Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Did Pattabhi Jois' teacher Krishnamacharya have an Advanced series, if so where is it?

Following on from the Krishnamacharya Primary series and Intermediate series and the subtle rearrangement of postures from his Yoga Makaranda (1934) and Yogasanagalu (1941), I was asked if I had a similar treatment for the Advanced series coming, if there was a Krishnamacharya Advanced Series practice poster in thew works.

Well no, not really, I'm not convinced the Advanced postures are best suited in a series or were ever intended as such but rather as optional extensions or perhaps substitutions for postures in the previous groups/series.

I remember Manju saying that these days he practices part of Primary, part of Second series and a couple of postures from Advanced series, 'just to feel I've still got it'. That struck me as quite a wise approach. It's similar to one I've been using in my own practice. In Vinyasa Krama the postures just keep progressing within the different groups of postures. So in the Asymmetric series we will move from Janu sirsasana's all the way up to leg behind head postures found in the Ashtanga 2nd series and then from the 3rd and 4th series. You practice just as far as you're able, eventually the more challenging postures become doable or more approachable.

In my own practice, I would go through my Ashtanga Primary and then, after the janu's add a couple of leg behind head postures before continuing on with the series. If you also practice 2nd series you may well be doing something similar by including the dwi pada sirsasana,  the both legs behind the head, entry to supta kurmasana ( Manju frowns at this approach btw, too much strain on the back of the neck).

In my Ashtanga 2nd series after Kapotasana I will often add the third series kapotasana variations. it seems natural to do so.

This is an alternative approach to introducing the more advanced asana rather than approaching these postures as a set series, it has the benefit of working up to the more challenging posture, of preparing for it with the primary of intermediate postures rather than jumping straight in.



It does seems to be more in keeping with Krishnamacharya's intention in Yoga Makaranda and Yogasanagalu.

If Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya's student, had taught a two year course at the Sanskrit college then there probably wouldn't be an Advanced series anyway.

There's the classic Jois'ism that 'Primary series is for everybody, 2nd series for teachers and Advanced series for demonstration'. And we can see how useful the advanced postures are for getting your name around the circuit, for self promotion. "Come to my workshop, here's me in a ten minute Paschimottanasan" doesn't cut it as well as here "I am in a handstand version of kukkutasana".

Do we need the Advanced series? It's fun to practice but hard work (bit of extra tapas-never a bad thing), but it seems to me, and I know I'm not alone in this, that everyone is stuck in a cycle of the next posture, the next series.... approaching 3rd or 4th just as they did their Primary and 2nd series, the same emotional breakdowns at durvasana as at eka pada sirsasna, or at kandasana as when first approaching badha konasana ( puts my own hand up, yep that was me "WHY can't I get this pose", thankfully I'm now a little more chilled about it, it'll come....or not).

And I'm serious about this, I struggle with it myself. I feel I'm doing interesting work trying to go ever deeper within Primary and my Second series, exploring Krishnamacharya's original instructions from Yoga Makaranda, written by the way at the time he was teaching the young Pattabhi Jois. And yet part of me keeps thinking that perhaps I should get back to my Advanced A and B, that I'm losing those postures through lack of practice and I'm not getting any younger, perhaps when they've gone they've gone for good this time.

But what if we dropped the Advanced series altogether, and here I probably alienate the last of my Ashtanga friends. What if Sharath stopped teaching it, if in Mysore you just practiced Primary and Intermediate and nothing else. So you practice Primary three days a week, Intermediate three days a week for the next ten, twenty, thirty years perhaps occasionally filtering in an advanced posture here and there as merely a natural extension of a posture, how would that be?

Wouldn't that be how Pattabhi Jois learned his asana from his teacher Krishnamacharya back in the 20s and 30s in Mysore, there was no Advanced A and B or 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th series. Pattabhi jois would most likely have learned the primary asana and then at some point have the middle and proficient group asana layered on top of the primary group, extending the basic asana into more advanced variations in preparation for the demonstrations he would have to perform. What a relief it must have been to no longer have to give demonstration.

From what I hear most long term practitioners drop most of the Advanced series postures anyway..... eventually.

Perhaps the Advanced series, the next series, the next posture is a distraction, dropping it might encourage us to explore the earlier series in new ways, a return to Krishnamacharya's original approach, to the asana instruction in Yoga Makaranda, an 'Advanced' approach to Primary series perhaps, more subtlety, more sophistication. Good news for those who perhaps never see themselves practicing beyond Primary series anyway, a going inside rather than outside to the next, next, next.

