Those who don't know any better (usually from outside Ashtanga but unfortunately sometimes from within) tend to think of Ashtanga as a rigid, fixed, system, a one size fits all, a fit yourself to the sequence rather than the other way around kind of a deal. It's understandable I suppose, when you present a sequence as a sequence on a cheat sheet it does look kind of fixed and to be fair to the critics some do seem to teach it that way.
It's not been my experience however, but then I'm a home Ashtangi, I started out with David Swenson's Ashtanga book with several variations sitting alongside the state of an asana, hell there was even the occasional prop. And then at the back of David's book there were the short versions of practice, 10 minutes, 20, 45 minute variations of the sequence, this was my introduction to Ashtanga.
I continued to approach my practice this way, adapting, using variations, the occasional prop, to work towards a posture I was struggling with.
Now that Sharath has his own Ashtanga book out I hope people still buy his grandfather's Yoga Mala. If you're only going to buy one please still go with Yoga Mala it's a beautiful book ( surely Pattabhi Jois had his teacher Krishnamacharya's Yoga Mala on the table next to his typewriter/notebook).
I keep stumbling upon sections I'd either missed or forgotten like these on the flexibility inherent in our practice.
From Shri K. Pattabhi Jois' Yoga Mala
Flexibility within Ashtanga 1.
"For people over fifty, it is enough to practice some of the easier and more useful asanas, as well as some of the pranayamas. Those who have been practicing for many years, however, can do any asana or pranayama without a problem. Older people who want to start yoga, however, will find practicing the following ten asanas sufficient [see Chapter 2 for detailed descriptions of individual asanas]: first, the Surya Namaskara (types 1 and 2); then Paschimattanasana; Sarvangasana; Halasana; Karnapidasana; Urdhva Padmasana; Pindasana; Matsyasana; Uttana Padasana; and Shirshasana. It is preferable to do these in concert with the vinyasas [breathing and movement systems], but if this is not possible, then practicing while focusing on rechaka and puraka will suffice. Shirshasana should be practiced for at least ten minutes, and the rest, for at least ten rechaka and puraka while in the state of the asana [see fn. 39]. By practicing in this way, the body and sense organs will become firm, the mind purified, longevity will be increased, and the body will be filled with fresh energy.
For the middle-aged, it is best to do all the asanas. The more they are practiced, the stronger the body becomes, and obstacles such as disease cease to be a problem. Pranayama is easier, the mind becomes more harmonious as the quality of sattva [purity] comes to predominate, and intellectual power and longevity are augmented.
For the very old, however, who find the practice of Sarvangasana, Halasana, Uttana Padasana, Shirshasana, and Padmasana too difficult, it is enough to practice mahabandha daily, as well as rechaka kumbhaka pranayama, puraka kumbhaka pranayama, samavritti vishamavritti pranayama, and sithali pranayama. These will help them live happier and longer lives, and will insulate them from disease.
The weak and the sick, too, should gradually practice suitable asanas and pranayamas, and over time, as their strength increases, their practices should also increase. In this way, the diseases of the sick and the strength-lessness of the weak will be eliminated, leaving them healthy and vigorous.
The aspirant that goes to a Guru will find that the Guru will tailor his practice to his particular bodily constitution." p28
...the more useful asana?
People over fifty.... focus on the more useful asana. Sometimes I think Krishnamachrya's personal practice (see previous post) is a distillation of of his original Ashtanga, of Vinyasa Krama, what is left if you strip it down to it's essentials.
But I don't see it as an age thing, not a case of taking it easy but more about the direction you wish to take you practice after a period. Do we keep working towards the next asana the next series or consider more the quality of the asana, the practice as a whole, not in the sense of one practice is better than another but rather the intention behind our practice. For me personally I've become more interested in the breath, slowing it, lengthening it including appropriate kumbhakas. I'm interested in more time for pranayama and meditation and put together that means cutting back on the asana within a practice.
And then there's this. I posted it on fb and my Viniyoga friends kept saying this is Desikachar's Viniyoga. Of course, it all comes from the same source (Krishnamacharya) he was always one for adapting practice to the individual needs of the students. It was there in the early Mysore days and there still in Chennai right up until he passed away.
