Thursday, 27 June 2013

Book(let) Review : Ashtanga yoga Anusthana - R. Sharath Jois

New Rug and Sharath's book(let) arrived

I mentioned in a previous post that I didn't yet have a copy of Sharath's recently released book on the Ashtanga Primary series and was waiting for it to turn up on Amazon UK. Within days I was kindly offered not one but two copies, that was really kind of you both thank you. My copy arrived yesterday along with my new/old rug (thank you Lizzie, it will be well loved and used I'm sure) and I believe the other copy is on it's way to Ireland.
new/old rug in the home shala
I make a point of featuring the rug/home shala because this book review is written from the home practitioner perspective, a nicely done shala going view can be found here

A Book Method in Review: Astanga Yoga Anusthana by R. Sharath Jois. by Peg Mulqueenon

I particularly liked this line

"So to anyone out there looking for a bit of hard core dogma to wave in judgment or in contrast, rattle and rally the rebels—sorry, you’re simply outta luck. Because all I discovered was a very pragmatic and compassionate approach to a practice that is often decried as just the opposite". Peg Mulqueenon

I'm calling my post a book review but actually this is more of a booklet than a book and there really isn't much to review.

Nothing wrong with a booklet of course

Given the slight variations in practice that have sprung up over the years it makes sense to produce a codification of the practice such that anyone coming to the Mysore Shala or indeed the world tours are all on the same page.... for while they're there at least before returning to their own shala and parampara. Many of the variations in practice are a result of the small changes in how the practice was taught over the years by Pattabhi Jois himself and that teachers have continued to teach, to pass on the practice, just as they were taught and in good faith.

And it needs to be small enough to fit in your backpacks for when you do go to Mysore or in your shala bag perhaps, it's a mat book, something you can hide under your mat to surreptitiously check the 'correct' vinyasa (kidding, don't try it) .

However, I'm a little disappointed I have to say. I'd heard there was going to be something along the lines of what we hear about from Sharath's conferences, a kind of Q and A section or the responses at least and rather than reports from the conferences by others, something that Sharath himself had decided to publish. 

That would have been interesting, in fact the handful of paragraphs we get on the Yamas and Niyamas are the most interesting section of the book, more of that would have been nice.

Also, once I'd heard there was a section on Yoga Therapy I was hoping for a few more pages than the two  we get. 

Still, even two pages on Yoga therapy is a bit of a bombshell. It shouldn't be a surprise of course Yoga Therapy has always been a part of  the Ashtanga method, it was there when Krishnamacharya taught Indra Devi in Mysore, Pattabhi Jois mentioned, in an interview ( must find the interview) that he was taught a therapeutic approach by Krishnamacharya who claims that's what he was taught by his own teacher in the Himalayas. Manju Jois mentions in his own interviews that his father Patabhi Jois would treat patients in the shala. Perhaps it's something that's been lost somewhat along the way although the practice, the sequence has it seems always been adjusted to meet the needs of the students in the more experienced Shalas. 

Perhaps including these two pages on Yoga Therapy will open the floodgates somewhat and more attention will be given to the myriad possibilities of adapting the Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama to the requirements of the students. 

Interesting times

The inclusion of the two pages on Yoga Therapy is along with the yam as/niyamas the most interesting aspect of Sharath's book. Otherwise it's just the 'correct' Vinyasa count and a few paragraphs each on aspects of practice, much of which can already be found word for word on the KPJYI website.

This sentence under Breathing I found a little disturbing however

"The inhalation and exhalation should be the same length and maintained throughout the practice. For example, if you inhale for two seconds, the exhale should be two seconds" p21

Two seconds!

Thankfully a couple of lines later we get...

"Long deep breathing activates the digestive fire that burns in the lower abdomen...." p21

Not sure how we balance the two lines from the same paragraph, does a two seconds inhalation suggest  to anyone long deep breathing or am I nitpicking on my favourite bugbear, he did say it was just an example..

Patabhi Jois would talk about ten second inhalations, fifteen seconds even twenty second inhalations (and was saying the same in Interviews even up until the 1990s) and the same for exhalation throughout the asana practice.  OK, maybe it's an ideal, I personally only manage to practice at eight seconds each for inhalation and exhalation, that drops to perhaps as little as five in the deep binds like marichiyasana D and Supta kurmasana, but two seconds, really?

If it's a book on the current Ashtanga methodology you want then you may well be better off spending the extra .71 cents and getting Petri Räisänen's 192 page Ashtanga Yoga, Definitive Primary Series Practice Manual' book. The Vinyasa count is up to date, 'official' and you're getting so much more besides ( see my earlier review) as well as a beautiful, professionally, produced addition to your bookshelf. I'd check the vinyasa count is indeed exactly the same in both books but I loaned Petri's book to Susan (Susananda) on Tuesday.

