Friday, 4 January 2013

Life (practice) after Ashtanga Part 1

Krishnamacharya teaching Yvonne Millerand 1960's (after Mysore)
Been trying to decide whether to blog about the Post-Ashtanga thing or not. I really don't want to get into the whole reasons for giving it up ( see my Surrendering up/Letting go post ) or comparing one practice with another, though difficult to avoid both perhaps.

All right, one reason, just one (as this is Part I of a series).

I feel a kind of ...responsibility to share Ramaswami's teaching more directly. Somehow or other I ended up on Ramaswami's teacher training course a couple of years ago and have been practicing Vinyasa Krama alongside my Ashtanga practice ever since, trying to balance the two. Ramaswami's teaching has enriched my own practice immeasurably and I've tried to pass that along a little through the blog but keep getting deflected by my passion for Ashtanga, it feels a little selfish somehow, an indulgence. Ashtanga is well seeded but there are not enough of us sharing Ramaswami's presentation of Vinyasa Krama, as he learned it himself over all those years with his own teacher Krishnamacharya. If I want to share that practice then I should of course be practicing it myself more diligently rather than allowing it to become sidelined. And there's so much to explore there, I've barelyscratched the surface.

But rather than dwell on that, what I'd like to do is have a running series of posts on

'Post-Ashtanga",

or perhaps

Life (practice) after Ashtanga.

Ashtanga so often takes over out lives, what we eat, what we drink ( or don't), what time we go to bed. It's a disciplined lifestyle and that's reflected in the practice. We know what we will be practicing...and how, one day to the next, it's laid down for us.

So what happens when we ...let go of Ashtanga?

What do we practice exactly?

Do we practice more or less?

Is it a fixed practice or more flexible, how do we respond to that. Does that reduced structure cause problems, make it more difficult to get on the mat...or easier.

Does a less structured practice affect our self-discipline in other areas of our life? How do we avoid that happening?

Is a different approach to practice reflected in other areas of our lives? I used to think that after Ashtanga I felt more ...outward facing as if I could take on the world, after Vinyasa Krama, I'd feel more ...self contained (?), I liked self-contained more.

What about our eating, our weight, our general health and fitness are any of these affected?

Do we become less flexible, less strong or does that strength and flexibility develop in other areas of practice?

Our relationships?

And what of labels, do I change the title of this blog (yet again), get rid of Ashtanga from the title? Is it misleading? Ashtanga of course refers to those eight limbs of Patanjali's Yoga not just to Pattabhi Jois' style of practice. Given the strongly integrated focus on those limbs in Vinyasa Krama I'm not inclined to drop it.

Do we still consider ourselves practicing Ashtanga when we're not practicing Ashtanga (which one goes in italics)....labels are a problem and best done away with altogether perhaps?

I don't know, I'm curious, trying to brainstorm questions here. I know there are several readers who have given up Ashtanga, there must be hundreds...thousands(?) out there.

What's the point of having a blog if you don't explore such things.

So I'll post on this every now and again, call the posts ....say... Life after Ashtanga (part X), that way if it's not something you want to read about you can easily skip the posts.

It's Friday, 5am.

For all my experiments with my practice, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I didn't practice straight Primary on Friday morning.

---------

Here's my response to a question on the earlier post that takes a first look a few of these questions


Hi Steve, yep happy, relieved in a way, lighter somehow it's been interesting but a bit of a struggle trying to balance the two approaches to practice. 

Really nice practice this morning.

Don't think it need affect the blog that much, was posting more on anything connected to the Krishnamacharya tradition lately anyway, sometimes it'll relate more directly or be of interest to Ashtangi's than other's. 

One of the aspects I was afraid to lose was the knowledge base within the Ashtanga community, a lot of writing and videos etc. floating around on technique, getting and staying on the mat, breath focus ... Most of the book on Vinyasa Krama practice I 'published' was tips, hints caution's that I'd picked up here and tried out in practice.

re the asana perspective. My VK practice tends to have a very similar shape to Ashtanga anyway. 

I do my Yoga Makaranda approach to Surynamaskara, couple of breaths with kumbhaka at each stage, then a Surynamaskara with mantra and a couple of regular Ashtanga Sury B's.

Finishing is very similar but longer time spent in shoulderstand and headstand.

