Thursday, 30 June 2011

Clearly I love asana.... Updated


I was looking at my David Williams poster this afternoon ( This is supposedly the 'Complete syllabus' as Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught it to him back in the 70's The long Advanced A and B later got split up into 3rd, 4th, 5th and I assume part of 6th (?) series get one here, but be warned, it's huge), I'd just broken the back of a particularly  troublesome posture, Padangustha Dhanurasana, still a long way to go with it but finally managed the awkward grip, the same as in natajarasana and Eka pada raja Kapotasana but both slippery feet at the same time.



This moves it in to the doable, needs improvement  category, got me wondering about what's left in the (surely) impossible asana box.

Nine postures, only nine. What am I going to do then, What happens to the asana madness when they finally fall.

Here they are on the left.

Now of course this isn't really Ashtanga. I do practice Primary and 2nd series once a week but Advanced A, as a series, probably only once a month. I worked through Advanced B a couple of times a while back but had to leave out almost a third, perhaps it's time to give it another go. I like the postures in Advanced B though, many of them don't appear in the Vinyasa Krama bible.

I tend to include the tricky postures as part of my Vinyasa Krama practice, adding a couple on at the end of a VK subroutine, using the other postures as prep, adds spice.

Here's the current state of play,

Rajakapotasana : well it's getting closer, some minor breakthroughs but I'll keep it on the list for a while, at least 'till I'm my feet are an inch away from my head, long slow uphill battle this one.

Mulhabandasana :  I can kind of do it, the feet roll back but it's not pretty, it can stay in the box.

Kandapindasana A and B ( or Kandasana ) :  was getting close, was expecting it to pop in any time but the 108 with turned out feet seems to have closed my hips up a bit, few steps backwards I'm afraid.

Yoga Dandasana : coming along nicely,

Bhuja Dandasana A and B : had a go the other week, it's close, should come now I'm back doing leg behind head postures.

Chakra Bandhasana / Trianga Mukkha Uttanasana : feels like it should be doable now the backbends are back, touched my heels the other day, a maybe but difficult on your own.

Kroukachasana : I know it's doable, didn't work on Hanumanasana for a while but it's coming back and my Eka pada raja kapotasana is kinda nice.

Supta Kandasana and Kandasana : Hmmm, after getting Yoga Dandasana I thought this was a sure thing, tried it but it felt a million miles away, think I need to get deeper into and more comfortable with Yoga dandasana to stand a chance, next year perhaps.

Yogapitha : Looking at it I can't figure out why it's so hard, of all the others in the picture above it looks perhaps the easiest. think I it must be my approach.

There's one more, I had to drop one to have them all fit on one sheet, Samakonasana, the side splits. Still years away from that and besides I can't say I work towards it.

So is this Asana Madness? Curiously I don't think it is. I remember being pretty much obsessed with the jump back and through, with Mari D and Kapo and Karandavasana, that was Asana Madness but recently I just take pleasure in working at the tricky ones, exploring them a little, seeing what happens. It feels healthy and I tend to be more amused than triumphant when I get into them. They're fun to work on. Being a home ashtangi I'm not held back at a pose so don't get the angst and frustrations of being stuck on a pose. I'll work on one, towards one, for a couple of weeks and then just let it simmer for a bit while I work on something else before coming back to it later.

I made the mistake of using the expression 'just asana' in a previous post. A commenter I'm particularly fond of thought I was being dismissive, belittling, seeing asana as 'just bending'. I guess this post is an attempt to make up for that a little. Of course seeing these asana taken out of the context of the Ashtanga series' you may be saying it's 'just asana' in your own heads. This was and is my feeling if we separate asana out from the other seven limbs as laid out in Patanjali's yoga Sutra's. Integrated yoga practice, that's all I'm saying.

