The Blog title poster above forms part of a series of posters I made up for a book, 'Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga Yoga', based on the public domain translation from the Tamil edition of Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934) . It's available for free on my Free Downloads page above. There is a print edition on Lulu.com ( Note: It's best to buy it in print from Lulu as I can reduce the price down almost to cost rather than on Amazon where I have less control of pricing.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

"All asanas are not necessary....." Yeah but....

"All asanas are not necessary for a routine practice for everyone. Age, ailments, peculiarities and individual constitutions are to be considered to find out which asanas are to be practised and which should be avoided.

One important thing to be constantly kept in mind when doing the asanas is the regulation of breath. It should be slow thin, long and steady; breathing through both nostrils with rubbing sensation at the throat and through the esophagus inhaling when coming through the oesophagus inhaling when coming to the straight posture and exhaling when bending the body.

The asanas are best practised early in the morning on an empty stomach. Those who are weak may do asanas after lapse of an hour after taking light liquid diet like milk. The head down postures should be done only after the lapse of at least three hours after a meal and the CHURNING (NOULI) after the lapse of six hours.

We have already mentioned that all asanas are not necessary for each individual. But a few of us at least should learn all the asanas so that the art of Yoga may not be forgotten and lost".
Krishnamacharya YM2

Did anyone catch the Iyengar video I posted yesterday, black and white, silent and all the more eloquent for that. If you didn't, then you no doubt saw others elsewhere, some nice ones on Yogadork, the French documentary especially caught my eye.

I must admit it does give me pause, working recently on lengthening the breath I've had to cut down on the amount of asana I practice and over the last six months I've watched the fancy ones drift away, back to just my toes in kapo, when I do actually get around to practicing it that is, and arm balances, what arm balances.

I say 'the fancy one's but I still think Krishnamacharya in Janu sirsasana is pretty fancy, or Iyengar in Purvotasana ...but you know what I mean right.

Flowers wilting in an abandoned vase

....too much?

So less asana and I've put on a couple of extra kilo, catch myself eating rubbish a lot of the time, Is that because of the colder weather? Body telling me to blubber up a little, while the mind, still with the best of intentions, looks woefully on.

Is there a link between willpower and practice?

I'm still on the mat every morning for a couple of hours and in the evening but it feels less 'full on'. There's always a steeling of one's will for Ashtanga, when the 'mountain to come' flashes through the mind. OK, perhaps not always, sometimes it's just a stroll in the hills but still.

Current focus on the breath is quite ....pastoral

The long long breaths were always an experiment, ten second inhalations weren't intended for keeps. It was expected to drop back to around five or six seconds but I tried to practice straight Primary Friday, at regular speed and found myself slowing it down constantly, why breathe quickly again, what's the point?

Well, you can touch on a lot more asana, practice a lot more asana, polish a lot more asana.....

Clearly having a little whinge out of asana envy, Ahhhh Iyenga

: )










my favourite asana envy
This post shouldn't be taken too seriously.

18 comments:

  1. not sure Athony.... a few comments on your experiences, where I can fimd myself a bit although not completely because I was never able to reach many of the 'fancy asanas' anyway!
    - I think there is a connection between willpower and practice. It is as if the practice (whichever it is, but almost invariably including asanas) is nourishing from the inside and makes you stronger to external 'temptations', I find that as well
    - I can see, if I may say, you moving back and forth from your 'old self' to your 'new self'... being ready to leave a lot behind but perhaps being scared to jump. So perhaps the answer is in understanding clearly what it is you are afraid to leave behind? Why is that important to you? You have a tremendous energy and are probably directing it differently at the moment, so I would not let myself being prey to asana envy. Maybe you are truly ready for higher limbs and it is just that this new mountain intimidates you, the old mountain has now become a hill and more comfortable to climb?

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    1. I was kind of half joking in this post Chiara. I'm so rarely negative about my own practice that I almost feel a little guilty about it, had a moment of mock despondency watching Iyengar and knocked off a post in five minutes before heading off to work.

      That said, you identify correctly that i do cling a little to my old Ashtanga practice, less so to the fancy advanced stuff but to the rhythm and pace of modern Ashtanga which I began with and practiced quite intensely for three years or so. I know there are logical inconsistencies and yet I still feel it has value and am loath to abandon it altogether.