I know the VK sequences and subroutines pretty well so it's easy for me now, don't need to thnk about it too much but I agree it's good to practice the same sequence for an extend period. 

I keep a general frame work of sury's/standing/XXXX/backbends/Inversions/finishing where the XXXX will focus on a particular sequence.that seems to work pretty well. 

For now it's the meditative sequence (leading into kapo's) with a bit of Bow prep. Was planning on doing that for a week or ten days but following the moon idea is interesting, just need to make sure I have enough hip openers and twists in there too.

Did I say I only dated Ashtanga? We we're living together for quite sometime...one of those irritating relationships where you keep getting back together...then when you do meet somebody else you try to turn them into your first love : ) 

Don't think I feel a mysore orphan so much though I'd finally come around to the idea it might be nice to be in Mysore the same time as people I care about and would like to practice in the same room with...oh well.

24 comments:

  1. I would not change a thing. Frankly I enjoy reading about your journey regardless of what name your practice has. You bring some very clear insights that I find nowhere else. I

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  2. Thank you Claudia, I appreciate it. I appreciate too the stunning amount of work you've put inot your pranayama/book club post today, it keeps getting better and better. You have a workshop in the making there : )

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  3. I would not change a thing in your blog Anthony.
    Form a very selfish perspective, I am truly grateful for the connections you are bringing between the derivations of Krishnamacharya's teaching.
    And as somebody else commented, this is really what you are providing for all of us, in a very generous way, without any personal agenda.

    I also understand your desire to stay true to your real (in the sense of a personal human contact) teacher Ramaswami and wanting to spread his message more. It is really what the teacher-disciple tradition is all about, so go for it! Humble teacher need people to help them spread the word, there are so many pushy people around and the best teachers are often very humble, like I can see Ramaswami is.

    As a 'ex-ashtanga vinyasa' pratictioner myself (and I like to add the vinyasa suffix there because there is already too much disingenuous confusion between the patanjali asthanga yoga and the patthabi jois ashtanga vinyasa out there) I know that the lover's call is very strong.
    A few weeks ago I found myself practicing the primary series with my students, when we normally do viniyoga, and feeling that I was seriously sucked into the old passion. But I think that letting go is part of becoming older and wiser.
    Whenever I find myself dragged into it again, I think I am 48 (soon) and that series was intended for younger people. I agree with the guy who said that all this jumping back and forth is really what makes the series strong and at the same time why should we really be doing it? Is that really yoga or cadet training?
    The key really is the breath and the minute you sacrifice it, you've lost the real meaning of the practice.

    As for the discipline required, and whether becoming less strict on ourselves in the asana practice has consequences in our 'other' non directly yoga-related life... well yes, probably a little bit, but then again.... the question is what is ultimately the right thing to do? Is neglecting your householder duties, including a social life, because you have to get up at 5 am to practice on an empty stomach, really the right thing to do?
    Or is all this tapas hiding something else, like the fear to face other responsibilities? Especially if your other important one does not share this passion (as it is in the case of myself and my husband for example)
    Is an intense practice an addiction? I once read a 70s book, called 'Positive Addictions' who was encouraging addictive personalities to take up better addictions, like running, or meditation... I would put yoga into it as well, at least in the way many intensely practicing pratictioners do it.
    So many other questions.... more stuff to share our views on on your fantastic blog!

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    1. Ahhh, you felt the siren call too Chiara. That was the problem with practicing both Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama, Ashtanga keeps calling you back, "practice me, practice me'. But then that can be a good thing, bring one into the practice, keep one coming back to the mat while developing some strength, fitness and flexibility, some discipline. Sooner or later though, my own feeling and I guess yours too is we should be giving more attention to the breath. It's there in Ashtanga of course but been allowed to shorten to allow for the full series in a shorter space of time.

      I'm lucky in that I have the time in the morning and evening to keep my practice time the same. It's the same for me to get on the mat for 2-3 hours of Vinyasa krama, pranayama etc as it was for Ashtanga. In fact my practice doesn't seem to have changed that much over the last few months, since Santorini. There was the focus on long slow breaths through the Yoga Makaranda/Yogasanagalu focus, bringing that to into Ashtanga (half a series at a time) and now in to Vinyasa Krama again. I still have a loose Ashtanga like framework but work more at the subroutine level than individual asana.
      This morning was yoga makaranda Sury and one with mantra, a couple of triangle and on one leg subroutines, Bow and Mediatative Subroutines up to kapo and drop backs. A long paschimatanasana, padma mayurasana, pincha mayurasana and karandavasana ( couldn't resist) My finishing tends to be Shoulderstand and headstand vinyasas etc, maha mudra, badha konasana, ardha matsyendrasana badha padmasana, yoga mudra then settle down for pranayama, pratyahara and Japa.

