Saturday, 26 April 2014

Problems with the Ashtanga vinyasa count.... it doesn't seem to add up


http://johnscottyoga.com/john-scott-yoga-app/
There is a problem with the vinyasa count that has been bugging me for the last couple of weeks. With John Scott's workshop coming up in Oxford this weekend I've been banging my head against it even more than usual.

Now, unless I'm missing something.

Ashtanga fundamentals

As a rule.....

Inhaling we go up, exhaling we go down.

For Krishnamacharya when the head is raised, puraka kumbhaka, when the head is lowered, rechaka kumbhaka.

As far as the count goes, the principle seems to be...

We inhale on the odd, exhale on the even
We go up on the odd count go down on the even

Pattabhi Jois even links it to drishti,

"... for the odd-numbered vinyasa, the gaze should be focussed 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 vinyasa ahead".






That's clear then, except it isn't, all goes along swimmingly until we hit asana with two sides.

Ardhabaddhapadmapaschimottanasana for instance, 22 vinyasa, states of the asana are 8 and 15

also
Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana     9* 2,7

Tiriangmukhaikapada Paschimattanasana    22* 8,15
Janu Shirshasana A B C    22* 8,15
Marichyasana A B   22* 8,15

Hang on 8 is even, the head down, rechaka, exhaling (rechaka kumbhaka for Krishnamacharya) drishti to the tip of the nose.

BUT

 ...for exactly the same state of the asana but on the other leg we have 15, an ODD number which should mean head up, puraka exhaling, drishti middle of the eyebrow but of course we want it to be exactly the same as with the other side.

The whole ODD/EVEN principle is thrown out the window on asana with two sides.


The new edition of Sharath's book


You might say this doesn't matter, that it's just a count and yet for me, it takes away somewhat from the 'timeless beauty' of the count.

In Breath of the Gods, the documentary on Krishnamacharya, T. K. Shribashyam, Krishnamachrya's third son mentioned that the boys of the Mysore Palace knew where they were by whether the count was odd or even, if odd then they went up, even they went down. they must have been very confused when they hit seated.

But it's just a count!

John Scott says it's a mantra, that he says is why Pattabhi Jois called Yoga Mala just that, a mala. A mala is how we count a mantra, the vinyasa count is a mantra and a mantra is serious stuff, god help you if you pronounce a vedic mantra incorrectly.

The count should work, in every posture, all of the time.

Here's something interesting though.....

I noticed a little while back that Manju counts differently, he doesn't seem to count the full vinyasa but starts again for each side. What's interesting for me in this is that it seems to make the count work because we do it exactly the same for both sides, sapta (seven) becomes ekam (one)



Manju digs us out of a hole but the thing is I kind of like the full vinyasa count, I actually prefer it.

Of course we could make the full vinyasa work, we could perhaps take out nava, do an extra uncounted breath there instead then lift up on nava and jump back dasha, up dog ekadesha, down dog dvadesha, jump through trayodesha and fold caturdasana thus keeping our odd and even system correct.

Of course this would leave us one count short, we'd need to add in another count somewhere to make up the 22 which is again problematic......

How to keep the 22 count while maintaining an even number for both states of the asana?

Here's Pattabhi Jois' quote again from Yoga mala

"... for the odd-numbered vinyasa, the gaze should be focussed 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 vinyasa ahead".


 22 
 8, 15

It doesn't add up.

If you invented a system you'd make sure it worked right? Going by the above though it doesn't seem to quite work....... not all of the time. But what if you inherited a count, from your teacher perhaps or from an old text (Yoga Korunta anyone?)..... What if there was just a painting of an asana with a vinyasa count underneath as well a count for state(s) of the asana leaving you to work out the rest. 

Every time you (re)discover an asana you try to fit it into the system by giving it a count. Many of the asana in the old texts seem to have been regular seated postures, padmasana and siddhasana, not a problem for the count. Maha mudra is a mudra so perhaps wouldn't be counted anyway. It's only when you bring in asymmetric postures that you hit problems. But then why hold yourself to the 22 count, why not make it 23 and keep the integrity of breath to count relationship which seems more important.... unless you inherited the 22 as well as the 8 and 15 for asymmetric asana.

