Sunday, 18 April 2010

Sivananda Yoga, Alice through the looking glass. UPDATED

Since reading Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga, almost a year ago, I've been trying to work out how best to develop my practice around the book. I've tried some different approaches,

following the sequences as laid out in the book,
practicing Ashtanga as Vinyasa Krama,
practicing Vinyasa Krama as Ashtanga,
practicing Key VK asanas with alternating VK sequences,
sandwiching a Vinyasa Krama Sequence between Ashtanga Standing and finishing,
following the sequences as laid out in the book with a VK Standing and VK finishing sequence.

The last approach, spending a week on each sequence, has been useful recently for gaining familiarity with the sequences. I still miss a few things here and there but on the whole I'm feeling more comfortable with the practice.

I can't seem to escape Ashtanga though, it creeps into my practice, hijacks it a little. I love Ashtanga I practiced it everyday for a couple of years, I enjoy it, really enjoy it, I find it joyous to practice, and yet.... and yet I'm not sure it's good for me, for me personally, for my temperament. I get drawn into the next pose thing, the physically demanding aspect, the challenge of it, the other aspects of Ashtanga tend to get drowned out. It was great for getting myself in shape, I'm strong fit, flexible but there's always another pose, always another inch up your feet to aim at. Perhaps in a Shala that aspect might have been down played and others drawn out, but I doubt it, it's just me, it's my temperament.

Vinyasa Krama has tended to bring out other sides of my character, the more peaceful meditative... I can't bring myself to say spiritual side, it carries too much baggage, whatever, I just feel more grounded. I can feel like that for a while with Ashtanga but before I know it I'm reflecting on tick tock's on Mulabhandasanas, on Sayanasana.....

I still practice Vinyasa Krama on an Ashtanga framework, Sury's, Standing, the VK Sequence, Finishing. Recently I started to speculate on how else I could approach the practice. I thought about the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP). Perhaps I could focus on those old classic asanas, make them key asanas, make that the framework. One day focus more on HYP seated asana and add VK variations, another day focus on Lotus poses or Supine or Bow.

While thinking about that I came across a couple of books in the local Library. They were new, probably requested by some local yogi, one was the Jivamukta book and the other, the most recent addition of the Sivananda book, The new book of Yoga.

I knew a little about the Sivananda tradition but not much. It always seemed a little old fashioned, kind of like the yoga that you would get on TV in the 70 and early 80's. This new edition of their classic text is excellent though. The layout, the pictures, it's just a great book. It starts out with the basic sequence of, what, 15 asanas but the second half is all the variations around those key asanas. There are some very advanced postures and big full page pictures of them too, it's beautiful. I'm looking at these variations and thinking, "hang on , this is Vinyasa Krama". Ok not exactly, but there's your key posture, here the variations that help you approach it and there variations that allow you to extend , develop and even transform it, Interesting.

All week I've been looking forward to today to try it out.

One thing though....it's topsy, turvy, it's Alice through the looking glass, from an Ashtangi's perspective that is.


You start off with Pranayama, OK, I heard Tim Miller does that, or at least he does it before he a starts his own practice. Next up though is a long headstand (after sun salutation) and then Halasana (plough) and get this, you end the practice with a triangle posture. That's messed up.....or is it?



Something the better side of me has been wanting for a long while is a simpler practice with a greater focus on Pranayama and long headstands. Great, I get to start the practice with them. I know that whatever else happens, whether I'm running late or not, I'm going to get ten to fifteen minutes of Pranayama and a ten minute Headstand, If i have to drop anything it will be the arm balances that come right at the end.

Anyway I practiced it this morning and it was wonderful. Loved the Pranayama and Sirsasana and I imagine if your having trouble getting on the mat then this might be for you (don't think any further ahead than the breathing and standing on your head, let the rest lead on from that). I'm familiar enough now with all the Vinyasa Krama variations that I could just add some to the key stages. Some Supine variations to the Shoulderstand, plough and bridge. The book too has lots of variations that I'm familiar with from VK so I did some of those for Seated, chucked in Vipparita Slamabhasana and Ganda B in the locust section aftera little of it's prep, Kapo etc in Bow and so on.

