Wednesday, 9 May 2012

How to practice Krishnamacharya's 'original' Ashtanga part 2

This post from my 'Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga project blog
krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda

See Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu ongoing translation project for background.

One of the challenges we have with practicing Krishnamacharya's 'original' Ashtanga is time ( this was the same conundrum Pattabhi Jois faced), here's why...

The 'original' Ashtanga practice included (and continued to include in Krishnamacharya's later teaching)

1. Full Vinyasas : Krishnamacharya seems to be advocating full vinyasa between postures, half vinyasa between sides and possible variations of the key posture. (this appears to have been reduced to between  subroutines in Krishnamacharya.'s later teaching)

2. Breathing : Long slow inhalations and exhalations, from 10- 15 seconds

3. Long stays in postures. 10 breaths seems to be standard, more in certain postures

4. Kumbhaka (breath retention) In many postures kumbhaka is an option, often strongly recommended to attain the full benefit of an asana, many of the forward bends for instance

5. Variations. Krishnamacharya doesn't seem to be advocating a fixed series, variations to certain postures might be added, perhaps preparatory postures but also extensions (from proficient group).

6. Pranayama. Krishnamacharya recommended a minimum of fifteen minutes pranayama after practiced followed by at least a minute in savasana

If we take Janusirsasana as an example

60 second lead in  and out (say, 5 seconds for each stage of the vinyasa )
10 breaths in the posture at 10 seconds each per inhalation and exhalation,  about six and a half minutes
Ashtanga already has three variations of this postures, so around twenty minutes
Don'tt forget the half vinyasas between sides and between variations twenty seconds each so another minute and a half.

So in an ideal practice, around twenty-three minutes just for janusirsasana

If we compare the Primary group of postures in Krishnamacharya's list in Yogasanagalu with the Ashtanga primary we notice there aren't as many postures, this is just a framework of course but still, less postures seems to be the way to go.

Pattabhi Jois comes to the same conclusion, for those of us strapped for time. He outlines the problem in the first quote below and in the second quote offers a possible solution. He suggests that if your busy with work and don't have time for a full practice you might practice up to navasana only and then move to finishing, he even suggests doing your headstand at work. On the next day you begin with navasana after your Sury's ( he suggests only doing half the amount of those).

And of course if your a beginner you will often stop your practice at marichiyasana C anyway and move on to finishing, or in 2nd series you might stop at Kapo or Karandavasana.

Practicing half a series then isn't that new or radical and doesn't have to be just because your a beginner or have a busy lifestyle.

So should we decide to explore Krishnamacharya's approach we could take the Primary and 2nd series we're familiar with and divide them in half and practice the longer slower breathing, longer stays and breath retention allowing for deeper bandha engagement.

1st Day
Primary to navasana + pranayama

2nd Day
Primary to end of series + pranayama

3rd Day 
2nd series Bakasana + pranayama

4th Day
Bhaadvajrasana to end of series + pranayama

5th Day
Full regular Primary

6th Day
Full regular 2nd series.

We often tend to think of an advanced practice in terms of the shapes of advanced postures and yet we might also think of an advanced or proficient practice as being reflected in the approach we take to the asana rather than the asana itself.

It appears Krishnamacharya's proficient group of postures wasn't intended to be practiced as one of more series but more likely as extensions to the asana found in the Primary and Middle group. One might reflect on whether turning them into fixed series in the 70's and 80's was, in retrospect, beneficial. I'd be interested to hear arguments for and against fixed advanced series.

My own argument for (off the top of my head) is that by practising Advanced series we practice the most challenging postures everyday and this leads to increased proficiency rather than attempting an advanced posture once in a while which might lead to strain.

However my argument against the above is that in Vinyasa Krama I've practiced advanced postures as  extensions of similar asana of the same family. In Asymmetric series for example one moves from janu sirsasana and half lotus postures (primary), arcana dhanurasana A and B (advanced B)and on into eka pada sirsasana (2nd series) and then into skandasana and durvasana (Advanced A). I often add omkrasana, parsva dandasana kapilasana, buddhasana and marichyasana H (Advanced B) which while not in Ramaswami's book seem to be appropriate further extensions and because of the preparation any strain is avoided. This is something one might explore on the 5th and 6th Days

And yet do any of the postures above really appear more advanced than Krishnamacharya's janusirsasana at the top of the page. Janusirsasana appears simple, we find it in the current Ashtanga Primary series and Krishnamacharya's Primary group yet it's basically a forward bending version of mahamudra. It's a highly stable, grounded posture that cries out for breath and bandha work. We can stay here a long long time, a very long time, engage mula, uddiyana and jalandhara bandha fully, it allows for variations, the deep forward bend of janusirsasana and yet also twist to both sides by changing the hold on the foot. It's all in the approach we take to it, five breaths only in such a pose seems a bit of a crime.

If nothing else we can, of course, milk our paschimottanasana (after backbends), badha konasana, badha padmasana and longer stays in the finishing postures for all they're worth.

Here are the quotes mentioned above.

Question: When is it good to do full vinyasa? That is come back to Samasthiti after each asana. Is it correct?

Answer: Yes correct. Take one asana, finish it. After full vinyasa you do, standing position you come. Again next. Your strength how is you use (depending on your strength you should do half or full vinyasa). Without strength chat (sixth vinyasa) stop (If you are not strong stop at the sixth vinyasa eg do half vinyasa). Increasing your strength, you full vinyasa you take. Now there is no time (too many students).