Clearly I love asana, for all my talk of pranayama and meditation, the other limbs, for me it begins with asana. I love the challenge of them, working them out, the seemingly straight forward ones as well as the monsters (Advanced B should have a subtitle ' This way be dragons'). Ramaswami said that Krishanamacharya would always teach him something new, whether, an asana, a chant, a new way of looking at a scripture, lessons were always interesting. Asana works like that for me, keeps the practice interesting, alive as David Swenson says, messy but alive.

I like the working towards a posture even though it might seem years away, seeing how the postures your doing prepare you for those to come, hard to see that in Ashtanga sometimes but very clear in Vinyasa Krama, where they are grouped together more. Easier too just tacking a monster on the end of the appropriate Vinyasa Krama sub routine. In Ashtanga they come at you like the monstrous warriors from Infinity blade ( cool game on the ipad) one after another, relentless. That can be fun too, a different kind of challenge, but I don't find it as enjoyable as having the time to build up to and savour a particular asana

Is it an ego thing, conceit? Wondered about this but I don't think the dominant reaction is pride, more amazement, a little bit or awe, that this aging, battered body will do this stuff and amusement too and delight. Besides I might be able to do some of this crazy stuff but it's rarely pretty or elegant, more clumsy and awkward, though they brush up a little over time.

... and besides, for all the fancy stuff, my utthita hasta padangusthasana still sucks.

UPDATE

But of course the nine asana left in the picture above are just those from the David Williams poster. The long Advanced A and B series found there were later divided up into Advanced A to C and later still the into 3rd, 4th, 5th  and supposedly 6th series in the revised Ashtanga system we have now. We can find most of the postures in 3rd to 5th but that doesn't leave that many over for a full 6th series ( some speculation can be found here).

And that's just Ashtanga. The shastras tell us of 84 lakhs asanas. A lakh being equal to 100000, this brings the number of yoga postures to 8,400,000, plenty to be going on with, Supposedly Krishnamacharya would have his students scouring temples for any old depictions of asana.

This morning I was practicing Vinyasa Krama, a backbend focus of Bow and Meditative sequences. While in Eka pada raja kapotasana I was reminded of a video I'd seen recently of somebody, Russian I think, practicing beside a lake. There was a posture I found fascinating and beautiful, a classic. I managed to get pretty much into it but which way to look forward or twisting to look behind, the latter seemed more intuitive.



But how to find the name of the pose, how would you even begin to google that. As it happens it's in Iyengar's Light on Yoga ( of course), he refers to it as Vamadevasana II, one foot in padmasana the other in Bhekasana.

I might not be running off to India to scour temple walls for postures like Krishnamacharya's students, but if I come across something classic and that seems to fit the end of a sequence........

Who doesn't love asana.

6 comments:

  1. It is just asanas. Very fun awesome asanas but no matter what asana it is I guess it is always working towards being able to sit and reducing that damn rajistic nature. I am pretty sure when you get supta konasana all the crazy hip openers/ankle openers will com easy--at least that it is how it is for me but,then again, this may not be true for you.

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  2. You managed to get into suta konasana, excellent, but why doesn't that surprise me : ) seem to remember you mentioned it once no? Kandapindasana is the only one of these I'm particularly bothered about, seems like a nice pose to be in, think I'd enjoy it. I love working on it, sitting for ages in a really deep badha konasana, soles facing up just doing a few rounds of pranayama, lots of uddiyana, kind of as if it was Maha mudra, seen your pictures of it of course.
    Looking forward to hearing more about India and the yoga you practiced while you were there, get blogging my friend.

    Around this time last year we were in LA and you were showing Wyatt and I how to pop into a no handed lotus, been having fun with that recently.

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  3. Some of these are seriously hardcore. Not sure what it's called but can you do the one that's like Janu Sirsasana B, but with the foot pointing towards the back?

    Also curious how it got from the original (?) A&B to stuff like one-handed handstands that other sites have as being part of the more advanced series. BTW, can you do a one-handed mayurasana? The Swenson video shows him having real trouble with holding the balance so interested in your thoughts.

