"The Vinyasa Count, how did the Vinyasa Count come to mainstream Ashtanga?"
"So what happened... In the early days of practice at the Lakshmipuram Shala (the original Mysore Self-Practice), we didn't know what Guruji was saying or meaning when he directed to us "Catvari!". We thought "Catvari" meant 'jump back', because Guruji would say "catvari - jump back". So we took that translation as 'jump back'. We took 'Panca' as upward facing dog. We took 'Sat' as downward facing dog, 'sapta' as jump through - We thought 'Sapta' meant jump through!
It took us to Wake UP! To begin listening! To realise Guruji was actually counting in Sanskrit -4,5,6,7.
So it took a little student research to start the enquiry into Vinyasa. What did vinyasa actually mean.
Guruji called vinyasa "Counted Method" .
When my good friend Lino Miele was in France and witnessed Guruji counting the whole class through as One, he saw it all come together, and he took this counting on as a research project to document the Vinyasa. Lucy and I became involved with Lino's project and became very much part of Lino's book. From that point onwards I made it my focus to learn Guruji's Vinyasa Count.
In Guruji's own book 'Yoga Mala' referring to the practice as a mala, a garland of postures, he refers to every posture having a 'State' and every state or 'Asana' has a specific number of counted vinyasa to enter and exit all choreographed to the Breath.
"The Vinyasa are all like beads, Choreographed breath/body movements, all to be counted and meditated on and it is the students requirement to learn this Counted method as a mantra for their own personal practice"
John Scott, Winter, 2013 Stillpointyoga London
So it doesn't matter whether we ever intend to present a Led Ashtanga Vinyasa class in Sanskrit it can be rewarding in and of itself. If nothing else there is no surer way to stop our faffing about than trying to stay on count.
A note about staying on count. The vinyasa count does not mean we have to rush in and out of a posture, wrenching our leg quickly into half padmasana for Marichiyasana D, so as to to keep up with the rest of the class. The count doesn't actually count each and every breath, there are 'official' extra inhalations and/or exhalations built in, found/taken throughout the practice, this means that we can ourselves choose take extra breaths to get in and out of a posture, paying attention to our breath as we do so, keeping it long and full as long as we pick up the vinyasa count at the right place, at the right vinyasa.
Example. In Marichiyasana B we jump through on SUPTA inhale and are then supposed to bind in the posture before exhaling ASTAU into the state of the asana, staying for five breaths. There is no reason that I can think of why we can't step through, take two or three extra breaths as we bind into the posture and then, when we are ready, exhale into the state of the asana mentally chanting Astau. It may mean we are behind everyone else in a led room, they may be on their third or fourth breath count, that's OK we take just the one breath in the posture and then come out with everyone else. At home we can take our time to bind and take the full five breaths, or perhaps just three if we like to keep them long.
UPDATE more clarification at the bottom of this post
So here's an approach to learning the count.
One Approach to learning the Ashtanga Vinyasa Count.
The count here is based on John Scott and Lino Mile's books, Lino lists the count nice and clearly but John Scott seems to go into more detail about each vinyasa as well as the extra inhalations and exhalations in a more detail while still keeping it concise and clear. Full vinyasa is a wonderful practice, I don't find it any more exhausting than half Vinyasa and if time is a concern just do half primary one day the second half the next. Practicing full vinyasa helps make sense of half vinyasa. I have a post to come that goes into more details of how we go from one to the other. this should of course not be considered authoritative there is no final authority on this other than the systems own internal logic, the relationship between that and our own practice. There may well be some discrepancies between this and the version taught by other senior teachers, whether it be Manju, Sharath or the certified, authorised (whatever list) and unauthorised teachers. These discrepancies/differences should be a source of interest rather than conflict. Feel free to point out any discrepancies between this and Sharath in comments, I am myself exploring variations in the count between Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois, Manju Jois Lino Miele/John Scott and Sharath for my upcoming Easter retreat.
1. First learn to count up to thirty in Sanskrit ( see the table below), actually, up to twenty-two will do you for most of the vinyasa. In fact, start with 1-9, that will allow you to work through Surynamaskara A.
Then, for a week of practice, mentally count yourself through all of your Sury's A and B.
Notice how we tend to go up on the inhale and down on the exhale, this is obvious perhaps but it will help locate us in our count, it's like GPS Also we generally tend to inhale on odd numbers and exhale on even, more GPS
This is the end of the vinyasa, we drop our arms back down to Samastith, it's not counted.
EG. Ardha Baddha Padmottānāsana to Marichiyasana C all have 22 * vinyasa, each with the actual state of the asana being 8 and 15 (representing both sides of the asana).
4. We know the Sanskrit count now, we just need to know on which count we have to be for the actually state of the asana.
We know how to count our way through our vinyasa ( from our Surynamaskara practice) and we know the state of the asana we want to be in, any discrepancy means there has to be an extra breath or part of a breath thrown in somewhere.
EG. In the Prasarita's we want to be in the state of the asana for TRINI, Jumping the legs apart is EKAM (inhale) but if we fold straight over then we would be in the state of the asana on DVE not TRINI, that means there has to be an extra vinyasa in there. DVE (exhale) would be folding over and putting our hands on the floor. We can't fold in on the exhalation so there must be another extra inhalation, there is and it's not counted, we look up, flatten the back and then TRINI (exhale) our head towards the mat and take our five long full breaths.