Practice came out at two hours, but I was exploring. On a regular work day I'd pick a different section to develop on alternating days, a ninty minute practice including the pranayama. The book has sections called cycles, the backbend cycle, lotus cycle, seated cycle, these kind of correspond to the Vinyasa Krama sequences. So Monday I might explore the seated cycle/sequence, Tuseday arm balance cycle/Inverted sequence...

Best of all it's so not Ashtanga, it's completely different, it's... Sivananda Vinyasa Krama, which means I can still do a couple of Ashtanga practices in the evening for the sheer joy of it without it seeping into my morning Vinyasa Krama practice.

Oh, another great thing about the book is a nice section on Pranayama and even one on Kriyas, there's also a little anatomy section in the back, check it out on Amazon LOOK INSIDE feature. In the US it's called The Sivananda companion to Yoga but I'm pretty sure it's the same book.

So I'll explore this for the next week or two and see how it works out. I need to read the book too, rather than just looking at all the pretty pictures and charts. At the moment all I'm doing is nicking the framework for my Vinyasa Krama practice, perhaps it's not as compatible with Vinyasa Krama as it at first appears.

Anybody know any good Sivananda blogs, always good to hear from somebody who's actually practicing something day in day out.

UPDATE
Still love the look of the book but think this was a bit of a wrong turn for me. Thought I could just take the structure and bring in breath awareness, bandhas and more Vinyasa Krama developing that variation aspect inherent in Sivananda practice. Was just all over the place yesterday and had a frustrating, irritating practice. I seem to need a standing sequence as a warm up and like how the poses develop from one another in Vinyasa Krama (and ashtanga, to a lesser degree). Interesting experiment though

20 comments:

  1. Enjoy!
    That's the yoga book I grew up on, practising on a big old mexican blanket in the 80s. Loved it!

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  2. I used to have that book too! I never really used it as a practice tool though.

    It is funny that going to a certified teacher has had the effect of removing a huge chunk of my asana attachment, at least for the time being. Now that I've been asked a second time to practice the tick tocks & have delivered once, I'm going to have to deal with that thought looming over my two hour practice every morning. I will have to employ all kinds of mental tricks to make pretend the question of, "Will I or won't I?" isn't coming.

    In all other cases though, the sheer volume of poses has made me regard them all as... sort of one & the same.

    As for picking a practice, I'd certainly agree that Astanga isn't for everyone, all of the time.

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  3. hi Grimmly
    the pictures look great. i'll have to get it for Xmas, as I did last year with Vinyasa Krama.
    i'm kind of floating in the practice at the moment. i enjoyed it when I did the various sequences of Mathhew Sweeney. maybe I should attempt some of the sequences on the VK book. dunno.
    cheers,
    Arturo

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  4. Dharma's system is closely related to Sivananda.... only his Shiva Namaskar sequence (a flow) has vinyasas linking the poses.

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  5. have you seen this new edition Susan, wonder if it's changed much.

    Had an awful practice this morning though, one of my worst ever so not sure this is going to work out. Think i missed starting with a good standing sequence either that or the build up of poses from VK. Need a good Primary tonight to get over it.

    Chain broke on my bike Friday so have to walk to work and running late get back to comments after work, sorry.

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  6. I am very tempted to order the Vinyasa Krama book Grimly and, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    I'm in about my 9th year of practicing, but I don't count years 1 through 5 because I was crashing through the whole of primary long before I was open enough, and strong enough, in talk-throughs with non-authorised teachers, and weekend 'binge' workshops. I then did 4 years with a certified teacher, who ironed out the creases and instilled a lot more dedication into my own practice.

    I love having a curriculum of series' that will take me well into the next life time, and I still get stuck at postures that lock me down for months, sometimes years. I have the aspiration of using the VK book to help to shift some of these blocks but I haven't seen the book yet. I can't get it for a couple of months, because I live in Thailand, so I have to wait until my yoga-buddy comes over from the UK. Maybe it's worth a shot. In the worst case scenario, it's another book for my already extensive collection.

    Great posts by the way. Nobody around here does Ashtanga, and if they do, they don't speak English. So with the blogs I'm finding, I don't feel so isolated!

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  7. I guess making you do all those asanas is bound to make you lose some of your attachment Boodi, "no more no more! that splits gotta come soon though no?

    Typical of me though, I realize that what i want is a simpler practice then go right ahead and make it more complicated again.