      Sometimes i feel i should just practice Vinyasa Krama as Ramaswami taught me and teach it myself in turn. However, on Ramaswami's course we also went through Krishnamacharya's original Yoga Makaranda line by line in the classroom, posture by posture in the dance studio, I've tried to continue that study and find consistency in his early and late teaching. It's not so much a switching back and forth although your right there was that for a while a couple of years back but now I feel it's more a delving ...in search of essences. Look at those pictures of Krishnamacharya in Yoga Makaranda, there was an intense physical training there and yet at the same time he's talking about long slow breaths. I do cling to it and there was a little ego there, conceit perhaps but less so now i hope. I feel though that there's something to be found in asana and finding the space for the breath. What WAS Krishnamacharya after with those asana kumbhaka's

      But despite all that it's just the asana element, important and a puzzle to decide on the most beneficial method of practice 9 and I love puzzles) but really quite marginal compared with pranayama and mediation oh and textual study for that matter.

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  2. The willpower and "seeing the mountain" questions are very important to my practice. What I'm trying to find is the place where willpower isn't about force, and where it doesn't get too slack ( I think of this as being like the continuum between flexibility and strength that asana practice can balance). And as far as "the mountain" goes: a really important part of what I'm seeking is the ability to be fully present -- meaning, if I am in each moment, fully, I never see the mountain at all. It's just the current breath/vinyasa, then the next. If I see the mountain, I figure I'm "outside" the moment and projecting into the future. Thanks for the impetus to think a bit about that!

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    1. Hi Karen : )
      I'm lucky in that when I see a mountain there's more of a wry smile and and a mental girding of the loins for the challenge to come... I like mountains. And yet it's still a bloody mountain and you have to get out of bed and face the ruddy thing and get on with it. Practice can feel like that sometimes, which is OK but it takes some will and discipline and I wonder if that spills over into other areas of life. The will, I believe, is a muscle. As practice has become less physically challenging with the long breath focus I wander if I've become a little less disciplined in other areas of my day. I'm quite curious about it.
      It's not that serious a matter of a couple of kilos but you know how we are about our ideal practice weight, we feel it in our mari D's and pasasanas.

      I like what your exploring about will not being about force. i see that. I've never had to force myself onto the mat it;s more of a commitment...does that make sense. you know how funny i am about words, surrender for example ( so problematic, surrendering what to what, who to who) and it's the same with commitment, what am i committing and to what and yet it makes more sense to me. Modern Ashtanga seems to take a stronger commitment than my slower, long breath ashtanga. Now on many levels I feel that the slower breath has more value and yet that commitment muscle is worthy of consideration. That said a forty minute pranayama practice takes a lot of commitment as does a long sit as you know so perhaps it balances out and all I am is a little whistfull for the fun of working out intricate asana.
      PS i miss you blog, hope you'll be blogging again from Mysore.

      Delete
  3. Grimmly, I've been reading your reflections and musings on this blog for the past few weeks, and I can't help wondering if you are over-thinking things. I don't want to sound like I'm trivializing what you are going through, but have you thought about sticking to just one practice (VK, full primary at a certain pace, or primary plus some postures of second, or whatever rocks your boat) for one full month, and then seeing what that does for you? If it works, keep doing it. If not, well, do something else.

    But I guess the hard part is deciding just what to do for that one month. Or maybe it's not that hard; maybe your body and some deep part of your mind that is not over-thinking alerady knows the answer...

    Just a suggestion. Hope this doesn't come across as abrasive.

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  4. I think I might have been accused of over thinking things before...and by Karen above if i'm not mistaken.

    The problem with blogging is that it's all people see. I knock off most of my posts in ten minutes before work and hopefully get to edit them in the library on my lunch hour....I really don't think things through in regards to yoga asana that much, it just appears that way perhaps. Mostly i just get on with practice and have great fun with it and gently mull it over.

    This post really shouldn't be taken too seriously, no more than puzzling over an anagram , a crossword puzzle. I'm really not 'going through anything' so trivialise away : )

    The thing is I feel I AM sticking to one practice.

    I practice, as far as I'm concerned, Ashtanga, old school, really old school. I can't decide if modern/current Ashtanga is simplified or distilled.....unfortunately for most of my readers i suspect the former.

