“One of my goals in life is to do the slowest Primary Series anywhere… rather than the quickest”. Richard Freeman

Thursday, 15 November 2012

One asana with one perfect breath.


Time, it's all about time

Did everybody see the recent Iyengar interview on CNN where he mentioned that he used to practice yoga ten hours a day....I bet even then he wished he had another couple of hours to practice.

In the beginning I used to practice David Swenson's Ashtanga short forms, his forty minute version of the Ashtanga primary series. I guess with a lot of faffing about and working on postures I never felt I had enough time for the full practice in the morning.

Then I came across Sharath's Primary DVD and great I could practice the whole series in an hour, get it in before work, no time for woosy savasana though.

And then you start adding on postures from 2nd series....

and later, perhaps much later, from Advanced

and finally that ten minute Savasana.

Sometime or other you start slowing the practice down a little, you get up earlier, devote 90 minutes to the practice, two hours.

Perhaps you include an extra, short evening practice cutting into your meditation time, a kind of workshop session which eventually, for me at least, became Primary in the morning, 2nd series in the evening

When I came across Vinyasa Krama, Primary got bumped to the evening slot which meant I had to whizz through it again at Sharath pace.

The Vinyasa Krama sequences were quite long and the breath slow, ever so slow, twice, three times as slow as Ashtanga breathing ( or so I thought).

And then after Ramaswami's TT course there was pranayama to include followed by pratyahara and meditation....

So much yoga so little time.

How to balance the Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama elements of my practice....if only I could merge them somehow, find some consistency between these two practices I love.

Both Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois were aware of this problem, the householder problem, not everyone has time to practice all the asana, nobody has time to practice all the asana.

In his Yogasanagalu Krishnamacharya divided the asana into groups of Primary, Middle and Proficient asana. he indicated a handful of key asana that should ideally be practiced everyday. If you had some extra time then you could choose some of the other asana from the appropriate group along with their variations.

Pattabhi Jois took those groups and called them sequences (perhaps Krishnamacharya had already done so, for the boys), they were already pretty much in the right order, now you could practice the full group in sequence BUT, if you were short of time you could just do 3 sury A's and three Sury B's from the sequence and the the last three finishing postures. Again if you had extra time you could practice other postures from the sequence, again depending on how much time one had available.

Time, it's all about time.

It's not a case of devoting enough time to our practice however, but rather of devoting enough time to the breath.

One asana with one perfect breath.

Time never enough time. 

What is more important the breath or the asana, which do we sacrifice, where do we compromise.

We compromise the breath, gone is the long, deep, full inhalation and exhalation, 

like the pouring of oil,

instead more asana, ever more asana.

But the breath IS the practice, that's it, that's all there is, movement follows breath, the asana follows the breath 

It's not the other way around.

The idea is to breath more slowly than we do at any other time of our day, more fully, more deeply.

What's the least number inhalations and exhalations, of breaths, we can take in one hour, in ninety minutes?

That should tell us how many asana we have time for

The asana follows the breath.

And later we save time for pranayama and for pratyahara and for meditation, that's the practice, the tradition, the lineage if we want to call it that.

How much time do I have available to practice.

How much of that time should I devote to pranayama, fifteen minutes? The same perhaps for meditation/concentration, five minutes minimum for pratyahara?

How much time is left?

What's the least number of breaths that can be taken in that time?

That's the guide to how many asana to include in the practice

And to hold an asana for three breaths, five, eight?

That's the guide to how many asana to include in the practice?

Remembering to include the key postures.

How much time do you have left?

What's the least number of breaths you can take in that time.

That's the guide for how many asana to include in your practice

Even if it's just one

One asana with one perfect breath.

20 comments:

  1. Anthony, in my honest opinion this is really the key point around any vinyasa style. The breathing matter is a major question, in my experience all the rest of the tristana lies down it.

    Fully agree with the above questions and observations. Really great to have it so plane.

    Cheers

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Juanba. i guess all the viyasa styles derive from Krishnamacharya and the breath was his big thing.

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  2. ... and then of course, there's family. Family has to come first. That's one of the reasons why those couple of hours before dawn are so precious. They're not subject to interruption.

    That's what I observed from a couple of teachers, and I'm glad I did.