    IT is a rally nice book Arturo, great layout but i think it's been a wrong turn, This evening primary seems to have sorted me out though. Had a kind of an epiphany, see if I can make sense of it tomorrow.

    i seem to remember you saying that CK, does he have his headstand right at the beginning of the practice?

    Didn't you say your having trouble with your lotus Steve, the Seated sequence might help with that or did I mention that already. Going to be exploring this area I think, using Viyasa krama as complementary to my Ashtanga practice. My mistake has been to want to practice both Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama, to practice all of Vinyasa Krama but that's not the point of it. In the beginning I think you need to learn the sequences and how the asanas connect but once you have that you don't have to try and practice all of them all the time. Want to see how I can employ a couple of extra poses here and there, a sub routine perhaps....

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  8. Nope - headstand is not at the beginning. But it is sometimes before backbending! It's definitely after the Shiva Namaskar vinyasa, which is the "warm-up" or first half of class.

    Then we do "the main poses," which always include the headstand - the king of poses. The order often depends on the focus of the particular class.

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  9. I did a few sivananda classes in Rishikesh last year - at the official Sivananda school where classes for men and women are strictly separated.

    Except the fun of trying out something different, I didn't get much bliss out of it. Doing a long savangasana in the beginning without being 'warm', doing savasana after each and every pose whenever a little heat is being generated ... kind of odd and if I had not had my breath awareness from my ashtanga background, I guess I would have been quite bored (and cold) during the long holds of the asana and the continuous savasana. During the asana class there was no mention of the breath what so ever nor are ujjayi or bandha being used.

    However, the concept of doing the same 12 key asana daily, but with different variations each time was kind of interesting and some of the variations were quite fun or challenging.

    Starting with pranayama is not that unusual, I guess. Also within the ashtanga tradition, I have metseveral teachers doing so. I have also studied with teachers separating the pranayama sequence from the asana practice and doing it at a different time of the day.

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  10. I think it may've been someone else that has a lotus issue Grimmly. My current staging post is Pasasana, and Sharath is really putting a lot of emphasis on doing it with heels down lately, Grrrrrrr. Personally; when I can bind and deepen the twist without being put into it by a teacher, then I'll move further into intermediate. It's getting better (after a year), and my pinkies were touch last week. Twists were my main issue in primary, so I guess this is the same thing, but deeper. It teaches me patience & perseverance.

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  11. Sorry CK, I suggested headstand came straight after pranayama but there's a sun salutation in between, have corrected the text.

    Great comment roselil, thanks for that. I had an awful time with it yesterday, as you say not warmed up, I seem to need that standing sequence at the beginning of my practice. Same as you i added my VK/Ashtanga breath and bandha focus but everything seemed out of sync. i tried some of the variations but again nmot warmed up. it was OK where I was slipping in a VK subroutine but I ended up wondering what the heck I was up to. An interesting experiment and I like the principle of the structure but in reality.....

    Deep down it seems i'm an ashtangi at heart, too accustomed to that way of approaching my practice. Seems i'll have to stick with that and face my demons on the mat perhaps a strong helping of Vinyasa Krama will help me to focus on the aspects of practice I think are most beneficial to me and tone down those that aren't.

    had a wonderful primary last night with Vinyasa Krama Seated sunbroutine slipped in. going to do intermediate today but start it off with pranayama and see how that goes.

    Sorry Steve, i remember now, i think in comments on the same post you mentioned pasasana and someone else was talking about their lotus.

    Lots of squatting on haunches in Vinyasa Krama. in the chanted Sun salutation you drop down on to the haunches and hold it for the chant, most unstable. I'd practice sitting on them while your watching TV or reading, think we don't do enough of it over her. What helps me is really going for the deepest twist possible and then almost aiming to turn your shoulders upside down, dipping the left down so that the right is directly above it then aim that shoulder as low around the calf as possible, almost the back of your shoulder. key for me was thrusting my left arm hard against the left calf, really pulling it in that was enough of a brace to allow me to keep my heels down while I got the other arm around for the bind. Anyway, that's what works for me, Good luck with it.

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  12. Thanks for the Pasasana tips. I'll take them to the mat tomorrow!

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  13. With sivanada series, the doing is much harder than the viewing.

