana.

Of course at the same time I started to Google. I found out more about yoga and of course Ashtanga. I remember seeing that Youtube video of the guy practicing in the temple and being blown away by it (still am) ,was this what I was doing? I think that video got me excited and 'lit a fire' for the practice. I started trying out some of the seated postures from the book. My Paschimottanasana's were pretty sad, I could reach my ankles but my knees were very bent, I couldn't imagine ever having them flat on the floor.

I was now thinking about Ashtanga rather than Yoga and wanted a video and a mat. I remember feeling a bit sheepish going to an exercise shop and looking at the yoga section. I bought a box that had a purple mat and some blocks and wanted to say at the counter that it wasn't for me but a present for a friend. But I loved that first mat (still have it). I remember reading Elsie's blog (that I miss, by the way) where she talks about 'old blue', that's how I felt about my purple mat. As soon as I got home I rolled it out and threw down a few Sury A's.

I can't remember how came across the Mark Darby DVD but I still think I was really lucky to choose it and that it's THE best beginners ashtanga DVD. I lent it to a friend and still haven't got it back. I think it starts with a little Demo of Mark doing his own practice, a mixture of 1st 2nd and Advanced I think, very very cool. Could I ever do that, loved the jump back and the handstand/arm balances even then.

The video has Mark Darby doing the standard Ashtanga Primary but his student Nicole Bordeleau practicing alongside, but doing some simplified variations and explaining them in her French Canadian accent...I'm still madly in love with Nicole Bordeleau. Presenting it this way the practice didn't seem dumbed down for beginners but rather just making allowances for an individuals flexibility. Here was a simplified Jump back or rather step back allowing you to link the poses. I began to get the hang of the Ujjayi breath. I remember it being described somewhere as constricting the throat and trying to sound like Darth Vader. I was skeptical about the Bandhas (no change there then).

If I'd started by going to Shala to learn Ashtanga I guess I would have been given one pose at a time and not allowed to progress past the current pose until it was... acceptable. I didn't hear about any of that until much later, and was, (still am) very surprised by it. I was only constrained by time. The video was an hour and a half, I would just do Standing and finishing on a work day but follow the whole video through on my day off and on Sundays. So within a month I was practicing all of primary, though using variations throughout.

It was a good job I bought the video when I did, Nicola (sigh) would give lots of advice for practicing safely, if I'd just carried on with the book I would probably have injured myself. After an hour and a half practicing with the video I was completely wasted. I would sweat a kilo and every muscle in my body would ache/ felt fantastic.

Next : Coming across David Swenson's book and videos

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Developing a home practice Part 1

UPDATE: I received an email this from A. this week asking me how I started and I guess developed my home practice. I was going to direct her to the link to these Developing a home practice posts but it tends to link to the most recent first. This then is an attempt to put it all in the correct order. Bit awkward doing this so let me know if I've screwed up any of the links.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11Part 11b Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part 15aPart 15b Part 16 Part 17 Part 18 Part 19 Part 20 Part 21Part 21b Part 22 Part 23 Part 24 Part 25 Part 26a Part 26bPart 27 Parts 28, 29 and 30 Part 32 Part 33


I was asked this in an email this week.

'By the way, did you start doing Ashtanga gradually or if not how? If it does not bother you that I ask I would be very interested in your first days and weeks. I am curious and I feel I could also learn from that'.
I think I pretty much dived in. My flat had been burgled in February 2007 and seven saxophones stolen. Although I managed to get five of them back I was angry about the whole affair and was annoyed with myself for being so angry about it. I decided to get back into Meditation, I'd practiced a little Zen years before. I came across the ZenCast podcast with Gil Fronsdal and began to practice Vipassana meditation. Reading around the practice I found that a lot of meditators were also doing yoga so I picked up a book from the library. The book turned out to be Total Astanga: The Step-by-Step Guide to Power Yoga at Home for Everybody by Tara Frazer I think it had looked the best laid out and the least embarrassing to take up to the Library counter.

