Tuesday, 22 May 2012

UPDATED How Ramaswami taught the Vinyasa Krama asana workshop


This post isn't really finished yet, mostly a bunch of notes, but I promised it for today so this is what I have so far. I'll be coming back to tidy it up and improve on it over the next couple of days. As it is my friend commenting here as Anonymous who attended Ramaswami's Big Sur workshop has done most of my john for me, many thanks.


Yoga goddess asked if Ramaswami instructed us in how to teach vinyasa Krama.

"Wonderful material, presented beautifully but how do we go about practicing or teaching it".

Here are two examples using Ramaswami himself as a model. The first is of the 200 hour TT course I attended in 2010, the morning class being a five week course covering the sequences and approach in Ramaswami's book The complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga , the second is a short workshop lasting I think a week, attended by a friend.

Although these are workshop formats, we can perhaps get an idea of how we might approach teaching a series of lessons, whether one-on-one or in a class situation.

The idea seems to be to lay out the basics of breath corresponding with movement in the first few arm movements of the On your feet sequences and then add on more subroutines from that and  other sequences as the course continued until we have the framework of a regular integrated practice. Along the way introducing pranayama, pratyahara and meditation as well as perhaps some chanting.

In the workshop we began the asana class with the first few arm movements of the On your feet sequence, this allowed Ramaswmi to focus on the breath, the long slow inhalation and exhalation corresponding with the arm movements. He focused on the stretching, on lifting the pelvis up and then lifting up out of the pelvis as we "Stretch, stretch, stretch".

 We would begin every asana class with a few of those basic movements reenforcing the focus on the breath, on ujayii, it's coordination with the movement and the reminder to stretch.

We covered most of the On your feet sequence in the first week leaving a few of the more challenging postures until the end of the week.

This then was the general approach as we continued to explore the different sequences. Begin with the basic movements of on your feet, then work through some of the other sequences leaving out perhaps the most challenging postures at first but coming back to them later, towards the end of the week, to at least attempt them.

By around the third week, having looked at several of the sequences,  we had a good framework of a Vinyasa Krama class. Some On your feet and Triangle subroutines, Asymmetric subroutines and a long paschimottanasana, shoulder stand and  Bow postures as a counter then we would begin to include pranayama carried over from the afternoon pranayama class as well as pratyahara, some chanting and meditation, again carried over from the respective afternoon classes.

As the course went on we would switch the subroutines, include subroutines from the other sequences, On one leg and Inverted for example as we covered them.

Below is a basic, very basic, outline of the asana part of the course as I roughly sketched it out in notes at the time.

Week I

Day 1. 
basic checks
arm movements
back salutes
shoulder rotation

Day 2.
side poses
forward bends
squats 
- began to introduce asymmetric

Day3
sideways forward stretch
standing turtle
noose pose

Day 4
days 1, 2, 3 + drop backs
tittibahsana

Day 5 
full On your feet sequence

Week II

Day 1 
Simple lead in
Marichiyasana
Sirsasana half lotus

Day 2
Day 1 +
Krounchasana
bent leg back
lead in (jump through)

Day 3
As Day 1 +
Archer
leg behind head
utpluthi

Day 4
As Day 1, 2 +
Hanumanasana
half kingfisher
Bharadanjasana
maha bandha

Day 5
Full Asymmetric + purna matsyendrasana

Week III
As Day 1
Seated
Supta kurmasana
lead in
return sequence

Day 2
simplified supine up to shoulder stand
Bow simplified (as counter to shoulderstand)

Day 3
Seated
Shoulderstand
Bow
alternating bow and shoulderstand

Day 4
Paschimoottanasana
shoulderstand
bow

Day 5
Asymmetric postures
Paschimottanasana
Shoulderstand
Bow

Week IV (introducing some pranayama into asana class)

Day 1
Tadasana, 
shoulderstand, 
bow, 
triangle

Day 2
tadasana, Shoulderstand
bow
rest of triangle

Day 3
Paschi (10 minutes)
Asymmetric
Triangle
Inverted (headstand)

Day 4
Paschi
Asymmetric
Triangle
headstand vinyasas

Day 5
paschi
Asymmetric
triangle

Week IV (Integrated practice, Asana, pranayama, pratyahara, meditation).

Day 1
Holiday (5th July)

As week III but with On one leg (tapas) Introducing more pranayama/pratyahara
also exploring postures from asana section of Yoga Makaranda

Week IV (final week)
Visesha sequence Longer pranayama and pratyahara
Class model/framework (Me, Rene and Wyatt)


------------------------------------------------

We were all also offered and encouraged to lead a subroutine or two as the course progressed. At the end of the course (fifth week) we all tried to come up with a Vinyasa Krama class in pairs.  Mine and Rene's seemed to be acceptible so we, or rather she, took the final class using the framework we came up with, while Wyatt led the Pranayama section. 