    I do know someone who practised this way for a year and gained a great deal from it, but a) he lives in a much warmer climate than our(uk) own b) practised in late morning three hours after a light brakfast (so warm) c) his between posture savasanas were much shorter than usually recommended and were, in fact, more like what we kow as 'tadaga mudra'.

    He no longer practises asana this way, but does suggest it for a change of pace.

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  14. Sometimes, S, I think it's a shame that Ashtanga was my first introduction to yoga, hard to practice any other way once it gets under your skin. Would have been nice to have explored some other styles before taking it up. I like the look of Sivananda, makes me think of some old song with a simple structure that some of the old bebop guys would use to hang their improvs on. First time I practiced it I had plenty of time to explore, when I tried it on a work day it was a disaster. No doubt I'd get used to it eventually, perhaps if i ever injure a wrist or something, instead of winging about it just practice Sivananda for a year.

    Loved your Krishnamacharya post btw.

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  15. For what it's worth I explored a bunch of other styles, as a gym rat, before I "met" the hard core Astanga and fell in love.

    Christopher still makes fun of me over the one time I went to a Bikram studio like two years ago. I hate Bikram but visit a studio maybe once every 2-4 years to remind myself, if I feel like sitting in a sauna for 90m. He was trying to cheer me up when he first told me about the schedule change & said I could switch. But as I said, whenever I have moments of doubt about Astanga, I just try another form and think, "Now this is REALLY boring!"

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  16. Thank you.

    It's funny but I often think the same re: ashtanga. On the one hand, it was the physicality of the practice which attracted me in the first place and, though being pretty muscle-bound at the time, I took to it straightaway. After a few years of sporadic 'cross-training', a decision to make it my 'default' physical practice proved to be a good one: I recovered health, fitness etc and certain experiential gateways opened...so for all that, I am grateful.

    On the other, there are times when I feel that these benefits have come at a cost and that - and you know how awkward it is to publically express this - an attachment to the energetics of ashtanga has made it difficult to implement other approaches which may be more suitable for me personally.

    Plus, a couple of injuries caused by (yes) some stupidly rough and innapropriate teacher adjustments has meant that practicing ashtanga 'as it is' difficult and, I admit exasperating. This situatation moderates my view somewhat.

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  17. Further to that, I have Andre Van Lysebeth's delightful 'Yoga Self Taught' . I found it stuck away, unread for years on a relatives bookshelf. Can't help but feel that if I'd come across it a few years earlier and, you know, out of curiosity, tried it out...

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  18. Dharma's Master class is anything but boring. I love it. But I'm also an ashtangi at heart, too. It just won't leave. So I do both.... which makes me a very bad lady indeed.

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  19. I have Van Lysbeth's book S ( I have Theos Bernard's as well which is really interesting), I think he has what ten asana. I like the idea of a simpler practice but don't think it would have appealed to me in the beginning, in fact I know it wouldn't. It probably had to be Ashtanga. I think it's a mistake to think of it as a fixed system, there's probably a lot more leeway and flexibility than we realize, that jazz metaphor again. A lot we can play around with before it's no longer recognizable as Ashtanga, I'm interested in exploring that. Difficult to do that if your attached to a shala. I'm glad there is this set system in place coming down from AYRI but it would be nice if there was a Mysore Self-practice session or two that really was self-practice.

    Adjustments kind of freak me out, never had any (OK maybe three or four on my two visits to a shala) and I've done OK., quite happy to go through my ashtanga life without having any.

    Both is a way to go CK, I tried that for awhile but just run out of time. Early and late Krishnamacharya they should be able come together no. Combining them leaves me more time for Meditation and Pranayama in the evening which was beginning to suffer.

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  20. Headstand is the first Asana following warm ups (classical sun salutations, leg raises). dolphin may substitute for headstand, or one may skip this inversion and go into shoulder stand. Sivananda has 12 basic asanas starting from head ending on the feet. Sivananda is more spiritual practice with emphasis on opening prayers, closing prayers, and salutations to Sri Sivananda and Sri Vishnu Divananda. Beginner's pranayama is used in the beginning to bring focus and clarity to the asana practice. Beginner's practice is more relaxed than advanced. Corpse pose, child's pose and prone pose are used to prevent build up of lactic acid in the muscles.

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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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