“One of my goals in life is to do the slowest Primary Series anywhere… rather than the quickest”. Richard Freeman

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Where did Ashtanga 3rd series come from?

A long rambling post as I upload a long video over a very slow connection making one Greek frappe stretch all afternoon.


Sometimes I play with the theory, what if Pattabhi Jois had come up with ALL the Ashtanga series, back when he had been offered the teaching job at the Sanskrit college. What if he had brought the yoga syllabus, the asana divided over four years (pretty much the list he gave to Nancy and David in 1973) and shown it to Krishnamacharya and that Krishnamacharya had used Jois' list for his 1941 book Yogasanagalu.

The theory falls down because although the Primary and Middle group in Krishnamacharya's book is almost exactly the same, especially the Primary group, as the Ashtanga we have now the Proficient group seems to be a catch all for a bunch of the more advanced postures.

It appears Pattabhi Jois organised the proficient asana into Advanced A or Advanced B. If Krishnamacharya had had an Advanced A and Advanced be list then surely he would have included it in Yogasanagalu as well or at least those under the title Proficient group would follow the general order that make up Jois' later series.

It begs the question whether Krishnamacharya ever intended the asana to be practised as fixed sequences (more on that later).

My guess is that the Primary group were probably pretty much practised in the order they are laid out in Yogasanagalu (depending on the time available, classes were supposed to be only an hour), as a kind of series and as one became more proficient the back bending sequence would be practiced and perhaps followed by the leg behind head sequence. And why not, if the student(s), Like Jois himself perhaps, were becoming more accomplished why not have them practice all the Middle group asana, the 2nd, Intermediate, series if you will.

And as for time, although Krishnamacharya writes of the long stays, the long slow breathing, the kumbhaka perhaps these were elements he might expect his students to practise themselves. Pedagogically, in the hour class, he may well have gone through the postures more quickly.

And Pattabhi Jois in the same situation as his teacher offering limited length classes may well have chosen to teach the asana with shorter stays although, according to Manju he would himself stay in certain asana for longer periods with longer, slower breathing.

Still no explanation as to why Kumbhaka (so prevalent in krishnamacharya's first book Yoga Makaranda 1934 written while the young pattabhi Jois was his student) was dropped.

This would suggest we have an

Ideal approach to asana IE. less Asana Longer stays, long slow inhalations and exhalations, perhaps kumbhaka

and a

Pedagogic approach to asana IE. More asana, shorter stays, faster breathing.

When the Westerners came to practise , especially in the beginning at the Old, smaller, shala, they seem to have inhabited a middle ground. Because they were only staying for a number of months Pattabhi Jois seemed to be happy, even keen,  to teach them as many asana as they wished and as they had nothing else to do all day they could have long classes and thus practice relatively slowly, so the breath perhaps a little longer and slower, more breaths in a posture.

As things changed and Ashtanga became popular, more and more coming to Mysore and students in the US and Europe to think of we ended up with the led class, full vinyasa dropped, less breaths in postures, breathing a little (or a lot ) quicker.

But what about that 3rd series, Advanced A, Krishnamacharya's Proficient group

Proficient group: In Yogasanagalu (1941) Krishnamacharya seems to have lumped together all the 'advanced' asana

Advanced A: Pattabhi Jois seems to have had an Advanced A and Advanced B list of postures for his four year Sanskrit college yoga course

3rd Series: in the 90s Advanced A seems to have been split into 3rd and 4th series Advanced B into 5th and 6th series we a few extra asana thrown in.


This has got me thinking though, can we see any broad outlines, mini groups of asana, subroutines in Krishnamacharya's list that suggest a rough outline of Pattabhi Jois' Advanced A sequence, his inspiration perhaps.





Perhaps a pictorial representation of Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu proficient asana helps. These are made up of old pictures I had lying around, some better than others, so not ideal.



If not then what does that tell us? Perhaps that Krishnamacharya never saw the Proficient asana as a sequence to be practised separately, as a series say, but rather that they would be perhaps added on to the middle group postures where and when appropriate. This would follow along the lines of Vinyasa Karma Ramaswami's presentation of Krishnamacharya's later teaching where postures would develop out of each other, postures leading up to the leg behind head postures say which would move from relatively simple to extremely challenging. 

But what about the 1938 Iyengar demo back when he was a student (actually he had just left Mysore) of Krishnamacharya's ( and we must never forget it's an edited demonstration) can we look at the pictures of the asana below taken from the video and see patterns, groups of asana?




There does seem to be a logical flow of asana in Iyengar's demonstration, one to another, most of the leg behind head postures are put together, it's similar in places to the sequence we find in 3rd (or 4th), we can see intuitive groups of asana that suggest they were perhaps taught by Krishnamacharya in groups and that Pattabhi Jois may have used this as inspiration for his Advanced A and later 3rd and 4th series. 

So we might practice the middle group leg behind head asana, eka pads sirsasana then move directly into the more proficient asana found in Jois' 3rd series adding them on one after the other up to durvasana, standing leg behind head. 

This all does seem to suggest then that the Advanced A and Advanced B series ( later 3rd-6th) were a Pattabhi Jois' construction following the inspiration of the Krishnamacharya's approach to Primary and Middle group asana, there doesn't seem to be any evidence to suggest that Krishnamacharya ever intended the asana to be practiced in the manner in which Pattabhi Jois presents them other than that Pattabhi Jois mentioned several times that he only taught what his teacher taught him. Perhaps in his own private lessons with Krishnamacharya he had him practice the proficient/advanced asana in a manner, a sequence, akin to the series Jois later presented.

So Pattabhi Jois turned up at Krishnmacharya's house one afternoon with his syllabus for the sanskrit college, four years, a list of asana for each year, Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A and Advanced B and asked his teacher what he thought. Perhaps he pointed out that the first two years followed Krishnamacharya's own list but that he had to come up with his own for the final two years. According to Jois, Krishnamacharya gave his approval of the list, I haven't seen any interview to suggest that they discussed it or that Krishnamacharya offered suggestions. Nor was there the suggestion that Krishnamacharya exclaimed "Are you MAD Pattabhi, all those asana as a series!"

My teacher Kristina will wax lyrical about 3rd, she loves it's construction, finds it logical, she likes to practice it with full vinyasa. 

Building it back on to the end of my 2nd (see previous post) I'm less convinced. I'm already tired, 2 kilo of sweat in my mat, my breathing short and laboured, I have little interest in building back up and maintaining the level of fitness required to practice 2nd and 3rd or half of 3rd together. Manju's approach of a little part of primary, part of 2nd and a dash of 3rd is much more appealing, however, Kristina has a  couple of evening Mysore's I'm tempted to explore 3rd again as a stand alone series with full vinyasa, perhaps I'll warm to it.

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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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