Perhaps then we see two systems being brought together here as well as an attempt to make them fit.

1. The inherited (perhaps) vinyasa count 22 vinyasa (22 movements/postures), 8 and 15 being the states of the particular asana

2. A linking of stages of breath to each of the above movements/postures

Each of the vinyasa are actually postures in and off themselves. This becomes quite clear in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda where the familiar stages of the suryanamaskara are treated as asana in their own right. Also before folding into an asana Krishnamacharya will often treat the preceding step as an asana in and of itself. There will be a breathing principle noted. So before folding down into the named state of an asana janu sirsasana say, with it's recheck kumbhaka there will be a preceding state where the head is up and the breathing principle puraka kumbhaka.

It's all these mini states of asana that get a distinct count. The extra uncounted breaths tend to fall between them.

Each mini asana is actually a major asana with it's own breathing principle, a puraka or rechecka principle

 "In addition for the even-numbered vinyasas, rechaka should be performed and, for the odd, one should do puraka." Jois

It's only when we link these together into the fixed count that we hit problems and seem to be required to sacrifice the breathing principle for the state or count that goes with it. Now clearly we don't want to sacrifice that intrinsic breathing patten identified with the state so we have to sacrifice our counting system somewhat instead.

Or perhaps the count wasn't inherited and was just a way to regiment the boys of the Mysore palace after all. 

In our above quote from Pattabhi Jois he does add this

"...on the whole"

"On the whole, the method for doing rechaka and puraka is the same for all the vinyasa ahead".

So perhaps he saw a problem there himself.


UPDATE
Just did a mini practice with Manju's approach, going back to ekam for each side. It works and as a mala also, good common sense Ashtanga from Manju as always but does lack a little of the elegance of the longer count.

9 comments:

  1. The count helps us to explore the Annamaya Kosha. With the count, we have a tool, or crutch that helps the mind know where the body should be in space and time, or in this case, in the Vinyasa or overall form going into and out of the Asana. This crutch helps to bring steadiness to the mind, which when attained, should no longer be required and perhaps even distracting. Why stop with knowledge of where the gross body is placed? It seems that the next level to explore would be to investigate what the subtle body is doing both in the state of movement and in the state of Asana by moving into the Pranamaya Kosha?

    ReplyDelete
  2. John Scott's use of the count is interesting. He counts in the space between the inhalation and the exhalation, in the mini kumbhaka, i don't find it distracting to the breath, I used to because I tended to say the count over the breath but not any more. And of course we have pranayama for the pranamaya kosha, of manju we go straight from our asana into our pranayama practice, Ramaswami also.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice intro to the koshas in this 2010 newsletter from Ramaswami https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/vinyasa-krama-announce/Hxgeb0bcbV4

      Have posted it below split into four parts

      Delete
    2. So wouldn't you say that the count is now moving to the back ground, and the breath is coming forward? Here's a great article by Zhander Remete, which indirectly relates. While not so much about count, it does explore the idea of focus and awareness in the Asana.

      Delete
    3. Interesting Anon, I started to answer this but it's turned into a post here http://grimmly2007.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/look-to-count.html
      You don't include the link to Zhander's article.

      Delete
  3. Anyone reading these comments who wants to know more about the kosha's ramaswami introduced then in a newsletter back in 2010

    Pancha Kosa Vidya

    In my previous newsletter I wrote about the enormous scholarship of my
    revered Guru Sri Krishnamacharya. He taught several traditional texts
    including many upanishads

    I had mentioned the general approach of the old works to guide the
    student from the known to the unknown. One of the well known vidyas of
    the upanishads, the pancha-kosa-vidya is popular with many yoga
    students, teachers and spiritual seekers. The Yogasutras refer to the
    known-- of seen person (drusya atma)-- to lead to the subtle unseen
    'self' or Purusha. The pancha kosa vidya leads the inquirer from the
    seen or known five-kosa-person to the indwelling Self or atman in a
    step by step approach. It urges the sadhaka to contemplate on each of
    the kosas in succession to ultimately arrive at the true self. This is
    the main purpose of this vidya found in Tattiriya Upanishad.