I practiced with that book for about a month, practicing in the mornings, before work, in the living room with my chinchilla looking on. If I remember correctly I got as far as the Standing sequence in that time which would take me about half an hour to forty minutes, stopping every now and again to turn the page or check the book. I used to use blocks, or rather books as blocks, for Utthita Trikonasana as I couldn't reach my hands to the ground. I was what, 44 weighed 94 kilo and hadn't done any exercise for about four years. I had a bit of a belly and was feeling generally unhealthy.

I remember really enjoying getting up in the mornings to practice alone in the dark. I loved Surynamaskara A , B exhausted me. I was frustrated that I couldn't straighten my legs in forward bends and having to hold on to the wall in Utthita hasta etc. Virabhadrasana A and B were agony, as was Utkatasana, I couldn't imagine being able to do Ardha baddha padmottanasana. I would Ache all over for most of the day but it was a good ache and it became the highlight of my day. Sometimes it felt like the day was over as soon as I finished my practice and I couldn't wait for the following morning to come around. I still feel like that occasionally, after a particularly good practice followed by my morning grapefruit and coffee.

Next: First DVD Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series Mark Darby

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Road testing the Yogitoes Skidless

The Yogitoes arrived yesterday from Glowgetter A bit of a mix up with the ordering but after a couple of emails it was all sorted out and arrived the following day. Probably a good idea to give them a call before ordering to check which Yogitoes they have in stock at the time.

I ordered the 'wood' towel from the Element series. My first impression was surprise at how..... I was going to say bulky, but that tends to have negative connotations, so too can heavy, how about substantial it is. It's not so much that it's thick, but rather that other microfiber towels are thin. It feels, substantial, of good quality, well made.

Yogitoes say you should wash it first in a warm wash so as to 'activate' the towel. Not sure what it is that I'm activating but followed directions anyway. Irritating because I wanted to try it right away and now I had to wait till morning. Being a slightly thicker towel than most microfibers it takes longer to dry, something to bare in mind.

Yogitoes say you don't need to spray water on unlike like other towels, so I just rolled it out on my Manduka and went straight into a Sury B with handstand. A good test as you want to feel nice and stable on that first step forward and we all do Sury B whatever level we're at. The handstand because I do a lot of them now and it's probably where I'm most concerned about slipping.

videoNot my best Sury B, normally takes me a couple of A's to get my old bones in gear, but you get the idea, the Towel was excellent, grips the mat as you would expect with the little silicone nodules, but your feet grip the mat just as well, as you can feel the microdots through the towel giving you purchase. Some might find this a little strange at first but it's quite subtle and you forget about it after a while, except for asanas where you want some extra purchase and then realise you have it. Plus there's the feeling that the nerves in your feet are being stimulated, bit like those bumpy flip flops that were all the rage for a while.

videoNext up was a Jump back and Jump through. This is somewhere that I've often had to interrupt my practice to give my other towel a spray as I've felt my hands slipping, especially a concern on the jump through. Again hands felt very secure and, as with my other towel, it's very soft on your toes if you end up brushing them along the towel as you pass through. I threw in a Half lotus jump back too, as my trailing foot is often brushing along the towel and I wanted to see if it would bunch up the towel, it didn't. Again no problems here.

After that I just went through a full Primary as normal, and the towel was all that I wanted. Excellent grip to the mat. Good grip for my feet without the need for spraying and yet you can still slide your foot into a pose if you want to and it's going to let your feet brush through on your vinyasa's. VERY absorbent, and I'm a very sweaty Ashtangi. Oh and SOFT. I remember hearing that there's some nude ashtanga class in New York, guy's, this is the Yoga towel for you.

videoI ended up with a couple of drop backs. Now a Manduka mat can get pretty slippery by the end of the practice if you don't have a towel making it a bit scary for drop backs. Again the towel comes into it's own. Nice secure landing. (Don't look at my feet, I've no idea why they've started turning out like that...I said DON'T look at my feet!).