    The breath is long really long and slow and thin, that's Krishnamacharya and that's Jois. Now you do the maths Noble, a ten second inhalation and a ten seconds exhalation with a natural kumbhaka of a second or two in between ( putting to one side the longer kumbhakas Krishnamachara suggested in the late 30's) and you have a pretty much a 25-30 second breath. That's the practice. With the natural kimbhaka you have automatic bandhas and following the breath you have natural drishti. Movement follows breath. You still doing the math, checking the number of inhalations and exhalations in Sweeney? How many asana can you get through in an hour, in 90 minutes. Both Jois and Krishnamacharya mention key asana that you stay in for a long time how much time is left for more asana and which do you practice. vinyasa krama helps you with that, it's a tool chest.

    OR you can sacrifice the breath ( and my argument is the practice) you can inhale, not fully, 2 seconds, exhale perhaps three, force the bandhas and get through the modern Ashtanga primary in 65 minutes, as Sharath does in the dvd you mentioned you practiced with this week.

    How did we get from one to the other.

    I do like current Ashtanga, practiced it for three years but I question it...is that over-thinking?

    Ashtanga , eight limbs, no really, EIGHT limbs.

    Putting the yamas/niyamas to one side is nonsense, that's the practice, pranayama is the practice, Pattabhi Jois I believe played to the crowd in this or was plain wrong, who knows what he was thinking. Pranayama is the practice.

    So you make time for your pranayama practice, now how much time is left for asana.

    And then there's a sit, a meditative practice of some kind, that too is the practice the most important aspect, otherwise just go to the gym.

    Working at the asana and just enjoying that is great but sometime or other, at some point, we have to think it through surely and ask what the hell it is that we're practising that we end up structuring our lives around. We have to think it through and over-think it and over think it some more.

    Yoga it's ruddy Samkhya at heart Noble, the most beautiful moment of self examining in human history ( it could be so argued), serious philosophy, self examining, makes our beloved Greeks look like petulant schoolboys.

    over-thinking, damned right it is (but you don't find that in my blog, just the asana).

    ..and no (smiling) didn't think you were being abrasive at all.

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    1. Interesting points you bring up, Grimmly. Much food for thought here.

      "OR you can sacrifice the breath ( and my argument is the practice) you can inhale, not fully, 2 seconds, exhale perhaps three, force the bandhas and get through the modern Ashtanga primary in 65 minutes, as Sharath does in the dvd you mentioned you practiced with this week."

      I don't think of it in terms of "sacrificing the breath", or sacrificing anything, really. While it is true, I have to admit, that with Sharath's count I usually am only at my third breath (if that) when he counts "five", I just kind of take it in stride and move on to the next asana. I do see the merit of old-school Ashtanga (ten-second-inhalation, ten-second-exhalation), and I do give myself more time to do my five longer inhales and exhales on those days when I am not practicing to Sharath's led primary CD. But here's how I see it: I think of a faster-paced shorter-breath practice as being like a welding torch with a lot of concentrated fire, while a practice with longer inhalations and exhalations is like a slow-burning flame. Sometimes a welding torch is necessary to burn through the shit in my life, sometimes a sustained slow-burning flame is what is called for.

      "Putting the yamas/niyamas to one side is nonsense, that's the practice, pranayama is the practice, Pattabhi Jois I believe played to the crowd in this or was plain wrong, who knows what he was thinking. Pranayama is the practice."

      I can't pretend to know what SKPJ was thinking, but I don't think he ever said anything about putting the yamas/niyamas to one side. Sharath doesn't say this either. If you read what he said at his recent conferences, you'll know that if anything, he emphasizes the yamas/niyamas more than anything else.

      I think perhaps the difference is a difference of emphasis. I remember reading something by B.K.S. Iyengar somewhere (I think it's in Light on Life), in which he says that rather than see the eight limbs as being hierarchical in nature, with each successive limb being "higher" than the previous one, he prefers to see each limb as containing within itself the other seven, so that if you really, really, master one limb, you will have mastered the other seven. Which is probably also why Prashant Iyengar wrote an entire book on Trikonasana. This is a radical interpretation, I know, and it probably doesn't go down well with a lot of people in the blogosphere who chaff at "asana obsession", but I buy it. I think it's a much more organic way of understanding what the eight limbs are about.

      Delete
  5. Grimmly, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Prashant Iyengar's book "Alpha and Omega of Trikonasana." I sense that you have pushed yourself through the physiological aspects of asana and are now surfacing on another side of yourself. It is now a time for more self study (of your psychological self) and consolidation, perhaps. At any rate, Prashant gives a wonderful chapter (5) on the "paradigmatics" of asana, in which he outlines the stages of an asana in considerable detail:

    1. Learning
    2. Studying (understanding)
    3. Practicing
    4. Maturing
    5. Concolidating
    6. Improving/Becoming profound
    7. Accomplising Sadhana, etc.