    Maybe one way of looking at this stuff is that all the individual pieces are in the primary series (bend forward, bend back, flex hips, rotate hips, twist, flex shoulder, rotate shoulder, support weight on hands) - all the advanced series do is make these more extreme or combine several of them.

    The one question I've always wanted an answer to is:

    Could anyone do these poses, given enough dedication, or are some people's bodies simply not built to move like this? (Not talking about lingering injuries, but assuming reasonable health, fitness and dedication, could it still be that some of this stuff is only for a minority? The evidence would seem to be that there aren't many people who get beyond primary, but is that just because most don't put enough in?)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Some great questions there Anon, thanks taking the time to chuck them all down.

    The Janu B, foot pointing back thing is Viranchyasana B, one of the ones I never thought I'd be able to do as I've had ops on my knees I went into it very gingerly the first time but it's absolutely fine, I've got into mul bhandasana too the first of the nie with both feet pointing back and strangely that's fine too. I'm leaving it on the list because it could be a lot neater.

    David Williams talks about how he was taught the syllabus in the link I provide on where to buy it. On his poster A and B are very long, A is pretty much the same as A and B in Sweeney. or 3rd and 4th.
    Looks like they just tried to make them more manageable. most of these Advanced A poses seem to fit into 3, 4, and 5 ( there's a kind of 5th series in Sweeney's Vinyasa Krama book) with a couple left over for 6 but makes you wonder how they make up a whole 6th series, wonder if we'll ever see it.

    There's a picture of my one handed mayurasana in the fliker asana in progress page on the right of my blog. I bring the elbow in so I can bury it in my gut, it's almost as stable as the normal mayurasana as you have the whole of the back of that arm to balance on.

    That's how I see it too and why the advanced postures tack on to the vinyasa krama sequences. in VK there's a key posture then prep poses that lead up to it and then some extensions that take it further, primary postures extended further and further, you can translate Vinyasa as variation.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Your last question Anon, 'Could anyone do these poses'.

    I don't know, I do know that I never expected to be able to do as many as I can, especially the freaky stuff. I don't think I have the kind of frame we tend to think of for yogi's, plus I'm in my late forties. I expected to be able to do the strength poses and a bit of backbending but catching my heels in Kapo was the big eye opener, that and getting my arm over my foot with my leg behind my head, getting those I started to think anything was possible, still bemused by that.

    Kind of see this blog as showing that if I can do it then perhaps anyone else can. I try to catch them just as I get them too rather than a perfect polished version, plenty of those on youtube. that was the idea when I first started it, trying to catch that very first jump back.

    I think it's something to do with the ashtanga structure, practicing in a shala rather than at home where you can really experiment and use walls and sofa's if you want. Plus practicing at home I'm not held back at a pose, learned from Swenson's book early on that you can do a makeshift version for a while and continue on with the series. Plus you rely on yourself rather than on someone else, no adjustments at home, no being pushed and pulled into a pose you need to find a way in or come back to it.

    I'm sure anyone whose got through 2nd series could probably do most of the advanced series with work.

    Lots of benefits to the shala approach too I'm sure.

    Something to be said for Ashtanga and working on the same postures day in day out .

    Thanks again for the comment, interesting thinking about it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Me again - thanks for your answers.

    I found your last one quite encouraging - haven't been practicing that long myself, and also don't have the typical yoga body (quite well-built).

    I go to a shala more-or-less daily (weekdays anyway, and moon days off) - I can see what you mean on the limits to experimentation, but on the other hand repetition seems to work. I also absolutely get the mental limits that apply - visualising doing stuff as opposed to not doing it has helped me in the past, although I think it will be a long time before I get comfortable with backbends (but hips and shoulders are a lot more open than they once were) just because it's a movement I've never done in 30 odd years of life.

    I can see how the intermediary is the big hurdle - getting those tight backbends out of the way must allow a lot to happen. As a man I can see how that's going to be my big thing (that and getting the hips right open). For many women I guess it's the arm balances - personally I can hold bakasana for a long time, whereas for a lot of women it takes a lot of work before the shoulders/arms get strong enough I guess.

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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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