This was basically the usual ten minute On your feet mini sequence followed by a couple of triangle subroutines and the on one leg subroutine, asymmetric, bow, seated supine and shoulder stand, headstand with vinyasa and lotus. Ending with pranyama and pratyahara and meditation.

Obviously this was a workshop in which we were being taught the whole syllabus, in an actual Vinyasa Krama class there would be perhaps those basic movements at the beginning and then a few subroutines. Each class would include a long paschimottanasana, long shoulder stands and ideally headstands and finish with pranayama, pratyahara and meditation.

The trick is not to be too ambitious and plan too many subroutines or postures but rather to take your time with the ones you do have, less is more. Each class would be familiar containing the key postures but would also perhaps include something new, a different subroutine.

Another thing, Ramaswami didn't say much while teaching, only what was absolutely necessary to achieve the posture, mainly cuing the breath and a reminder of bandhas. Instruction always seemed a suggestion, an offering of instruction. Quite close in a way to a led ashtanga class with the bare minimum of the name of the posture but how to breath rather than the count.

--------------------------------------------

I just asked a friend who was on the recent Big Sur workshop how Ramaswami approached the workshop given that it was only a week as opposed to five. I really want to thank him for passing on his notes, i'd been expecting just a couple of lines, much appreciated.

Ramaswami's recent Big Sur Workshop notes



Week of May 6-11, 2012
Hatha and Raja Yoga Practicum
Srivatsa RamaswamiAsana practice has caught the imagination of a number of enthusiasts—especially Vinyasakrama, the sequencing art form of yoga practice. However, yoga has other important ingredients, all of which promote a positive transformation of the individual. A holistic approach would require the yogi to practice not only asana and pranayama (the Hatha yoga aspects) but also chanting, meditation, and contemplation of the philosophical and spiritual aspects (the Raja yoga aspects).

In this program, half of each session will be devoted to different asanas, following the Vinyasakrama method. It will involve doing more than 300 vinyasas, or variations in classical yoga poses, in the course of the program. The other half of the time will be utilized for detailed and varied yogic breathing exercises and the other Raja yoga practices, like chanting, meditation, and philosophical and spiritual contemplation of the yoga sutras. The objective by the end of the program is for participants to have a well-rounded understanding and practice of yoga, as opposed to doing only asanas or meditation. Hatha yoga and Raja yoga are aspects of the integrated system of yogic progression. 
Overview of the workshop by Anonoymous

"Here's a brief overview of how he taught. He stressed foremost that it was a hata and raja yoga practicum, and as such, he wanted to impress on us the equal importance of the 8 limbs. His teaching, in a nutshell, was that asana is for reducing rajas, pranayama for reducing tamas, and pratyahara and meditation for increasing sattvas. As such, each course was divided among asana, pranayama and pratyahara and meditation, with a lecture section devoted to the various chapters of the Yoga Sutras. The course met each morning from 9:30 to 12:45, and each afternoon from 4:00 to 6:30.

The first course began with asana practice of the core Tadasana sequence. Since there were some elders in the class, I think he held back on the more vigorous vinyasa krama. He would essentially split the sequences, having us rest in savasana mid way through and then continue on after all caught their breath. After asana, he taught us pranayama. Each pranayama practice would commence with 108 rounds of kapalbhati, split in 3 groups of 36 breaths. One round with hands on knees, a second round with hands overhead, the third round with hands behind our head and on shoulder blades. After this, he taught viloma (nadi shodhana) pranayama. We started with 5 rounds, and eventually worked up to 10 rounds. Here is the practice:

 1. inhale ujjayi 5 seconds
 2. hold in 5 seconds
 3. exhale right 10 seconds
 4. hold out 5 seconds, engage bandhas
 5. inhale right 5 seconds
 6. hold in 5 seconds
 7. exhale ujjayi 10 seconds
 8. hold out 5 seconds, engage bandhas
 9. inhale ujjayi 5 seconds
 10. hold in 5 seconds
 11. exhale left 10 seconds
 12. hold out 5 seconds, engage bandhas
 13. inhale left 5 seconds
 14. hold in 5 seconds
 15. exhale ujjayi 10 seconds
 16. hold out 5 seconds, engage bandhas
 17. repeat from step # 1


After pranayama practice, we would move immediately into 3 minutes of shanmukhi mudra (for pratyahara), followed immediately with 10-15 minutes of meditation, during which we were instructed to recite silently "om hrim namasivaya." His instruction was to ignore the breath, ignore the meaning, ignore everything inside--just focus on the mantra repetition and stillness of head and body space. This was supported then by lecture on the Yoga Sutras. In most classes, we would go through all cycles at least twice.