That is why I am telling. One asana, for example paschimottanasana (has) 16 vinyasas, Purvottanasana - 15, Ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana, tiriang mukeka pada paschimottanasana, janu sirsasana A, B, C, marichyasana A, B, all 22 vinyasas. Full vinyasa .

You doing full vinyasa all - that is the best. Secondary you with sixth vinyasa all the asanas is coming. That you changing, this time (when) your strength is more, you changing that time. Sixth, seventh (vinyasa) paschimottanasana you do. After 8 – 9 then jump again. “sat” (six) position you go. I every day I teaching now. Same method you do. Both is no problem

Method is good no problem. Work is there. He is going work. (for a working man half vinyasa method is good) Your yoga practice, you take one hour. One hour or two hours your expanding your time. That time all the asanas taken one day full vinyasa you do at least five hours also you want you can understand (if you take full vinyasa, you need 5 hours to complete practice). One primary asanas doing, 5 hours also you want. That is why. You (are a) working (man). You not spending all the time on the yoga practice.

You can understand. Full time you take, full vinyasa you doing. Only for (completing) primary asanas takes 5 hours. 5 hours primary postures (with) full vinyasa. 50 asanas is there completely primary postures. That 50 asanas you doing taken 5 hours, with full vinyasa. You working. Another place is working. Yes you take money, you eating food, all you want. That only for your spending (free) time only for yoga, very rare (little time), very difficult also yourself. That is why you short cut you take. That is one or two hours. Two hours spent your yoga practice. That is good. That is also is good. Yes OK. That I tell you.

Sri K Pattabhi Jois Public Talks on Ashtanga Yoga - France 1991

Question: If one has only half an hour for practice, what should he do?

Answer: Now, no time. Many work is there. That time, no time. But you including half an hour time (if you have half an hour) you spend this way: You take practice.Anyone (always) start (with) Suryanamaskar half posture (half of the postures) you do, no problem. Halfposture means: primary half to Marichyasana D. (next day) Navasana you do aftertake Suryanamaskar (after you have finished surya namaskar you go on straight to navasana and the rest of the postures). Sirsasana and you do your work. No problem (do head stand at work?). 
Sri K Pattabhi Jois Public Talks on Ashtanga Yoga - France 1991

Given the highly practical nature of Krishnamacharya's Yogasangalu, practice manual, no doubt more suggestions and recommendations for practice will be on the way as the translation continues.

How to practice Krishnamacharya's early, 'original' Ashtanga Part 1


  1. I find this so interesting - the connections, the differences, the pros, the cons etc...

    I've only started reading "Heart of Yoga" which I can't put down. I love the detail on how to personalise a practice that is specific and individual to a student.

    I'm learning so much with your blog - keep up the great work.

  2. Im just realizing that my sivananda practice was closer that my modern Ashtanga practice, that some times was difficult to fit in such a hurry rhythm.

  3. When I first began ashtanga all of 7 or 8 months ago it was essential to have a strict form to try to follow. It made the impossible possible. Though there is a lot of discomfort in the first months, it is also when you see the most change and transformation. I found that I held onto the practice with a tight grip, as if it were a lifesaver (which it is). I wouldn't have wanted too much variation or allowance. Now that I'm a seasoned practitioner (ha ha) I find that I naturally vary the practice a bit from day to day.... It would be hard to teach this in a shala with so many students, so it is understandable that the strict form is what is taught as The Method.

  4. Ashtanga already has three variations of this postures, so around twenty minutes

    there are FOUR variations! - see viranchyasana b.
    sorry for delurking in such an angry tone of voice but it's been that sort of day.
    it's a sort of yogic hobbyhorse of mine that jois has split up and ruined the long, complex and very beautiful sequences by insisting that everyone practice in learning order, and that leaning order need not be practice order. in my world, the asymmetric section of primary is complete only after adding bharadvajasana (from inter) to ard bad pad pasch, then supt urd pad vajr (from inter) to tirieng pasch, then viranchyasana b (from 3rd) to janu sirsasana c. no vinyasas. and there yo have it - the same lovely twisting pose, two different ways, then a variation of that pose with an even longer entry, beautiful. i still stick to the ashtanga learning order, which is by far the best, but i put the poses where they belong, that's all.

  5. i just reread that comment. it's horribly badly written... and i meant to say, no vinyasas between the primary pose and the twist, that's all.

  6. Indeed dtw and how a student may adapt and individualise their practice over time. Rather than just yet another workshop on arm balancing it would be nice to see some on exploring the breath, longer nahalations and exhalations, retention etc in different postures or to explore the family of postures around those asana that are familiar to us in the series as we know it, workshops that encourage exploration, widening rather than lengthening the practice. As we can see from Yoga Makaranda and Yogasanagalu these are all aspects of the lineage.

    Agreed YCVL, nice line in Heart of Yoga about all the distinctions between styles being a distraction, really there's just yoga .....or should be.

    I think the set series is one excellent way to learn and start a practice but after six months a year, encouragement and help exploring the possibilities of practice is something that appeals to me. Nice aspect of home practice.

    Of course Jon, Viri B, I tuned to include it as standard now, mainly because I don't bother with 3rd or 4th as a set series anymore, prefer to add the advanced postures as extensions, one of the reason Krishnamacharya's group rather than series of proficient postures appeals.

    I hear you on including all the variations of a posture, it's how I learned in Ramaswami's Vinyasa ( no jump backs between variations there either ) and is a nice way to practice but of course you can get as attached to that as to Primary series. My ...yogic hobby for the last couple of years has been to explore how to balance ashtanga with vinyasa Krama ( same thing really of course, terms are for convenience sake).



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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 Referral Teacher Listing