Personally, if you're only going to buy one Ashtanga book ( yeah right) then I'd say stick with Pattabhi Jois' own Yoga Mala which is a lovely, well produced, book and something I keep finding hidden treasures in to chew over.

Yoga Mala: The Original Teachings of Ashtanga Yoga Master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois [Paperback]
UPDATE: Note from Steve in comments on the KINDLE version of Yoga Mala

"As an aside, if anyone that doesn't have a copy of Yoga Mala were to buy the recently released Kindle version, they'd pay almost as much as for the paperback, yet the entire front section on yamas, niyamas etc. is excluded AND 90% of the photos have reverted to negatives. It's a real rip off so worth avoiding".

So lets take a look at what you're getting

Ashtanga yoga Anusthana
87 pages

Interestingly the book is designed or by the same designer as the Jois yoga website

The pages are glossy but  it feels a little cheap in the hand almost like a glossy pamphlet . The design is adequate at best but it has more of a self published feel to it than something professionally published. That's fine for 500rs in the Mysore shala shop perhaps but Jois Yoga are selling the book for $18 which is pushing it a little.

To put that in context here's a quick look at some of the Ashtanga books on

Kino's  Primary 240p $21 list  but reduced to $14
Gregor's Primary 320p $19.95
Petri's Primary192p $24.95 list selling at $18.71
John Scott's 144p $13
Yoga Mala $18 list selling for $14

Looking inside

After the dedication there's a brief look at the Yamas and Niyamas, here's one from each...most are about a paragraph,

from the yamas
Brahmacarya: celibacy however, gets a whole page .

and from the niyamas

"4. Svadhyata; Self-Study
Svadhyaya means self studying what we have learned from our teacher; not only trying to understand what has been said, but deepening that understanding and expanding our knowledge by reading manuscripts and thinking more about the subject we are learning. Self-study is to engage our mind to further our studies. It is our duty to do our homework, to do and review what the guru has said, to go deeper into whatever yoga subject we are learning and in understanding and experiencing the self and the devine. The teacher cannot push, he or she can only guide. If he or she shares who Ganapati is, the remover of obstacles, it is up to the student to find out more about Ganapati and those obstacles.

svadhyayadisthadevatasamprayogah ys 2.44

While practicing self study, we totally submerge ourselves in the deity we have chosen"." p20

Liked that explanation.

99% practice 1% theory? The above makes us think a little more what might be meant/intended by that.


There are a few notes on practice, a paragraph each on breathing, posture and gazing. There's also a page on Vinyasa which is word for word the same as on the KPJYI webpage

VinyasaVinyasa means breathing and movement system. For each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namskar there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together; the second is exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas.
The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing. Breathing and moving together while performing asanasmakes the blood hot, or as Pattabhi Jois says, boils the blood. Thick blood is dirty and causes disease in the body. The heat created from yoga cleans the blood and makes it thin, so that it may circulate freely. The combination of the asanas with movement and breath make the blood circulate freely around all the joints, taking away body pains. When there is a lack of circulation, pain occurs. The heated blood also moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and disease, which are brought out of the body by the sweat that occurs during practice.
Sweat is an important by product of vinyasa, because it is only through sweat that disease leaves the body and purification occurs. In the same way that gold is melted in a pot to remove its impurities, by the virtue of the dirt rising to the surface as the gold boils, and the dirt then being removed, yoga boils the blood and brings all our toxins to the surface, which are removed through sweat. If the method of vinyasa is followed, the body becomes healthy and strong, and pure like gold.
After the body is purified, it is possible to purify the nervous system, and then the sense organs. These first steps are very difficult and require many years of practice. The sense organs are always looking outside, and the body is always giving into laziness. However, through determination and diligent practice, these can be controlled. After this is accomplished, mind control comes automatically. Vinyasa creates the foundation for this to occur.

There is a welcome additional paragraph added on to the end of the web description of Vinyasa

"It is important to note that the indicated number of vinyasas may not be possible at first. In the beginning, extra breaths may be necessary, but one should adhere to the proper inhalation and exhalation movements. With time and practice, the correct vinyasa for each posture will be possible". p25

A list of the asana names as well as translations 

Opening mantra
Promotional page from the designers website
And then we are into the 50 pages of the sequence starting with Suryanamaskara

Fifty of those eighty-seven pages are taken up with the Primary series itself, a picture of Sharath in the asana and the the vinyasa count in and out of the asana, 

This is my favourite page below, is that two or three Sharath's, the third one with the beard is clearly more recent but I can't decide if the first two are from the same period.