    In the Yoga Sutra the physical person seen is made up of basically the
    three gunas, the five bhutas and the eleven indriyas and this body-
    mind complex is used by most people for experiences, pleasant and
    unpleasant, but a few use this person for 'roll back' or resolution to
    the basic elements of prakriti which is identified as nirodha. While
    most persons look outward to obtain experiences (bhoga) , the yogi
    uses the body and life time to look and work inward (apavarga)to
    obtain the state of Kaivalya.

    The Taittiriya upanishad looks at the 'seen person' as one made up of
    five kosas, and exhorts the spiritual seeker to transcend the 'five
    kosa seen person' by deep step by step contemplation and understand
    the nature of the atman. These five kosas are envisaged, each one of
    them as made up of the five parts of a bird, and each one of the
    kosas more subtle than the outer one. The five kosas start with the
    one made of food or matter, the physical body. It is made of physical
    matter consisting of five distinct portions as the head, the right
    and left wings, the body of the front and the tail or the back. It
    gets energy from anna or food/matter. This kosa should be kept pure
    and yogasanas are said to help one achieve this goal. There is a vedic
    prayer which helps one pray for the pure satvic quality of the
    physical body made fully of anna(annamaya) or matter.

    continued in the comment below ....

    ReplyDelete
  4. This physical body is identified by everybody, including a child, as
    the person, the self. But the self by definition is the innermost,
    subtlest principle in every human being. Is there anything more subtle
    than the physical body? The upanishad begins to investigate.

    And it finds out that there is an inner self to the physical body made
    fully of life force called prana, in the same mold of the physical
    body. This pranamaya permeates the whole physical body and is
    visualized as the self of the physical body or annamaya kosa. It also
    is visualized with five distinct parts, the head, the two wings, the
    chest and then the tail. The Prana, the main life force is the head
    of vyana and apana are the right and left wings, then udana is the
    body or heart of this kosa and then samana is the tail or support of
    this system. A regular pranayama workout will help maintain this kosa
    in good stead.

    There is an inner self, of the shape of the person, to this prana maya
    kosa which itself is a sheath or a kosa called mano maya. It is
    permeated with an aspect of the chitta called manas. Manas coordinates
    all the senses and instruments of action. Interestingly the most
    important sense for a vedic scholar is the sense of hearing. Hearing
    the vedas from the teacher the vedic student learns by heart the
    vedas. Also this vedic student has his mano maya kosa full of vedic
    knowledge. The head of this mano maya is the yajur veda, the right
    and the left wings are the rik and sama vedas. The body or the chest
    is the vedic injunctions (adesa or the brahmana portion) and the tail
    is the last veda, the atharva veda. It therefore actually refers to
    our entire memory kosa. This kosa according to yogis can be kept in
    good condition by pratyahara. The vaidics would say chanting of the
    vedas keeps the manomaya kosa in good shape.

    Is there anything subtler than this? Yes, says the Upanishad. Subtler
    than the mano maya is the vigyana maya or the kosa of intellect. This
    is the self of the previous kosa, of the human form but is visualized
    with a head which is shraddha or faith(in the scriptures). Since the
    vedic scholar is doing this self analysis and investigation, he uses
    this kosa towards the spiritual end. So the right wing is
    righteousness or straight forwardness(rtam) and the left wing is satya
    or the ultimate spiritual Truth. Then the heart or the atma of this
    sheath is yoga or the ability to remain concentrated or go into
    samadhi. The whole kosa is supported by mahat or universal
    intelligence. The upanishad sadhaka has to have this kosa in good
    stead to clearly understand the nature of the self using this kosa
    diligently. And dhyana or meditation is the means of keeping this kosa
    unpolluted.

    continued in the comment below....