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    Replies
    1. Still in awe of those who manage to construct a practice with kids running around

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  3. The length of the breath during practice can align with the energy of your environment -- at least that's what I find. There are days when I need to chill out (longer breaths) and days when I need to cultivate a more fiery energy (shorter breaths). More tamas, as needed, or more rajas, etc.

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    Replies
    1. Isn't there a problem though with the gunas argument here Karen, was thinking this when you mentioned David G earlier in the week. Surely the point of the model is to become more satvic. Asana practice is supposed to to get rid of the rajas no?
      To breathe shorter to become more rajistic so we can practice and get rid of the rajas is a little nuts suely.
      If we don't have the rajas then we can skip asana practice altogether and go sstraight to pranayama to get rid of the tamas. If we're already satvic at 5am then we can just meditate. If we want to be true to the model.

      Otherwise we're practcing Ashtanga just because we want to practice Ashtanga, for whatever reason, doesn't feel right bringing in the gunas just when it suits us, to justify our approach to practice.

      Now that might not be fair but there's surely a problem/question here.

      I too want to practice Ashtanga of course and there are days when I really need a faster pace to carry me through, when I'm lacking in motivation perhaps, I get it, I really do but I also see contradictions.

      Are we really just practicing Ashtanga for the sake of practicing Ashtanga, I know I used to.

      Ashtanga for Ashtanga's sake?

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    2. K covers this topic completely in Yogamakaranda, section 1. You are correct in your explanation.

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  4. Not trying to be difficult here Karen but do have a problem with this and am tryig to work ot why. Doesn't help that i'm on my lunchbreak and rushing it a bit.

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  5. I can offer my two cents but please be understanding and correct me if I am wrong!!!!! because my knowledge of Ayurveda is very limited, but it seems to me that we are perhaps mixing up concepts from Ayurveda (balance of the doshas) and Yoga (remove Rajas-Tamas oscillations to reach a Sattwic state)

    My understanding is that the gunas manifest in our constitution as a variable mix of the three doshas. While the equation Tamas-Kapha is more clear-cut, Rajas and Sattwa both appear in Pitta and Vata, I think naturally more Rajas in Vata and more Sattwa in Pitta constitutions.

    The bottom line is that while according to Ayurveda we should identify our constitution and try to keep it balanced through diet primarily and suitable activities, in Yoga we should aim at decreasing the Rajas-Tamas pendulum and ultimately move towards Sattwa

    So when I way 'we are mixing concepts up' I mean that sometimes, when we feel our dosha constitution is getting exacerbated one way or the ther, we change our practice to rebalance it towards our original equilibrium. So we apply yoga in a thereutic way, if you wish.
    But ultimately, in terms of mind-state, we shoudl move towards Sattwa, in this Anthony is correct I think.

    Does this make sense?
    A couple of references I found useful are:
    www.healthandyoga.com/html/readingroom/ays/ays18.asp
    and
    http://silentmotionyoga.com/articles/files/ayurveda-gunas-qualities-of-nature-the-mind.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thank you for that clarification Chiara, yes it was a category mistake i was thinking of. Will check out your links.

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  6. Good thoughts! I don't think there's ever a stable end-state: we're always adjusting to a changing environment (perhaps particularly householders?) -- so we have to balance/adjust ourselves. If I were monastic, I think that would be much easier, but I do find that in day-to-day life, things are always shifting. So yeah, sometimes I am sluggish, and a more vigorous practice helps me align more easily with whatever is going on in the world around me. And sometimes I am too wound up and need to slow myself down. Perhaps the alignment is where sattva is found, instead of as a quality I can hold inside of myself. Just thinking it through a bit here... thanks for the discussion!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that was what kept pulling me back to Ashtanga, that vigorous practice, not sure that will play out as i bring them both into a middle ground. And then there's the transformation period. in the beginning I needed to get back in shame, sweat the crap out of my system and a Vigorous Ashtanga worked well for that, would a slower practice have had the same effect. Lots to figure out here too.

      Delete
  7. Very interesting points you bring up here Anthony, had me thinking.

    I think in a way, the conversation that you started regarding the gunas and weather you would practice to align with satva (and some days do it faster some days do it slower) or just practice for the amount of breaths you can do slowly is probably to do with the householder state.