The only drawback is that the towel is a little expensive and I like it so much that I want to get another couple in different colours. A bright orange one perhaps, or Blue, oh and a green one......

Give me a couple of days and I'll do a comparison with the Manduka eQua. But for now I'll just say that they are both excellent towels and you'd be happy with either. However, if your working on your Jump through and brushing the mat with your foot a lot then I'd say go with the eQua as it's a little .....smoother. But if your doing a lot of handstands and arm balances then go with the Yogitoes for the extra grip.

I'll give it a few weeks of use to settle in, then do a comparison with the Manduka eQu

Anyone had one for a while now and can say how they hold up over time?

UPDATE one month on, Manduka's eQua Vs Yogitoes Skidless

Tidying up my Vinyasa

Over the last ten days or so I've been working on tidying up my Primary as I'm planning on visiting a shala on Sunday. I've only ever been to a Shala twice before, and that was a year ago. On that occasion I found out that I was completely ignorant of Chakrosana, had never done it, didn't even realise I was supposed to do it, Oops. so wanted to make sure I was missing anything out this time.

I've been following along with Sharath's primary DVD and having a great time. Love how he keeps it simple, basically just the count. Really taken notice of his vinyasa and how......clean it is. Mine has always been too busy. I have all these little rituals where I prepare and build up to it, A little bum shuffle here, a leaning back and forwards there. I straighten the legs out in front of me before bringing them in and then up to my chest etc etc.... here's an example from last month of how I've been doing it up until now.

videoAnd below is how I'm currently approaching it.
videoI try to come out of the asana and straight into the vinyasa with as little fuss as I can. Where I'm in half lotus, I'm jumping back out of that and also trying to jump straight into the asana where possible. It's all beginning to feel much cleaner and neater. My whole argument for the importance of the Jump back and Jump through, has been that it creates such a nice flow from one asana to the next allowing you to lose yourself in the practice more. I'm starting to feel that more than ever now.

I'm even starting to think about dropping my fancy little half Kino Jump through for something closer to a Sharath hop, except that I think it's such a great prep for much that comes later, and I love the floaty, Calder mobile, feeling I get.

Somone emailed me recently and asked me for the breathing cycle/count for the jump back/Jump through. Here's how Sharath counts it on his DVD. I've included in brackets what he misses out, taken from Lino's book

Ardha baddha Padma Paschimattanasana
"Nava inhale, head up"
(exhale hands to floor)
"Dasa up" (inhale)
"Ekadasa Jumpback "(exhaling to chaturanga)
"Dvadasa inhale" (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
"Traydasa Exhale "(Ardho Mukha Svanasana)
"Caturdasa left side" (inhaling as you hop through,then head up)

Just looked again at my John Scott DVD he includes all the drishti.....Saved!

Monday, 20 April 2009

Jump back Screenshots David Swenson

I am of the understanding that the nature of the screenshot as used for educational purposes comes under Fair use and does not infringe copyright, see and

Jump Back Screenshots, Lino Miele

Jump Back Screenshots, Sharath

Jump back Screenshots John Scott

Jump back Screen shots Kino Macgregor

Navasana to handstand (cheat version)

Was surprised a couple of weeks ago by a Navasana to handstand that seemed to come out of nowhere. I gave it another try, this time on camera and managed it again, though the swing back through to Navasana was a bit better the first time.
I couldn't decide whether to post it as I suspected it was a bit of a cheat. When Lino Miele or David Swenson do it, they lift up as if they are about to jump back and just keep lifting their hips higher and higher until they're taking their legs up into a full handstand. It's quite slow and very controlled. In mine I tend to swing forward, using the momentum to bring my hips up and on into my handstand. It's a cheat.