      Looking forward to exploring much longer stays in my evening practice, Prashant's Trikonasana approach perhaps.

      Do i have an addictive personality? hmmmm

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    2. I don't know about you, but I know I do!!!

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    3. or rather let's say that sometimes I feel I get so passionate about stuff that I will never be a proper yogini..... abhyasa yes. vairagya.... well a long way to go! ;-)

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  4. The Hatha Yoga Pradapika states "slimness of the body, brightness in the face, manifestation of the inner sound (nada), very clear eyes, freedom from disease, control over the seminal fluid, stimulation of the [digestive] fire, and complete purification of the nadis" as being the 'signs of perfection' in Hatha Yoga.

    Can you think of a more concise set of objectives than that?

    If not, you could just work towards those goals and not expend too much energy labelling it "Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa Krama, or any of the other 'types'. Just keep practicing and having faith in what you are doing.

    I feel that Ashtanga method is the clearest route to that for me, personally, I have complete faith in my teacher and the system and I enjoy it immensely. But it may not work for everyone. We all have to decide for ourselves.

    But, hey, even setting out on a Hatha Yoga course leaves us all so much better placed than Joe Public, who is probably nursing his regular hang-over as we speak.

    (By the way, I'm drawing on the analogy that 'Hatha' is the tree trunk, and the other systems are the branches of the tree. I read that years ago and it kind of stuck, but I'm not the historian that you are Tony).


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    1. Agreed, labels are tiresome and less important for the home practitioner than for somebody who walks inot a room with a sign above the door.
      No doubt it was a hatha yogi who came up with the tree trunk analogy.
      Curious thing in yoga makaranda, K. gives one version of janu sirsasana A as the hatha yoga version and another as the Raja version. My own leanings are more towards Raja than Hatha , concentrating on rather than uniting of.

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  5. This is why I read your blog and not others, you are so honest about your confusions. Just know that whatever you decide you are reaching, communicating and touching hearts and yoga mats across continents. There is a story that you will hear if you travel in the Himalayas about a yogi meditating in a cave who suddenly got up and started to do every asana possible. The story goes that he had never practiced asana but was a Bhakti Yogi, but that he reached a stage of ultimate knowledge, including physical knowledge....it could just be a story, but it stays with me and reminds me that these are just numerous pathways to the inner wonderful, limitless self.

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    1. Lovely to hear from you Rani. Nice story, perhaps I should do more Bhakti ...might improve my kandasana. I used to sit in frount of a piano staring at the keys, convinced that one day I would just be able to play and without a single lesson....actually I still think that, such a logic to the lay out of a keyboard, such a logic too to asana (assuming you have flexible fingers and limbs ( kids).

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  6. Grim, I really thank you for all of this, for your honesty, sincerity, your deep feelings and sharing those with us.
    I personally am reading through Ramaswami's interview from mid Nov '12 published in Wild Yogi. I'm going sentence by sentence, and feel a really deep connection with all of your path, blog posts and ideas showing us.
    And that makes me happy, firm and strong and I think this interview had to be republished several times to help others understand the Krishnamacharya lineage.
    I especially like that most of your struggles were covered somehow by Ramaswami in that interview and this makes things just so round and complete.

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  7. Thank you for the reminder of that interview K, it's excellent isn't it, I must reread it and perhaps post some more from it. Love Wild Yogi interviews they seem happy to take the time and space for extend interviews.

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  8. The gift of Krama a refined approach indeed. Praise the inner alchemist. Shanti and thank you

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    Replies
    1. Hi Wyatt, keep the video's coming, I find them inspiring.

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  9. I would be really interested to hear your take on the Iyengar method. I think you would take a lot away from attending a few level 2-5 courses with a certified instructor for the reasons Iyengar explains in the CNN clip at 1:56: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9Tq4WDttkU. Have you thought of exploring it a bit for the perspective it may shed on your understanding and interpretation thus far of the Krishnamacharya lineage?