    I feel that whie we are in the world, accomodating the practice to help us through the kids, the job, the mortgage payments, the debt, the heartbreaks, the aging parents, then yes! I would take it.

    While, once we get closer to a time where these activities lessen and we can more throoughly focus on the practice and move towards the goal of yoga with more "time", then we can only go for the leght of the breath.

    I offer this as an observation, not sure it is completely true, just thinking along the lines of what actually happens to us as we go througout life.

    In my own practice, I am beginning to realize exactly what you say, that breathing is all there is. Some days my practice has less asana now-a-days, and it is because I have come to understand how critical it is to breathe slow, for purification, for longevity and for preparation to pranayama. But interestingly enough, this type of practice does not always leave me fully prepared to whatever the world may throw at me during the day.

    ReplyDelete
  8. What I'm working at now Claudia is practicing for the same amount of time but doing less. This evening i practiced at around 8 sec inhalation and 8 second exhalation
    3 sury A
    3 Sury B
    Trikonasana and the reverse version
    paschimottanasana and purvottanasana
    Janu A and B
    mahamudra ( SKPJ mentions it in Yoga mala did you know, in the intro)
    badha konasana
    baddha padmasana
    Yoga Mudra
    Padmasana

    All at full vinyasa
    took about forty minutes.
    Now that stikes me as a shortened, for time, Ashtanga practice
    but also a vinyasa krama practice.
    had time left for fifteen minutes pranayama, five minutes pratyahara followed by ten minutes chanting the sutras.

    Just over an hour, boxes ticked, feeling great.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great post Grimmly. Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. yes very interesting. i had a 3 hour for a while. i wasn't allowed to split the series until i was done with the 7 deadly headstands. it was a drag imo.

    all this "time" stuff just makes me tense. now if i get my 20 minutes pranayama, lots & lots of sun salutations. standing sequence & finishing, i'm good. all of that takes an hour or a little more. it's actually nice not to push so freakin hard all the time. my body & mind aren't the same. it did take a long time to release the guilt of this "easy" practice. but i'm less of a mess so...

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I've had your focus on standing in the back of my mind for some time and especially after Richard freeman's workshop where an hour goes by and you still find your self on standing postures discovering evermore within them. And yes too, the long trip to guilt free practice. thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Delete
  11. Grimmly

    The beauty of Ashtanga Vinyasa Mysore style practice is that it gives u a big structure ( 4 series and within each series lot of postures ) and you have freedom to do the practice as much as you can and end it wherever you want by doing the completion sequence . I am here talking of home practice Mysore style . So some days you can do just 15 mts , some days 30 mts ,45 mts, 60 mts or even 2 hrs or 3 hrs .Also with regard to breathing, Mysore style gives you ample freedom to breathe as long as you want 5,8,10 breaths and you have the fredom to do full /half vinyasas and if you see Manju's interview that is what he mentions .Also in anther Old Interview of Manju he mentioned seeing his father holding one posture for very long and mastering the same . I think the led classes in Ashtanga which was a new addition after Ashtanga became popular has added to the confusion of how to balance between breath and asana , balance between full / falf vinyasas etc .My take is Ashtanga is always a personal Mysore style practice and we need to use led classes ( either using DVD / real life classes ) only to get in to the practice groove and to learn the structure and series .

    ReplyDelete
  12. Indeed Krishna, how long have I been banging on that Mysore self practice should be self practice, that you should be able to go to a shala and do your practice just as you would at home (.....in principle, I get the logistical problems that make that problematic). Wonder if I could turn up in Mysore and start breathing these long 10 second inhalations and exhalations, get to paschi then jump to finishing.... But yes, love the principle of Mysore self practice adn it's still early days.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anthony, I have been thinking about the tamas/more rajas argument more and perhaps where we all go wrong from a Yogic perspective is that as you point out, we need to get to sattwa and to do that we need to DECREASE both rajas and tamas. Normally we should do that with the practice, selecting appropriate asanas and pranayamas. So perhaps where we go 'wrong' is where we think we need MORE rajas or tamas while in fact we need less. And sometimes a rajasic lifestyle (and I think a householder life is pretty rajasic) leads us to select a practice which is not good for us, and exacerbates our vrttis even more....

    ReplyDelete

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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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