    ReplyDelete
  5. The soul of this kosa is another subtle kosa called ananda maya which
    is translated roughly as the bliss kosa. Again this kosa is in the
    human form but is visualized as a bird. The head of this kosa is
    affection (priya), the right wing is glee (moda), the left wing is
    ecstasy (pramoda) and the heart is bliss (ananda) and the support of
    this is Brahman, the ultimate reality. The ultimate reality, the Atman/
    Brahman which is defined (swarupa lakshana) as pure consciousness
    unaffected by ether time or space (satyam, gnanam anantam brahma) and
    whose realization is possible by the path shown (tatasta lakshana) by
    the knowledge called the pancha maya (kosa) vidya is what is to be
    known to end the evil of transmigratory existence.

    Continued in the comment below....

    ReplyDelete

  6. The first step is to consider the human body, called the annamaya, as
    part of the outside matter of the universe as it is that which is made
    up of five elements, earth, water, etc., returns to the earth/universe
    after death. During the lifetime, the annamaya body is sustained by
    anna or food/matter, itself drawing the energy from it. The subtle
    self of the human body which is the inner sheath known as pranamaya is
    the one that keeps the body alive. The force that maintains it is
    called prana sakti. It is said that udana, one of the five forces
    keeps the balance between prana the inward life force and apana the
    outward life force under balance. Once the udana loses that control at
    the time of death, the apana with prana and other life forces leaves
    the body. The other three sheaths , the manomaya, its inner core/
    atman, the vigyana maya and the subtlest sheath the ananda maya are
    controlled by the power of veil or ignorance called the avarana
    sakthi. This is the power which prevents the individual from realizing
    the true nature of one's core or atman which is pure consciousness and
    beyond the five kosas. This power when it operates in the subtlest or
    the ananda maya kosa is known as ichha sakti or the power of desire.
    When it operates in the vignyana maya kosa it is known as gnana sakti
    or power of discrimination and then when it operates in the mano maya
    it is known as kriya sakti. The desire for the desirable object arsing
    in the ananda maya leads the vignyana maya to contemplate the means
    for fulfilling it and thereafter the manomaya directs the physical
    body to do the necessary physical work to achieve the goal, which it
    succeeds in sometimes and not some other times leading to the feeling
    of happiness or unhappiness in the ananda maya self. Thus even though
    the spiritual nature of the self is clearly discernible from the
    pancha maya vidya of the Upanishads, it is obscured by the power of
    the avarana sakthi or the power of spiritual ignorance which gets more
    and more strengthened by the operation of this sakthi, life after
    life. Hence the upanishad not only explains the nature of the real
    self as opposed to the mistaken self (mithya atma) made up of five
    kosas but also gives a step by step approach to strengthen the
    spiritual knowledge leading to transcending the evil of endless
    transmigratory existence.


    Since the human body returns to earth and other elements the entire
    universe including the human body is considered one virat one whole
    universe of anna or matter of the five elements. The prana which is
    the subtle self of the human body is considered the subtle self
    therefore of the universe and then regressing further one arrives at
    the individual soul or atman as the self. And since now it is also the
    Self of the Universe it is called Brahman and the advaitins proclaims
    the oneness (advaita) of the individual self (atman) and the supreme
    self (brahman) as one and the same

    Taittiriya Upanishad is one of the 10 major upanishads and is chanted
    regularly especially (early on the 12th day after full moon and new
    moon days, after a day of fasting, Ekadasi) in South India. I had made
    a recording some 25 years ago of this Upanishad and I find it is
    available in USA now at

    http://www.indiaclub.com/shop/SearchResults.asp?ProdStock=26770

    This is a very brief introductory sketch and those who are
    interested will find Upanishadic study very fascinating and
    uplifting.Excellent commentaries by Adi Sankara and Ramanuja and a few
    others are studied and pored over by spiritual seekers.

    ReplyDelete

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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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