Friday, 20 January 2012

More Ashtanga as it used to be (1978): Mark and Joanne Darby interview

This interview was passed on to me in the comments to my previous post Dear Nancy .....Yoga as it was. Highly recommend reading the whole article, I've put a couple of snippets here relating to some things that came up in comments to the Nancy post (The Bold headings are mine).

I thought it was interesting jumping forward five years (1978) from the trip Nancy is talking about (1973).

Ilya Zhuravlev: "Mysore 1978" Interview with Mark and Joanne Darby from WILD YOGI

Learning the practice
Ilya: Some people who studied in the 70-s told me that before, students practiced both 1st and 2nd series during one class. Some people told that sequence was different.

Mark: At first we learned Surya Namaskara A, B, Padangushtasana, Padahastasana, Trikonasana, Parshvakonasana - and then Baddha Padmasana, Yoga Mudra and Utpluthi - this was first class. And my friend Old Cliff said: "Oh, he likes you - he gave you a lot of asanas". Next day I got one more posture, next day - one more. So maybe for one week I was given one posture per day, and after two more postures per week. In three months we completed Primary Series. After three month I went for holiday - my body was tired. After one month I came back - and I started Intermediate, it took two months. An every day I did Primary and Intermediate. An then we started Advanced postures. So it was Primary, Intermediate, Advanced every day. So I did three series daily, and after two years my practice was 3 and half hours. Joan was doing 4 and half hours, because she was standing one hour

The breath
Ilya: 'My next question concerns the length of ujaii breath during ashtanga practice. When we visited David Swenson`s workshop Baranov and I were instructed to shorten our breaths, since our pranayama practices increased lung capacity and our breathes were longer compared to other students. He also told us not to hold one posture more than for 5 breaths, but you`v told that before it was 8 breaths for each asana. Do you think that it is due to the number of students in class and time limit that counting became faster?'

Mark: 'Yes, a lot of students come and time is limited.'

Ilya: 'Then what is your opinion about individual practice? Is it possible to hold a posture more than 8 breaths and make breaths as long as possible?'

Mark: 'Yes, and when David studied it was also 8 breaths. I don’t think there are any rules, if you want to make breaths longer you can, but there is such thing as vinyasa, and vinyasa becomes a movement which takes energy, and because of that we breathe faster, we need oxygen and then the breath during vinyasa become quicker, so you generally need to keep same rhythm in your postures. So that you don’t speed up to do the vinyasa and then slow down. So, I generally work with my vinyasa, but some days my breath is longer than in others, but some days I`m rushed because I don’t have time. I can make a very strong practice in one and a half hours and I can make it in 2 hours by making my breath longer. There is nothing wrong about it, but you have to keep the rhythm'.

Ilya : '...did Pattabhi Jois teach pranayama for advanced students in early years?'

Mark Darby: 'In those years not even to advanced students. When some American advanced students wanted to study pranayama, Jois started to teach them. At that time we had studied with him for about 6 months. So he invited us also, I guess he felt we were ready. But in later years he was teaching pranayama only to advanced students, people who new third series. One time Sharath invited one student to come, he was not advanced but a long time student, and Guruji asked him - why you here? He said Sharath invited me, and Guruji had discussion with Sharath and said to the man: “You sit and watch”. So he did not practice and just watched'.

Ilya: 'He was very strict in this'.

Mark: 'Because it's difficult. When you do pranayama with strong retentions it can be dangerous. Body should be prepared and Pattabhi Jois said that when you do advanced series you should be ready to pranayama. I teach pranayams which I learn't from Deshikachar - its simple approach, simple pranayamas'.

Samakonasana and Hanumanasana
'Ilya: 'Somebody told me that Hanumanasana was in Primary series'

Mark: 'He gave it to Derek Ireland - Hanumanasana and Somakonasana, it was individual instruction, but Derek gave this to his students. So only his students did this. But he was advanced student. It was not given to beginners'.

Revolving twists
Mark : 'Ashtanga done well will be your best friend, ashtanga done incorrectly will be your worst enemy. We didn’t do revolving standing postures as beginners. We did trikonasana, no revolving trikonasana, parshvokonasana but no parivritta parshvokonasana, we didn’t do utkattasana and no virabhadrasana series as beginners. So, when you became advanced practitioner afterwards you put them in the standing postures. Why Pattabhi Jois changed this? Usually when students practice they copy teacher, and when beginners see advanced student doing most postures then they would put them in. So when they go to Mysore they didn’t learn from Guruji but from some students of Guruji in the west, so when they come to Mysore they`d be doing postures already, so he`d just let them do. Before, he never used to teach parshvokonasana, reversed parshvokonasana. If you look at Lino`s book, its not Sharath, its Lino is doing this posture. If you look the video of Guruji teaching in 1990 Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, Chuck Miller, he doesn’t have this reversed parshvokonasana, he only put this after 2000.'

Mark Darby's DVD was the one I pretty much learned Ashtanga with, that and David Swenson's book, Ashtanga Yoga. I still think it's the best DVD on the market for the beginner home ashtangi, you have Mark doing the full series while Nicole Bordeleau does some easier variation beside him, split screen.

Here's a link to Ilya Zhuravlev's website


  1. I love this. Reading how the sequence was originally taught makes so much sense to me. I couldn't imagine doing primary, intermediate and advanced each day though - the word dedication doesn't do his practice justice. Absolutely amazing.

    Really enjoying your blog and looking forward to the Rishi post.

  2. Thanks Anon. I tend to practice twice a day and did Primary to 3rd once with the Michael Gannon dvd, but your right, couldn't imagine doing it every day and in a hot shala in India. They have it easy in Mysore these days it seems, Sharath should get them back in one afternoon for a second Led.

  3. I love this interview. I had the privilege of practicing at the Darby's shala for four years. They have a different approach to their mysore program, from what I can tell. Not as concerned with dogma and getting the posture perfect as they were with energy flow and focus. Taking some people very far into the series and others not. I didn't always see the logic in their methods. Sometimes it seemed arbitrary. It still doesn't all quite make sense, but I can sort of see what they were getting at. Anyways, thanks for posting this. Their chapter in Guruji is really wonderful as well. I can't wait to see them in Halifax. Have a great weekend, Grimmly!

  4. I first learned Ashtanga about 15 years ago (in North America), and I also learned it with no revolved postures, no parshvotonasana, no utkatasana, no Janu C, Marichi B or D, and a bunch of others. We still practiced for a good 85 minutes, usually with 5 Suri A and B and long breaths. We practiced this all the time, and only once a week was the full primary series offered. I remember being shocked the first time I did the full primary series!
    I think nowadays, there are so many sources for learning this practice, people are seeking their own way of learning.

  5. just saw you have big post on them Ecstatic, missed it will have a proper read of it tomorrow when I have a little more time, four years at their Shala, wow. Yes excellent chapter in Guruji, think it was my favourite, especially the bit where they gave up the practice for a while then got it back. Thank you, another rishi series tomorrow (three hours almost phew) Coreolanus around lunchtime then supposedly the best pizza in London, hope you have a good one too.

  6. Thank you YouChick, interesting, be curious who your teacher was.

  7. Jonny Kest ran the studio where I learned yoga. I think he learned it from David Williams while growing up in Hawaii in the late 70s. Jonny didn't teach ashtanga at the time I was there, although he did train the teachers. I very nearly did his teacher training myself, but the then-$1500 price tag threw me off. Now I could kick myself!



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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