 I love that his leg in the third picture is about as high as mine rather than something along the lines of Derek Ireland, I find it comforting.

Shouldn't there be a picture for dve, chin to the knee.

The most interesting section follows the main series where we find a section on Yoga Therapy. I was quite excited about this but it turns out to be only two pages, one on back problems, the other on respiratory problems the later includes a paragraph on nadi shodana (without kumbhaka).

At the back of the book are a four pages of mantras.

And that's it. I don't know what more to say about it really except that given the cost of studying in Mysore and on Sharath's world tours it might have been nice to give out a free copy with the shala pass. 

Don't get me wrong it's still a nice document to have but if you're impatient and considering an online purchase I'd wait until you're in India and can pick it up for 500rs on the day you arrive rather than ordering it online for $18 plus postage or ask a friend who's making the trip to bring you back a copy. 


  1. Yep, Yoga therapy has always been there in this tradition. Eddie Stern writes in the foreword of Yoga Mala :

    On March 1, 1937, Jois began to teach at the Sanskrit College. When asked if he ever received a teaching certificate, he replied yes, and his test was very difficult: Krishnamacharya gave him one sick man and said, “Fix him!”

    The primary series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is called Yoga Cikitsa, i.e, Yoga Therapy.

    The book lists the therapeutic uses of each pose, and explain that “To remedy a particular ailment, an aspirant may remain in the curative postures specific to a complaint for 50 to 80 breaths.”

    1. As I said, the treasures of yoga mala, Enrique : )

      I do wonder though where the articles are in the Yoga Therapy journals written by long term Ashtangi's, perhaps somebody knows of some ( send me some links if you do).

  2. Nice Review.
    about breathing Pattabhi Jois (i understand) that he said 10 inhale 10 exhale means that must to be equal inahle exhale. I like practice 1 and 2 series with the old Pattabhi Jois and never was 10+10 there, and Richard Freeman make more long but not 10. I think that with bandhas and "ujjayi" but i asana must to be the most natural and pleasent. In Pranayama yeas more strict but always nice breath you know... Well for this Pattabhi Jois didnt know a lot in English and he wanted only said equal breath i think.

    1. I disagree Toni I think he also wanted to stress LONG SLOW and FULL inhalations and exhalations as well as them being equal but yes also it should be pleasant, I guess the idea is to build up to it

  3. Both Krishnamacharya and KPJ insisted that the inhalation and exhalation of breath must be of equal duration and slow.

    Their texts don't explicitely prescribe any duration, but KPJ writes in Yoga Mala: “Indeed, in whatever asana, aspirants should not forget to perform rechaka and puraka slowly and as much as possible while in the asana’s state.”

    1. This is a one of the interviews I was thinking of Enrique
      Question: Doing vinyasa is it correct to stop for example in urdhva mukha svanasana for more than one breath?

      Answer: Only one breath, inhale one breath, exhale. Inhale, exhale only one breath. Inhale 10 seconds or 15 seconds then exhalation also 10 seconds or 15 seconds. This is 10 times I am telling, you don’t understand!

      and then this video perhaps

    2. i've read the interview. Well is very personal for me 2 seconds is very very short and 10 or 15 in vinyasa practice is a bit artificial. But if Sri k Pattabhi Jois recomend 10s should be for the correct way. :)

  4. I'm interested to hear what Manju has to say about these LONG breaths. Though I've never studied with Manju, I do regularly study with Nancy Gilgoff and she's frequently telling new students to speed up their practice (though that's often more to do with extra breaths and added 'fidgets') She also often reminds new students to 'breathe with sound' yet never to unnaturally extend the breath.

    1. Yes me too, one of the reasons I'm taking Manju's workshop in August.

  5. If you were a day-1 beginner, what is missing from Sharath's little book?

    As an aside, if anyone that doesn't have a copy of Yoga Mala were to buy the recently released Kindle version, they'd pay almost as much as for the paperback, yet the entire front section on yamas, niyamas etc. is excluded AND 90% of the photos have reverted to negatives. It's a real rip off so worth avoiding.

    1. Good point Steve but don't shalas give out a cheat sheet? No doubt your right and its all you need if your going to a shala..... Wondering how involved Sharath was with the project, feels a cut and paste job to me but that's just my personal view of course.

      Thanks for the heads up re the kindle Yoga Mala, will add that to the post when I get home.

      Have been asked if I would really recommend Yoga Mala if you were only going to buy one book, going to have to do a post on that.



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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


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