Of course it's completely pointless. I kind of like that Sharath does none of this kind of thing in his DVD, and yet it's fun and almost makes you look forward to Navasana. Come to think of it, anything that makes you look forward to Navasana can't be pointless.

Here's Boodiba showing us how it should be done.

Am doing a lot of Primary at the moment (trying to tidy it up a bit before visiting a YP) so will work on the proper version and see how it goes. Day off tomorrow so I'll post something on where I am at the moment.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Half lotus jump back

videoI mentioned in an earlier post that I'd been practising along with Sharath's primary series DVD recently and that I was struck by the economy of his vinyasa. Jumping back in half lotus is an example in point. Didn't take as long as I thought it would to get the hang of it. I tend to bring my trailing leg back so my toes are just behind my arm as I lift up but before I begin to tilt forward and swing back through. Need to kick up a little higher to give you time to unfold the lotus.

In Primary you can use this in

Ardha baddha Padma Paschimottanasana A

Marichiyasana B and D

And in intermediate


Supta Urdhva pada vajrasana

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Finaly my Yogitoes is on it's way

I tried ordering one of these last year but it was out of stock and I was refunded. Tried again a couple of weeks ago, but once more out of stock, however they had the yogitoes element series and have sent me one of these instead of the Stone one I'd ordered. Now I know 3rd series is not a pipe dream. I have a Yogitoes, I shall fly through 2nd.

If only it had arrived earlier I could have booked Kino's workshop rather than being too ashamed to show up with my home made yoga towel

I went for Wood which they say is Trusting...... and that 'it allows it's form to be shaped into straight and curved pieces....' Hell, I just figured it wouldn't show the dirt so much

But anyway, Yogitoes review to comeA are they all they're cracked up to be? Watch this space.

Kapotasana...what else......

I think this is about as far as I'm going to be able to reach for a while and I'm really forcing it here. Probably not good to push it this far every morning. Clearly it's coming, and the side grab is a great technique, but I need to shift my focus elsewhere, to what's going on with my legs for instance. There's so much going on in these asana and you have to get comfortable with all the different elements and then coordinate them. Think it's great if you can isolate some of the different elements to work on, even if that means employing the odd cheat here and there. But, you have to find ways to work on all of them and then bring them together.
Been having a great week of practice. Following along with Sharath's Primary DVD at the beginning of the week and then continuing on without the DVD up to Kapo. Working on economy in my vinyasa. Before, I would always set myself up to jump back, now I jump back pretty much from the pose and occasionally jump into the next. Loving jumping back from half lotus. My whole practice just seems smoother and more flowing. Thank you Sharath.
Kino is here and I can't make it to the party, oh well, doesn't she do workshops in Crete sometimes, or perhaps a trip to Miami beach, Sun, sea, sand and shala.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Kapotasana Side grabbing the heel

Wasn't going to post this one but am so blown away by the side grab and how effective it is that I want to shout it from the rooftops.

A week ago I was holding on to my toes, perhaps the balls of my feet and didn't see how I was going to get in any deeper without help (even began employing ropes and strapping myself up). After a few days of the side grab, I'm brushing my heel with my fingers and am convinced I'll be able to latch on any day now.

If you go to a Shala six days a week then your probably getting help reaching your heels (if it's not too busy), but if you only go once a week, or not at all then reaching the heels can seem..... well.....out of reach. We try different contraptions, ropes, straps, walls....even chairs, which all get in the way of the practice, but you don't need a thing for the side grab.

Why do I think grabbing the heels is worth chasing after? I was happy with reaching my toes, balls of my feet, but it's not a lot to grab on to. If you want to draw yourself in deeper or have an opposing force to help you take your thighs more upright the toes aren't much help, especially when your hot and sweaty, your hands just begin to slide off no? The heel, though, gives you something to latch on to.

So another big thank you to Boodiba for posting her Kapo video which is where I first saw this done, you can find it here or here



Creative Commons License
Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga at home by Anthony Grim Hall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi

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