Every time I see a teacher busting out their Advanced moves these days I wonder at the effect on those working on the primary postures. Is it inspiring in the right way or rather most helpful way. Does it make us think we have to get the next posture rather than go deeper into the one we have, How many postures do we need. Sometimes we wonder why there are only a handful of postures in the Hatha Yoga Pradipka and other old yoga texts, why don't they show all the other asana,why are they hiding them from us. Perhaps it's that they had just moved on, got passed all that.

Sure there are 84, 000 asana but perhaps we only need ten and a handful of variations.

There is something going around at the moment attributed to Sharath, who supposedly at a conference suggested that the West has only imported 5% of Yoga, asking the question what about the other 95%.

I feel like shouting out asking politely "If that is indeed the case then what have you and your family been doing for the last forty years"!

Why have we only imported 5%, is it perhaps the strong asana focus, the structure of the practice.

Ashtanga's greatest strength, that sense of progression that it's thought keeps us interested may well be it's greatest weakness.

I'd like to ask Sharath what his plans are for the next forty years, how does he propose to encourage us to explore the other 95%.

I know there are some teachers reading this, do you just go with the student, give the student what they want, more candy or rather what you believe they need. Do we really need 3rd series, 4th, 5th....?

UPDATE

Next step here is a for a follow up post, to look at how and where the Advanced asana could be introduced as options/extensions/substitutions into the Primary and Intermediate series, to bring them into play other than as a distinct series.

Of course I only have to look as far as Ramaswami's Complete Vinyasa yoga Book for this, it's all there. Krishnamacharya had done the work already. Just need to pick it all out and put it back into the Ashtanga context.

It's an alternative, an option for those who have no interest or expectation of approaching or beginning a full Advanced series but would like to extend certain postures or areas of practice into more advanced asana.

This approach too was part of the tradition.

Appendix

Here are some of the postures from Yoga Makaranda rearranged into Primary series order




Below are the Intermediate or Middle group asana from the table in Krishnamacharya's second book Yogasanagalu (1941) you can see some slight differences in the order.


With a little rearrangement we can see how the postures in this group closely match those of the current Ashtanga Intermediate series.

Exploring Krishnamacharya's early approach to these asana is something I've begun working on more seriously this year. See this post



We can see a difference in the layout of the table in Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu, there are I think clear sub routines in the Primary and Middle group that appear to be intuitively linked, one posture progressing into the next. That's not the case with the proficient asana group, they seem to be more thrown or lumped together

Below is a first draft of a Proficient 'group' practice sheet from an earlier post a couple of years back. I hesitate to call it a series as I suspect it wasn't intended to be practiced as such, this raises questions regarding how we practice currently practice advanced postures

This is sheet for my own use, to bring the yogasangalu table more alive and make it more... visual something for me work from and explore in practice. The pictures are all old ones I had on file, some better than others, some at the very beginning of approaching a posture. I'm still not sure of many of the versions of the posture referred to in the list ( there are some confusion over which version of a posture Krishnamacharya was intending as some postures have different names), it's a working document, hopefully from this something more accurate will develop.




* I didn't have 39. Trivikramasana(supta) 40. Trivikramasana (utthita) on file, the pictures here are just a reminder. 51. Suptakandasana is a sketch based onDavid Williams from His Complete Syllabus poster, it's a posture I've never tried and am probably still a way from realising.


Asana Table first four pages from Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu 



...and here's Satya Murthy's translation of the asana lists.


The Primary and Middle series are pretty close to the Primary and 2nd series taught now in Mysore. A few 2nd series asana are missing from the Middle sequence but most of these turn up in the Proficient series. I seem to remember David Williams writing or saying in an interview that originally there was just Primary, Intermediate and Advanced series asana, the Advanced postures later being ordered into Advanced A and B series ( and then later again into 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th series.

Proficient series correspondence with David Williams Ashtanga Syllabus
Advanced A Series
1-9, 13-20, 37, 39-41, 53, 
Advanced  B Series
21-28, 30, 35, 38, 42-45, 47-51, 55-56
2nd series
10-12, 29, 31, 33, 52, 54
?
34, 36, 46,

Yogasanagalu was written in 1941, Krishnamacharya continued to teach at the Mysore palace until 1954 so we might expect that the Asana list we have here would have been tweaked and played with a little, it may well have ended up even closer to the Ashtanga syllabus we have now.