HALF VINYASA: Below is the full vinyasa count, half vinyasa is a short-cut version of the practice but the full count is still implied. If we choose to do a half vinyasa practice we might not come all the way back to standing samastithi after the some/all of the seated postures, only going back as far as Adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog). Despite this we would still begin the next count on SUPTA as we step or jump through for the next seated posture just as if we had gone all the way back to standing and back.... we're kind of pretending. Learning the number for the state of the asana helps us to understand where the short cuts of contemporary half vinyasa Ashtanga are.
5. Work in groups, so just learn the vinyasa and state for the standing sequence for a week, then the next week add on postures up to navasana, the following week work up to the end of primary and finally add on finishing.
6. Explore a couple of tricky vinyasa outside of your regular practice, just running through the count, perhaps in the evening, so you don't disrupt your practice too much.
A book will help. John Scotts Ashtanga Yoga book is probably the best for outlining the vinyasas and explaining what happens as clearly concisely as possible, but Sharath's book works well too, it'll help you work it out at least. Both have a clear quick to check presentation for those practices when you still working it out and need to check. Pattabhi Jois' own Yoga Mala will make it even clearer away from the mat.
This is also an excellent Vinyasa Count resource ( among other things) by Dr. Ronald Steiner and team http://www.ashtangayoga.info/practice/
7. Practice along to some led CD's and DVD's. these help but really you have to work it out yourself. John Scott's New app is good for this. Sharath's CD is excellent, just the postures and the count, no explanation, Maju's DVD is of a led where every body repeats manju's count, excellent.
2 = dve
3 = trīṇi
4 = catvāri
5 = pañca
6 = ṣaṭ
7 = sapta
8 = aṣṭau
9 = nava
10 = daśa
11 = ekādaśa
12 = dvādaśa
13 = trayodaśa
14 = caturdaśa
15 = pañcadaśa
16 = ṣoḍaśa
17 = saptadaśa
18 = aṣṭadaśa
19 = ekonavimśatiḥ
20 = vimśatiḥ
21 = ekāvimśatiḥ
22 = dvāvimśatiḥ
23 = trayovimśatiḥ
24 = caturvimśatiḥ
25 = pañcavimśatiḥ
26 = ṣoḍavimśatiḥ;
27 = saptavimśatiḥ
28 = aṣṭovimśatiḥ
Sanskrit Numbers from here ashtangayoga.info
I've grouped asana that have the same vinyasa/state code to aid in memorising.
Pattabhi Jois doesn't talk about drishti much in yoga mala, nor does Krishnamacharya, mostly nasagra drishti [the gaze on the tip of the nose] or broomadhya drishti [the gaze between the eyebrows] is implied. however Pattabhi jois does have this to say in relation to the 7th vinyasa of Surynamaskara B that holds for his whole system. Manju Jois says nasagra drishti is a kind of default drishti but that we are also free to close out eyes.
"SECOND SURYA NAMASKARA, 7TH VINYASA
This is the method for the first Surya Namaskara, which is often practiced while chanting mantras. For this, meditation is very important, as are the drishti, or gazing places, which include: nasagra drishti [the gaze on the tip of the nose] for samasthiti; broomadhya drishti [the gaze between the eyebrows] for the 1st vinyasa; nasagra dristri for the 2nd vinyasa; the gaze between the eyebrows for the 3rd vinyasa— in other words, for the odd-numbered vinyasas, the gaze should be focused between the eyebrows and, for the even- numbered ones, the gaze should be on the tip of the nose. In addition, for the even-numbered vinyasas, rechaka should be performed and, for the odd, one should do puraka. On the whole, the method for doing rechaka and puraka is the same for all the vinyasas and asanas ahead. A sadhaka [spiritual aspirant] should learn it with patience".
Pattabhi Jois Yoga Mala 1999 p46
A note on breathing.
The breath is long and full and slow, "...like the pouring of oil". We seek to feel the breath at the back of the throat, the slightest of constrictions to make the soft hissing sound or the sound of waves. Some refer to it as ujjayi breathing others argue ( Sharath in particular) that it's not ujjayi because ujjayi implies kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) and thus is a pranayama. It's argued that there is no kumbhaka in Pattabhi Jois' Ashtanga vinyasa therefore it should only be referred to as 'breathing with sound'. Krishnamacharya however, Pattabhi Jois' teacher/guru, employed the appropriate kumbhaka in most asana and it could be argued that there is always the hint of a kumbhaka between the inhalation and exhalation and the exhalation, the slight pause between the stages of the breath, like throwing a tennis ball in the air there's a moment where it seems to hover before dropping back into your hand. Either way the breathing is long and slow and full.
During the count in the state of the asana there is free breathing, Krishnamacharya wrote about inhaling and exhaling ( long full and slow) as much as possible. In most seated postures the teacher leading the count will tend to count to five ( it used to be ten supposedly and then eight, now it's five). You can take five short breaths in this time depending on the speed of the count or, as I like to do, three long, slow, full breaths.