So, aside from the Tadasana sequence, we worked on the supine sequence, some of the bow sequence, the triangle pose sequence, and the inverted posture sequence. However, in shoulder stand and headstand, we did not practice other vinyasas, due to the average capacity of students. Ramaswami seemed concerned of pushing people too far too fast. While the majority of the class was youthful and yogically prepared for vigorous practice, we also had a 63 year old, an 80 year old and a pregnant woman. Therefore, his was mainly concerned with our practice of pranayama and meditation.

On the last day of class, take us through a routine that we could practice at home, stressing the core asanas and mudras (paschimottanasana, sarvangasana, sirsasana, maha mudra), pranayama, pratyahara, mantra meditation, based on his daily practices with Krishnamacharya.

Interesting point I just remembered: Ramaswami said Krishnamacharya instructed the width of one's stance in standing postures to be as wide (no wider than) as the length of one's leg. I don't recall ever hearing this, so was delighted that he mentioned it.

He also recommended Swami Hariharananda Aranya's translation of the Yoga Sutras over any others for western students."

-----------------------------------------------

UPDATE from Comments.


Grimmly said...
I meant to ask you, our course was a teacher training and so Ramaswami could expect a resonable level of practice and experience as well as some awareness of his approach, we all had his book already I imagine. However, I wondered on your shorter course where there were perhaps some relative beginners and/or some unfamiliar with his approach, can you say something about his instruction and guidance in postures. in that context? For us it was mostly a case of saying the name of the posture almost as a reminder and then focussing on the breath or some tiny details as issues came up.
Thanks again for your help with this post anon.
23 May 2012 09:05

Anonymous said...
The following is a very rough sketch…

Lift! Lift! Lift! Straight back, straight arms, straight legs. Toes, ankles, knees together. Pelvis and rib cage lifting; chin down to pull the spine ever straighter, eyes down. Deep ujjayi breathing.

Ramaswami did not correct alignment by touch, so far as I could see. In one instance he very gently touched my left calf to bring it wider when we were in the preparatory hold in sarvangasana, where he instructs to keep the legs apart with the knees bent, to allow the legs and blood to settle. On another occasion, when I was demonstrating cobra pose, he very quickly pulled me back and up stretching me to my limits to show the length to which one can go in the posture. It was very unexpected and exhilarating and made me and the class chuckle with laughter.

Otherwise, his instruction for correct posture was purely verbal, which, again, is how he was instructed, I think, by Krishnamacharya. As an aside, I was reading through Mohan’s book on K and I think he said the same, regarding how there was no “hands on” correction of postures, per se. I will try and post this later tonight for reference.

Ramaswami’s teaching is very intellectual. As I noted before, my understanding (or experience) of vinyasa krama is that it is really something that must be taught on an individual, one-on-one basis, per the specific abilities and needs of the student. If I ever were to teach the method, I would have to do so in a way that Mysore classes are taught. It is not a practice that I think is easily or strategically taught to large classes. Moreover, it is not a method (at least in my understanding of it thus far) that seems to view asana as an end in itself. Rather, the asana practice is merely a necessary stage to be passed through (traditionally) to sit for pranayama and meditation. Such that if you are able to sit in padmasana, great. If you’re not, no worry—try something else that is suitable for your body. I sense that vinyasa krama astutely undermines the rather egotistical pursuit of perfection in asana. It doesn’t discourage proper asana practice, but it also doesn’t glorify it. It is as it is an integral limb of yoga.

A point Ramaswami stressed and that hit home for me was that pranayama/pratyahara/dharana is an internal process that cannot be seen by the teacher, and so we all must be our own vigilant teachers regarding the internal aspects. He suggested that it is not something we really ought to discuss with others (such as what is happening or being experienced inside) but should be observed and kept secret. He said one should directly approach their teacher for specific guidance or questions, but otherwise it is a individual path to be walked alone. This, I think, harkens back the traditional guru/disciple relationship.

Personally, I think asana can be corrected only so much from the point of view as a physical form. The alignment must be sensed by the practitioner from inside. Likewise with pranayama, the digital and cyclical method can be instructed, and the slow passage of breath listened to and observed by the teacher, but the process itself again is something that is personal and internal.