It seems pretty safe to argue that this is the original Ashtanga syllabus.

Appendix 2 

This is a short paper I wrote for Ramaswami at the end of his TT course, he included it in his August 2010 Newsletter , Guess I was asking the same question back in 2010, perhaps it was the first time I began to ask it.

ANTHONY HALL 
the non- teaching,   'teacher in the class', 
wrote the following paper, reproduced in toto 

Asana Madness : 

Yoga Sutra III-37 
te samadhi vupasarga vyutthane siddhaya; 
For those interested in the ultimate samadhi these siddhis are 
impediments even though for a distracted mind they are yogic 
accomplishments YS III-37 

This sutra refers back to previous sutras describing such remarkable 
siddhis as gaining the strength of an elephant III-24, enormous mental 
strength III-23, knowledge of the universe III-26. Here though I want 
to consider this sutra in relation to advanced asana accomplishments. 
While not perhaps a siddhi, is there not a sense, where the attaining 
of ever more complicated and challenging asana might be considered an 
impediment to yogic development. 

I came to Vinyasa Krama via Ashtanga (here Ashtanga relates to the 
practice associated with Pattabhi Jois )and while many senior Ashtanga 
teachers will stress 'it's not about the asana' there is a tendency in 
Ashtanga practice to fall into the trap of asana madness and become 
fixated on the next posture, the next series. I've been guilty of this 
myself, I moved on to 2nd series quite quickly and then 3rd, I seem to 
remember I even tried a few 4th series postures. One of the reasons I 
became interested in The Complete book of Vinyasa Krama (available 
from all good bookstores) was that it covered a vast number of asanas 
and appeared to offer an approach to the more complicated postures 
through variations and postures that might be considered as 
preparatory, staging post, poses. 

A curious thing happened as I began to practice Vinyasa Krama, despite 
having the freedom to try any pose without fear of the Ashtanga 
police, the more complicated and challenging postures began to lose 
their star quality. A long stay in Paschimottanasana or a spread leg 
seated subroutine began to feel as challenging and satisfying as Purna 
Matsyendrasana. I noticed I tended to feel more grounded in this 
slower, deceptively gentle practice. Although the breath is stressed 
in Ashtanga especially Jois' Yoga Mala (on almost every page) it 
wasn't until I practiced Vinyasa Krama that I began to fully explore 
the breath and bandhas as well as the feeling of truly stretching 
through a pose as opposed to a mere nodding acquaintance. So the 
fixation on the 'next' asana, on the ever more challenging posture 
might indeed be seen as an impediment to finding the benefits inherent 
in the more subtle poses and sequences. 

Recently the question was raised on the Vinyasa Krama TT course, 'What 
should I teach for my first Vinyasa Krama Class?' 'Tadasana sequence', 
came our teachers reply. Pregnant silence. Everyone, other than our 
teacher perhaps, saw the problem. Tadasana isn't sexy. Used to the 
adventurous routines found in most modern yoga classes, the 'never the 
same vinyasa class', Tadasana sequence might seem a little....bland? 
And yet this is a shame because the sequence has been a revelation, 
I've probably learnt more about yoga through this sequence over the 
past month than in all three of the Ashtanga series I had practiced 
previously. 

And yet Vinyasa Krama, as I mentioned before, includes a vast number 
of postures and variations, it's one of the facets that originally 
drew me to system. Is asana madness, then, encouraged? There's a 
difference. In Ashtanga there is the desire to complete the series and 
then perhaps begin the next. In Vinyasa Krama the key word is Vinyasa 
(variation). It's not so much a question of the next posture but of an 
alternative posture. Vinyasa Krama seeks to exercise and access every 
muscle and organ of the body. As an example, take the deceptively 
simple Tadasana sequence again, three hasta (hand) variations change 
the focus of the stretch from the thoracic to the cervical and lumbar 
regions. 

Maintaining interest is also recognised as an important element of 
sustaining a lifelong practice and the large number of postures, 
subroutines and sequences help towards this. While there are some key 
postures that you are encouraged to practice everyday it is also 
suggested that you add additional, supplementary sequences, as many as 
time allows, so that you cover the majority of the poses available to 
you within a week or so. 

