Friday, 11 May 2012

Asana screenshots from Krishnamacharya / Iyengar 1938 documentary film footage

This relates to Krishnamacharya's Yoagasanagalu asana table from yesterday's post.

I find it useful to look at Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (1934, 2nd edition 1938 ) the Krishnamacharya/Iyengar documentary footage (1938) and Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu (1941) together.

In Yoga Makaranda we have 40+ asana described in detail

Yogasanagalu has 25 asana described in detail but these seem to be the same as those in the Yoga Makaranda.

Yogasanagalu has the table (see yesterdays post) listing 200 asana, their vinyasas and the focus of the breath in the posture

The table is divided into Primary, Middle and Proficient groups of asana.

The Primary and Middle groups correspond closely to the current Ashtanga Primary and Intermediate Ashtanga series ( the Primary group also corresponds closely with the order in which the asana are described in the earlier Yoga Makaranda). The Proficient group contain many if not most of the Asana from Advanced A and B ( now subdivided again into 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th series).

Perhaps the most striking difference between Krishnamacharya's 'original' Ashtanga and current practice is that the Proficient (Advanced) postures don't seem to have been turned into a recognisable series in the 30's and 40's but are rather jumbled together as we find in the list.

While the Primary and Middle groups are not described as a series it does seem reasonable to assume that they were practiced in the rough framework of a series, this is suggested by the similarities in the order in which they are described in Yoga Makaranda (1934), listed in Yogasanagalu (1941) and found later in Pattabhi Jois' Yoga Mala, there seems to be consistency.

The proficient group of asana were perhaps then learned and practiced as extensions to the postures in the Primary and Middle group and this would reflect how Ramaswami was taught by Krishnamacharya in the 50's-80's, E.G. janusirsasana moving through akarna dhanurasana to eka pada sirsasana and on into kasyapasana, skandasana and durvasana.

Michael Gannon relates in his DVD ( Heaven and Earth) that Pattabhi Jois told him the Primary series was for everyday, the Intermediate series for teachers and the Advanced postures for demonstration.

In the 1938 documentary film footage below we find Krishnamacharya and his family, including Iyengar demonstrating asana. Krishnamacharya is mainly seen demonstrating the shoulder stand and headstand variations almost exactly as I was taught them by Ramaswami suggesting a continuity and consistency of practice that stretches back further than when Ramaswami was taught them in the 50's-80's but back at least as far  as the 30's, the Mysore palace years.

Iyengar is mostly demonstrating the Proficient group of postures most of which we find in the list from Yogasanagalu but with some others that have been overlooked or deliberately left out. Kandasana for example is not in the list but Iyengar relates how Krishnamacharya asked him to perform it for the first time in a demonstration in 1938 (same year as the movie), "Bring both feet together towards the chest, as if you were doing namaskar a with the feet". (from My yoga journey in Vol 1 of Astadala Yogamala).

The 1938 demonstration, then, gives us a look at how the proficient postures were approached in demonstration in this period and shows us that there were many more postures that Krishnamacharya was teaching at that time that did not appear in the Yogasanagalu table of asana.

The 1938 demonstration also reveals that the approaches we think of as the modern ashtanga of Pattabhi Jois (reflected in the Iyengar section of the movie)  and the Vinyasa Krama of Srivatsa Ramaswami (Krishnamacharya's own demonstration of head and shoulder stand vinyasas), and also of  the viniyoga of Desikachar (the demonstrations by Krishnamacharya's family (?)), existed side by side right from the beginning, they were, just that, differences of approach dependent on the situation, the students and the short term as well as long term goal of the practice.

This perhaps suggests that in our own practice it is not a question of switching from one style of asana practice to another but rather of bringing in other aspects of these different approaches as our practice develops. Exploring Longer inhalations and exhalation, kumbhaka (breath retention), adding or switching different variations of a posture into our practice, considering longer stays and finishing our practice with pranayama as well as perhaps a meditative practice such as chanting perhaps, japa (mantra) meditation and the study of 'appropriate' texts. For those of who practice a slower approach and a wider range rotating rather than fixed asana, perhaps occasionally narrowing the range of asana, fixing a framework and practicing with equal inhalation and exhalation for shorter stays may also be an option to explore.

Screenshots from the Krishnamacharya documentary footage of 1938 

List of above asana (asterisk indicates found in Yogasanagalu list)
*Ekapadasirsasana A. *Eka pada sirsasana B. *Kasyapasana. *Bhairavasana.Chakorasana. *Durvasana.Skandasana.*Astavakrasana.*Aandha bherundasana B.Ghandha berundasana C.*Ekapada viparita dandasana. Koundinyasana A. Koundinyasana B. *Urdhava kukkutasana. Pingu kukkutasana. *Eka pada bakasana B. *Bakasana. Supta bhekasana. Kandasana. *Vashitasana. *Viswamitrasana.* Kukkutasana.Gandha pindasana. Ardha badha padma kapotasana. *Yogapitha. *Dhanurasana. *Parsva dhanurasana. Padangusthasana dhaurasana A. Padangusthasana dhaurasana B .Ardha vashitasana. *Hanumanasana. *Supta trivikramasana. *Natajarasana. Parivritta natajarasana. Supra hasta padangustasana. *Viparita dandasana. Parivritta eka pada dhanurasana. Eka pada dhanurasana. Bakasana variation. *Mayurasana (from sirsasana). Parivritasana. *Pincha mayurasana. *Vrishikasana. Eka pada vrishikasana. Urdhva dandasana. *Vatayanasana.

Krishnamacharya, Headstand and Shoulder stand vinyasas
see Supine Vinyasa Krama practice sheets HERE  and Inverted practice sheets HERE for similarities

* A DVD version of the above film footage is available from many of the Iyengar schools, for example here


  1. Great stuff Tony. Any chance that you could put these stills into a little e-book? Personally, I can gaze at the stills for hours, and take in a lot more detail than I do watching movies.

    Urdhva Danurasana with the feet almost together? I wonder what that induces.

    As an aside, I remember noting in Yoga Makaranda a reference to taking rest. Apparantly the prana flows better if you lie with hands by your side and feet together. Subsequently, I've been doing 10 mins in the known method, then reverting to this one for 5. I get really transparent feeling of what's described. It's nice.

  2. I'll do you an ebook tomorrow Steve and put it up on google docs same as the other stuff.
    UD with feet together, hadn't noticed but interestingly Ramaswami has it that way.

    Richard Freeman and Nancy Gilgoff I think we're talking about 'proper' savasana ( more rigid) hands by side, feet together, seems it used to be included, stay like that for a few minutes and then relax into the kind we know now. I've gotten into it too.

  3. UD with the feet together stimulates the kundalini. the tug on the low spine is more pronounced that way.

  4. Thanaks for that Anon. i remember Ramaswami mentioned it once in one of his comments status updates on FB

    'Keeping the legs together in Tadasana, Dhanurasna, Ushtrasana and others, jumping through and back with legs together in lead sequences
    and suryanamaskara (rather than crossing the legs or moving the legs one after the other), taking the legs up together in inversions like headstand instead of kicking one leg up and then the other,jumping gently to Trikonasana from Samastiti rather than side-stepping are all aimed at maintaining body symmetry during the transition.'

  5. Have sent a link to little booklet of Krishnamacharya's asana photo's 1934-72 to your gmail account Steve, hope that's the kind of thing you were thinking of.



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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