To close, I will note that Ramaswami stressed the importance and necessity of practicing the inversions and the bandhas, so as to massage the heart and organs covered by the rib cage. He also suggested that our joints all have superior and inferior aspects to them, and that when in inversions, these are thus inverted and can rejuvenate in the reversed positions, easing compression, such as the heart and lungs do in sirsasana, etc. Pranayama is necessary also for physically massaging and stretching the portion of the vertebral column that is connected to the rib cage, and likewise the heart and lungs.

10 comments:

  1. one of the fun and enlightening things we did on the first day of class at Esalen was to pair up. In tadasana, Ramaswami instructed one person to stand in tadasana, while another person kneeled behind them and lifted upward on the pelvis. This was to allow the pelvis to float. It felt incredible to do. Based on this floating sensation in Tadasana, we then were instructed to find this lifting sensation in all postures. You will also note in his books where he metions that K instructed one to lift the torso and hips upward, when in seated (and standing) asanas.

    The other fun group excercise was to pair up in paschimottasana, one person behind the other in the asana. The person in back was instructed to support the lower spine as the seated person stretched forward and then back up to dandasana. the support gave the sensation of how to practice proper stretching.

    OPf course, you get lots of instruction like this in Iyengar courses, but from ramaswami, it seemed to impress me more, as though it were the core alignment to be noticed in the vinyasa krama practice.

    Also, as I noted in my brief review of the practicum, he mentioned leg stance to be the length of one's leg. I have thought through this and realized that it creates an equidistant triangle. If you measure K's stance in parsvottanasana in Makaranda, you see that it is aperfectly equidistant triangle.

    ReplyDelete
  2. yes, we did the same exercises in the TT course, what's interesting about that is that, on our course anyway, it was pretty much the only hands on adjustments that Ramaswami performed and had us perform on each other which suggests the importance he gives to them.

    I've been wondering about K's parsvottanasana too, very very wide stance.

    I meant to ask you, our course was a teacher training and so Ramaswami could expect a resonable level of practice and experience and awareness of his approach, we all had hi book already I imagine. but i wondered on your shorter course where there were perhaps some relative beginners and those unfamiliar with his approach. can you say something about his instruction and guidance in postures. For us it was mostly a case of saying the name of the posture almost as a reminder and then focussing on the breath or some tiny details.
    Thanks again for your help with this post anon.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The following is a very rough sketch…

    Lift! Lift! Lift! Straight back, straight arms, straight legs. Toes, ankles, knees together. Pelvis and rib cage lifting; chin down to pull the spine ever straighter, eyes down. Deep ujjayi breathing.

    Ramaswami did not correct alignment by touch, so far as I could see. In one instance he very gently touched my left calf to bring it wider when we were in the preparatory hold in sarvangasana, where he instructs to keep the legs apart with the knees bent, to allow the legs and blood to settle. On another occasion, when I was demonstrating cobra pose, he very quickly pulled me back and up stretching me to my limits to show the length to which one can go in the posture. It was very unexpected and exhilarating and made me and the class chuckle with laughter.

    Otherwise, his instruction for correct posture was purely verbal, which, again, is how he was instructed, I think, by Krishnamacharya. As an aside, I was reading through Mohan’s book on K and I think he said the same, regarding how there was no “hands on” correction of postures, per se. I will try and post this later tonight for reference.

    Ramaswami’s teaching is very intellectual. As I noted before, my understanding (or experience) of vinyasa krama is that it is really something that must be taught on an individual, one-on-one basis, per the specific abilities and needs of the student. If I ever were to teach the method, I would have to do so in a way that Mysore classes are taught. It is not a practice that I think is easily or strategically taught to large classes. Moreover, it is not a method (at least in my understanding of it thus far) that seems to view asana as an end in itself. Rather, the asana practice is merely a necessary stage to be passed through (traditionally) to sit for pranayama and meditation. Such that if you are able to sit in padmasana, great. If you’re not, no worry—try something else that is suitable for your body. I sense that vinyasa krama astutely undermines the rather egotistical pursuit of perfection in asana. It doesn’t discourage proper asana practice, but it also doesn’t glorify it. It is as it is an integral limb of yoga.

    A point Ramaswami stressed and that hit home for me was that pranayama/pratyahara/dharana is an internal process that cannot be seen by the teacher, and so we all must be our own vigilant teachers regarding the internal aspects. He suggested that it is not something we really ought to discuss with others (such as what is happening or being experienced inside) but should be observed and kept secret. He said one should directly approach their teacher for specific guidance or questions, but otherwise it is a individual path to be walked alone. This, I think, harkens back the traditional guru/disciple relationship.