Vinyasa Krama does include some vary challenging postures, some found 
in the advanced A and B Ashtanga series, what of these, can't these 
lead to asana madness, fixation on a posture that can be an impediment 
to your practice? Challenging postures, I would argue, have their 
place, they can add spice to your practice and help maintain interest 
but they also focus the mind intensly, although perhaps no more so 
than a simple balancing posture. They can also allow you to access 
deeper organs, in Purna Matsyendrasana the heel is forced ever more 
deeply into the body than in a half lotus variation. I remember only a 
few months ago writing a possible daily practice schedule that 
included most the four and five star postures, this seems ridiculous 
to me now. In vinyasa Krama the 'challenging' postures inhabit a 
different environment they are features of interest in a landscape as 
opposed to ledges on a rock face. It is this environmental difference 
that helps me to avoid the asana madness of postural fixation that 
was, I now consider, an impediment to my yoga practice. 

We might take this further by considering that while challenging 
postures are put into context through the use of Sub-routines and 
sequences, asana too is contextualized through the importance our 
teacher and his before him have placed on pranayama and meditation. 
Where the challenging postures gain evermore importance as 'gate 
keeper' poses in systems like Jois' ashtanga, in contrast, their role 
becomes less significant in Vinyasa Krama where asana itself is placed 
on an equal footing with pranayama and meditation. 

Thank you so much for a wonderful course that has been everything I 
had hoped and so much more besides. 

Respectfully 
Anthony Hall 

9 comments:

  1. oh my God,is such a great post! Thank you dear

    ReplyDelete
  2. You know since i start serving my Lama here in Nepal, i had to surrender in everything he say as this is my practice. So he gave me my morning practices and one strict instruction was NOT to do outside yoga ( as he likes to call the asana practice ) more than 20 minutes every morning. I had to let go of the practice and whatever false projection i had about it. I can say that now im so happily to enjoy every single breath i take in these minutes which sometimes i extended and do 30 hour completing only the standings...anyway i feel more free and my standings are more liberated . Thank you again for all the work you are doing on Krishnamacharya by offering it so generously <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice to get a comment from you in Nepal Sissy. I better not do a post on Lamrim in asana or your Lama might end up here and find out your doing an extra ten minutes : )
      So hard from us coming form Ashtanga to accept the idea that less might be more. Your Ashtanga practice has done it's job of course, brought you to a deeper practice of the other limbs, 30 minutes for health and flexibility is probably plenty. think krishnamacharya says somewhere that our pranayama practice should be twice as long as out asana practice and our mediation practice twice as long as our pranayama. I meant to ask actually do you practice pranayama, must be wonderful with that air.

      Delete
    2. more and more the need for pranayama is coming out here and need to be adjusted..so difficult to deal with the relative time...and as long im dealing it with a conventional way i definitely will not find the way out. Currently im trying to recover from acute gastritis , as a result changing all my food habits by leaving the last months in this part of the world. These days i only can do sun salutations and only the nadi shodana pranayam still too painful.... but all my shortcomings just give precious insights in my mediation sessions that are also reduced now . .. So happy to see you more active than ever and more and more wise. :) much love from all of us here...

      Delete
    3. Sorry to hear your a little sick Sissy, be well soon.

      Delete
  3. Apparently when Indian texts include references to however many thousands of whatever, they actually only mean A LOT. Not literally that many thousand, as if they had actually been counted. I learned this from a lecture given by a swami of sivananda tradition some time ago and have found this to be very helpful in not getting hung up on specifics around numbers of asana, nadi etc. Others may have a different perspective, but to me, it helps to be discriminating about what I take in in terms if 'tradition', 'authenticity' etc

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I've always interpreted it as ' a lot' too but I do like the idea of as many asana as there are birds and beasts ( and I guess different types of insects) as if inspiration for an asana can be found in everything around us. if we take the reincarnation idea ( although I personally don't) then we have been all birds, beasts and insects in previous lives, anyway. A new asana then is not only a discovery but a rediscovery and perhaps a remembrance, it's a nice idea play with.

      Delete
  4. Very interesting. Thank you Anthony. Does anybody know something about 6 level of ashtanga? What asanas? Or the last(advanced D level) is so called rishy series and consists of 10 asanas you choose from other levels? If this is correct we have approximately 224 asanas of ashtanga yoga system.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have an Ashtanga list here Oleg
      http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/p/asana-lists.html

      The Rishi series idea is explained/outlined here
      http://grimmly2007.blogspot.co.uk/p/ashtanga-rishi-seriesapproach.html

      Pattabhi Jois may have been joking about the Rishi series

      Delete

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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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