    I also think you would enjoy Prashant's technical discussions.

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  6. Anon, funny you mentioned this book. I was talking with Ryan just yesterday about Prashant. I was looking at his A Class after Class and asked Ryan to pick up the Trikonasana book for me. Love the idea of it 100 pages on one posture, using it as a spring board. I'm looking forward to reading it, thank you. Oh I did find an outline of Prashant's approach somewhere with your chapter headings that went inot a little detail of the approach, fascinating.

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  7. Fantastic! Yes, Prashant uses Trikonasa as a touchstone asana, a lens for all other asanas. It's a maddening and brilliant little book!! I think you'll also appreciate this from page x of the intoduction:

    "If a student wishes to penetrate deper in his/her practice and study, they would need to be familiar with the basic concepts in the yogic paradigm such as:

    5 pranas
    25 tattvas
    the 3 gunas
    the 5 chitta bhoomis
    the 6 chakras
    the 5 kleshas
    the 5 vrittis etc.

    Without understanding these terms and the ways in which they operate, the yoga student would find it hard to understand why the practice of asanas have such a profound ability to transform the practicioner."

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    1. Ramaswami stressed the tattvas, kleshas , vrittis, gunas of course. I read them in yogayajnavalkya and elsewhere but feel I only really have a superficial knowledge of them. a good reminder to study them a little more deeply and in relation to asana too, interesting.

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  8. Hi Grimmly
    Obviously I have time to think about yoga and throw down a few comments today :)
    Two things:
    1. another John Scott tidbit (so much to chew on after these workshops!!). He gave us a small 8 limbs lecture at the end of the workshop. It was wonderful. It gave a lot to think about. Without trying to teach what he taught, here is the essence:
    -asana is of course the asana limb.
    -ujjayi breath is the pranayama limb.
    -drishti is the pratyahara limb.
    These 3 are practised within the ashtanga practice, and the yamas/niyamas are practised outside of the morning yoga practice. that is already 5 limbs.
    -and then, Dharana (yogic concentration), dhyana and samadhi rise up out of the practice if we focus on the first 5, and these last 3 come together as samyana.
    He also likened the 8 limbs to spokes on a wheel, rather than a ladder. They are all equally important.
    2. So do I still continue doing daily pranayama and meditation after my practice? I am experimenting with doing it and not doing it, and focussing on sharpening my drishti and ujjayi breath.

    All this to say that perhaps what might work for you, is to ascertain with your feeling mind (not your logical/rational mind) what your body and soul wants to practice that day. Maybe you want a fast 75 minute primary series (or one of the other ashtanga variants you practice, but stick to the practice as it was taught, whether the Krishnamacharya or Jois or what have you). Maybe you want a very slow breathing Vinyasa Krama practice (again, as taught by ramaswami). The easiest might be to separate the two practices and do them on separate days, rather than trying to melt them together, and choose your practice depending on your "mood" - women have cyclical waves of energy so it is easier for us to change our practices to suit. Men are probably cyclical too, whether with the seasons or whatnot.

    I know you meant this as a light post, but my sense is that this was a feeling post rather than a logical post, hence the caveat at the end of the post.

    Or not :) I might be totally wrong!!

    Always lovely to read and see what you are thinking about

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    1. The outline of the limbs in relation to Ashtanga practice ( as included in) is kind of what I started with omiya. But in the last couple of years I've questioned it,. When you practice pranayama as a stand alone practice then the breathing in Ashtngaa isn't really close in focus..unless your practicing as I have been recently with those extra long inhalations and exhalations plus kumbhakas but I checked and john's breathing isn't that slow in his DVD. Same goes for pratyahara and the practice is meditative but not the sam as a proper sit. that's not to say i don't consider it a powerful practice as you know.

      Interesting this cyclical idea, men too, interesting thought, I wonder. Keep meaning to try to log my moods temperament in relation to the moon but never get around to it.

      I tried separating the different practices out , always practised straight primary on Fridays but recently it's felt like it's all come together, can't seem to do a fast primary anymore. But then perhaps our cycles work differently over every two or three months rather than one.

      Glad you enjoyed John Scott's workshop so much.