    Personally, I think asana can be corrected only so much from the point of view as a physical form. The alignment must be sensed by the practitioner from inside. Likewise with pranayama, the digital and cyclical method can be instructed, and the slow passage of breath listened to and observed by the teacher, but the process itself again is something that is personal and internal.

    To close, I will note that Ramaswami stressed the importance and necessity of practicing the inversions and the bandhas, so as to massage the heart and organs covered by the rib cage. He also suggested that our joints all have superior and inferior aspects to them, and that when in inversions, these are thus inverted and can rejuvenate in the reversed positions, easing compression, such as the heart and lungs do in sirsasana, etc. Pranayama is necessary also for physically massaging and stretching the portion of the vertebral column that is connected to the rib cage, and likewise the heart and lungs.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice reading this comment Anon, brought back memories. I remember R. mentioning that K would give instructions for a posture, then demonstrate if necessary and only adjust as a last resort.

    Exactly, asana not an end in itself. that's not to negate their importance, K loved asana, R too clearly and yet I never had the feeling whether in reading R's books or in person that there is any sense in which they have a greater role than the other limbs, an integrated practice, that was drummed in again and again, Asana to get rid of the rajas, pranayama for the tamas putting you in the ideal satvic state for meditative practices.

    For me the big shift was in seeing the more 'advanced' postures as merely extensions of earlier postures, there are no advanced series' it's just a case of taking a posture a little further. And of course the simplest of postures can be approached in the most challenging way, five minute utkatasa for example with steadiness and comfort. Caused me to completely lose interest in my advanced A and B Ashtanga
    much prefer to practice the same postures in the context of a VK subroutine or extension of postures in primary or 2nd series Ashtanga.

    glad he managed to get some of his Yoga for the Internal organs into the course, you covered a lot.

    thanks again for all the input, really appreciate it.
    i'd forgotten the bit about pranayama and meditation being an internal private practice, thank you for the reminder, i remember him speaking on this now.

    ReplyDelete
  5. my very small two cents of my memories from Fairfield CT was that he also paired us up in twos to go down into squatting. You would stand up facing a partner, grab hands and go down in a controlled way all the way to squatting, heels touching the floor and staying there. Enjoyed reading this, and all the comments. thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. hi Claudia. i remember him suggesting too that you could hold on to the back of a chair for working on the squats. Don't think he's a bag fan of props but in this case .....oh and he encouraged somebody to try jumping through with blocks.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have a very interesting, and detailed book on Pranayama, which is what I've always referred back to when confusion reigns ('Pranayama; the yoga of breathing' by Andre van Lysebeth). I like it because it has a 'medical' flavor to it, as opposed to Indian philosophy, which is predominant in many other books. Some might find it boring, but I think it's important, and interesting, to understand what we are subjecting our body and mind to.

    Alternate nostril breathing is pretty much how it's described in your post, but you work ultimately towards a ratio of 1:4:2. It's timed in heartbeats (not seconds), which is actually very easy when you give your heartbeat key focus, along with bandha, and adds to the meditative quality. It seemed a good idea to buy into that approach, as it's your metabolism's clock, not something that's hanging on your wall.

    In the book, I don't think there's any mention of kumbhaka (retention) on the tail of the exhale. Just a short pause while you catch mula bandha, if necessary. It provides super clarification of the purpose of kumbakha (to digest more than the usual 6%, of the 21% oxygen content) and also gives clear reasoning why us westerners shouldn't go beyond Kumbakha No. 1 (6-20 seconds). Enough to scare me off anyway!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have that too Steve, one of my favourites, I like the submarine/prana explanation.

    ReplyDelete
  9. There's that nice picture in the book too of Andre van Lysebeth being taught pranayama or practicing it at least with pattabhi jois.
    I'm currently on Richard Freeman's six week online Pranayama course but can't really get into it, prefer how I was taught by Ramaswami, the approach I'm familer with and have been using every day for the last couple of years, hard to change the approach even as an experiment though good to broaden the knowledge base.

    I've put some pranayama notes on the Yogasanagalu post from a couploe of days ago, that's interesting, slightly different variation of nadi shodana (suryabheda), makes me think of pranayama in the sense of asana in vinyasa krama, adapting ones approach or technique to the situation we find ourselves in just as we might with an asana, something i want to explore more.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I can understand where you are coming from regarding the Richard Freeman programme. I'm starting to think it's a matter of etching yourself out a pranayama programme that sets some personal boundaries that you can work from/within, and sticking with it, as YOUR programme, as opposed to embarking on a constant mission to 'find the right way'.

    So too with asana and meditation. So long as you practice regularly, with dedication, you benefit, and so do others, but by a different route.

    ReplyDelete

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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