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    1. I've been thinking about attending some Iyengar classes off and on for a couple of years Anon, went so far as to visit the Iyengar institute in London a couple of years ago but just missed a class. I've been thinking about it more just recently since reading Prashant Iyengar's chittavijnana and was actually googling classes last night. I'd like to take some classes but the difficulty is deciding What, When and Where. I thought a week intensive would have been good but can't seem to find such a thing so I'm thinking about taking a beginner's class once a week on my day off for a couple of months, but that means traveling to London each time, which is awkward ( one of the reasons I so rarely visited a shala for Ashtanga). I'd like to work on my alignment a little of course but also want to try and get a little more on the 'same page' so as to understand Prashant's approach a little more.

      Before i was practcing Ashtanga in the morning and a few Vinyasa Krama subroutines before pranayama etc in the evening. Now I've shifted my Vinyasa Krama to the morning I have some space in the evening, Have started to explore Prashant's Trikonasna approach. Krishnamacharya wrote about ten minute stays in Trikonasana in Yoga Makaranda, so it's perfect. fascinated by the idea of exploring long stays in trikonasana after a different preceding posture, different pranayama focus, shifting attention and visualisation... the whole laboratory approach to an asana, it's a long term project for this year. post(s) to come on it soon.
      Be glad of any suggestions for classes.

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    2. oh yes, would be very interested in hearing what you think of that too!

      My personal experience with a couple of Iyengar teachers has been quite traumatising I must admit.
      I personally do not consider Iyengar as being truly part of the Krishnamacharya legacy. And neither does he, if you listen to his interviews and comments, he did not leave the Master soon enough... and his comments on vinyasa krama in the Krishnamacharya movie are quite strong I'd dare say!

      But at the same time, it is important to experience first-hand the teaching of such an alternative and imposing legacy I think.

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    3. yes curios the relationship between Krishnamacharya and Iyengar, I've tended to think of it as a separate tradition but I wonder. I'm interested in those long stays that K. mentions in yoga makaranda and that of course is something the Iyengar tradition explores, the mechanics of it for example that make such long stays possible, and then, through Prashant, what to do while your there, what to explore......
      Besides my alignment could no doubt do with some work, a lot of work.

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    4. Grim, I'd suggest finding a teacher with an "Intermediate Junior" certification level or above. Once you've located a few, look into their background and see how frequently they travel to Pune for study with the Iyengar family. It's best to find an Iyengar teacher with fresh blood, so to speak--and who vigorously practices. Aside from this, don't worry so much about what level class you attend. I have found that Iyengar is all about crystal chemistry, so what you learn in a "level I" class will be echoed in "level 5." The secret to Iyengar is that it's really a large scaffolding. Leave your ego and habits and other styles of practice at the door and attend class with an open mind and body ready to learn. Even if you have to use props/ropes in class, look at it from an alignment standpoint rather than a chip to the ego. As my teacher says, we're not in class to practice but to learn. You will take away a lot of "technique" to practice at home. I attend class myself only a few times every couple of months and workshops when they come available--due mainly to my work schedule--but what I learn in those classes keeps me going for quite some time. I think yu have the critical mindset necessary for Iyengar and would really take it far in your practice.

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    5. Thanks for the tips/suggestions Anon. perhaps a private one on one with a good Iyengar teacher is a way to go. If I can find one reasonably local I'll be saving the cost of a trip to London anyway which will balance it out a little, and as you say a little goes a long war, can work on it all week at home, I practice the same basic postures every day any way. Good thing about being a home practitioner is that you have zero ego where alignment is concerned, more than happy to go back to first principles.

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  10. Its not the name of the stores you stopped at, but the things inside you found! Really enjoy "seeing" what you found.

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  11. Grim - Don't change anything, really. You've got this incredible outsider-who-is-actually-an-insider view that is awesome. I loved your post some time ago, on how Ashtanga is actually in some way a number of sequences of Vinyasa Krama, cool. We're at a party, everyone is invited.

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  12. Thanks Bill, keep meaning on doing one of those ashtanga/vinyasa krama subroutine sheets for 2nd series, thanks for the reminder. The 'at home' aspect of the blog does help perhaps keep some objectivity (or at least a different kind of subjectivity).

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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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