      Delete
    2. yeah i kind of think that too, that to really engage in and properly practice pranayama and meditation, it needs to be done outside of the asana practice. but i am definitely going to experiment with and focus even more on the drishti and ujjayi within the practice (and of course i am less experienced with this practice than you are so this is part of my learning). I believe John Scott may do separate pranayama and meditation as well.

      it is interesting to hear how your ashtanga practice is evolving into a more wholistic practice in and of itself, and how you are working the pranayama and meditation into that.

      i think seasons are very cyclical. it will be interesting to see how you feel come springtime. you could take a look back at your blog entries to see if there is any discernable pattern regarding your wants and needs within your practice? this may be a black hole of time though, forget i said that.. ;)

      Delete
  9. ...and I'll leave you alone today with this excessively long URL, which includes all of chapter 5 of Prashant's book (see page 7):

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDQQFjAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.yogamandir.com.au%2Fsystem%2Ffiles%2Fresources%2FAre-paradigms-of-practice-necessary.pdf&ei=B_fMUI6lL9HNigKn6YGIAQ&usg=AFQjCNE5GJ6bA6Bhr3vq-BRMT2vwiwCG1Q&bvm=bv.1355325884,d.cGE&cad=rja

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    1. Ahh this is the article i was referring too, didn't realise it was an actual chapter. Really looking forward to getting my hands on the book. Love that you referred to it as maddening. Thanks anyway for the link. Going to be doing a post on it but want to read the whole book first.

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  10. I enjoy reading about your work on the puzzle of long breaths, # of asana, etc. I play with the same puzzle. Recently I have been doing what you might refer to as an ashtanga-ish practice, though for seated postures I do 6 or 7 postures from SKPJ's primary series and 6 or 7 or so from the 2nd series. But since one full breath cycle for me can take anywhere from 25 to 55 seconds when doing asana, depending on the posture and retentions, I will only do 1 full breath in the asana proper, maybe also a full breath in hill pose leading into, maybe taking a breath to cross legs into padmasana say, another breath to clasp behind back, another breath to bend forward.

    I try to do this a few times a week. Other days I may choose a lot less asana and hold for multiple breaths. Both ways feel good and true to yoga as prescribed by Krishnamacharya, and let me enjoy a fluid and focused ashtanga-ish practice without sacrificing the breath.

    Short breath cycles do not feel right to me. Physically they seem to invogorate in the short term but drain in the long term. Energetically short breaths seem to tax the kidney energy. Mentally they do not provide me the depth of focus I am looking for in a practice. Long breaths in asana provide more chance to bring the other limbs into the asana practice, and strengthen those other limbs when practiced on their own.

    But I am no expert, just my experiences.

    Cheers,

    Another Anon

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  11. Thank you for sharing your experience Anon, very interested to see how others are exploring within an Ashtanga framework.
    I've done something similar, taking much of the first part of 2nd series, the backbends and all the prep leading up to Kapo then adding on the early openers from Primary before picking up the leg behind head work in 2nd series.

    We tend to have such a narrow idea of what Ashtanga is, that fixed sequence with fixed breath and drishti and bandha and yet evidence suggests it was never written in stone. We know of several variations to the practice that have been 'authorised'. Adding postures from one series on to the end of another is one example. Practicing the first half of Primary with the first half of second one day and then the second half of primary and first half of 2nd another. Cutting the second half of standing when doing second series and so on. Then we know that Pattabhi Jois adapted the practice somewhat for different people whether because of injuries or disabilities, the practice is and has always been flexible it seems.
    And then there is the caveat that if time is short you just practice the sury's and the last three postures. if you have a little longer then you would practice those plus the handful of key postures. This is from Pattabhi Jois himself. Also he mentions the breath should ideally be long and slow, the 10-15 second inhalation and 10-15 second exhalation is clearly stated by him in different contexts and at different periods of his teaching, it seems it was always an ideal.
    If we take those longer slower breaths we are always going to be short of time and thus adapt our practice accordingly.
    Krishnamacharya was clearly exploring the effects of the breath in different postures, longer stays, longer and slower breathing, Kumbhakas ( breath retention).

    This seems a consistent and even ideal approach to Ashtanga practice.

    And then of course Pattabhi Jois in his letter to Yoga Journal criticising Power yoga, insists on YS II-28, practicing all aspects of Yoga i.e. All limbs of Ashtanga.

    Perhaps over the next couple of years we will begin see more exploration of the practice within a looser Ashtanga framework similar to that which your outlining above.

    Rather than rushing onto the next posture, next series, ever more postures ( as I was guilty off) we can rather, explore fewer postures and settle for half a series with longer, slower breathing

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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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