Flexibility within Ashtanga 2
"As the bodily constitution of each human being is different, it is important to practice the asanas accordingly. The benefit to be had from one asana or pranayama can be derived just as well from another that better suits the structure of a person’s body. Some asanas are not suitable for particular people and may be painful. A Guru will understand this and be able to explain it, so the practitioner of yoga must be certain to follow his guidance." p30 Pattabhi Jois Yoga Mala
In my own practice at Kristina's shala in Rethymno I've been cutting back to half a series giving much more time for a longer slower breath. This morning it was half standing, half 2nd series (second half) and it still took over two hours. I need to strip it back even further, less asana to leave more time for pranayama. I'm starting to think a third of the practice...... split the standing postures over the week and Primary and Second series into three each, finishing too cut back.
That should bring it down to the ten to fifteen postures we find in Krishnamacharya personal practice, time to breathe, time for pranayama and meditation.
I'm reminded of the Rishi series (see this page). David Williams supposedly asked Pattabhi Jois what comes after Advanced series, The Rishi series said Guruji. You take ten postures and practice them fifty breaths each.
10 postures, a life saving practice?
Here's the video of Krishnamacharya's Life saving practice, his own personal practice along the lines of which he supposedly practiced for the five years up until his death.
I'd just downloaded the Super 8 app and was playing.
I'll be teaching this as my final Vinyasa Karma class in Rethymno tonight at 6pm
"Starting from the 50s more and more visitors came from the West to Krishnamacharya in Madras, to learm Yoga from him, the 'teacher of teachers'. Krishnamacharya developed for them a specific sequence that he named 'Life saving yoga session'. Yoga to extend life, the name did not fail to work. Krishnamacharya's idea was to use this sequence to lead Westerners to an unconfessional and undogmatic experience of the Divine, since their pluralistic culture would not permit an automatic access to religious matters.
The sequence, which was not taught anymore after Krishnamacharya's death and which was taught by his son TK shribayam to director Jan Schmidt-Garre after years of acquaintance during the filming of 'Der atmende Gott', is here disclosed in its original form.
Characteristic of the later Krishnamacharya and of the 'Life saving Yoga session' is the connection of postures, breathing and concentration in the sense of the orientation of the gaze and awareness of a focal point. Only when these elements form an organic connection can Yoga happen, according to Krishnamacharya
1. sit for 30-60 seconds with crossed legs in Padmasana. Concentration on Nasagra (point of the nose)
2. 16-24 Kapalabhati breaths (breath of fire, energeti inhale and exhale)
3. 12 breaths of ujjayi anuloma. Inhale: ujjayi, with slightly constricted throat, to drwa air into the lungs. Exhale: the hand forms a claw with thumb, ring- and little-fingers with which one nostril is alternately kept closed. Exhale very slowly through the open nostril, without ujjayi, beginning with the left
4. 3 breaths in matsyasana. Legs are closed in the lotus position
5. 3 breaths in bhujangasana. Start with open eyes and during the progression of movement, which start with the forehead, close the eyes. Concentration on Bhrumhadya (between the eyebrows)
6. 12 breaths in sarvangasana. The chin is closed in front of the straightened body. Hands close to the shoulderblades, concentration on Kanta (throat)
7. 12 breaths in sirsasana. Concentration on Nasagra (tip of the nose)
8. 3 breaths in halasana. Arms on the floor, hands clasped, palms towards the outside
9. 3 breaths in bhujangasana. Again start with open eyes and close them during the movement. Cncentration on Bhrumadhya (between the eyebrows)
10. 12 breaths in Maha-mudra (one-sided forward bend) six times on the left, then six times on the right. With the first inhale bring the arms over the head, with hands clasped, palms up. With the exhale get into the posture. Concentration on navel
11. 12 breaths in paschimottanasana, preparation and in maha mudra. The hands clasp the big toes, the back stays straight, neck and back form a lune. Concentration on the navel.
12. 30-60 Bastri breaths (rapid alternate breathing) in padmasana. The right hand builds a clasp as for anuloma ujjayi. Inhale and exhale through the left nostril, then change the grip and rapidly inhale and exhale through the right nostril. No ujjayi. end with an exhale from the left nostril and without pause move ot a long inhale in nadi shodan. Concentration on Nasagra
13. 12 breaths in nadi shodan (alternate breathing). Inhale very slowly from the half-closed left nostril, exchange grip ad after a short pause exhale very slowly through the half-closed right nostril. After a short pause inhale very slowly through the half-closed right nostril, change grip and after a short pause exhale through the half-clodes left nostril. No ujjayi. The left hand counts the breaths, with the thumb gliding over the twelve parts of the four fingers, from the third falanx of the little fingers in the direction towards outside to the point of the index finger. Concentration on Hrudaya (heart)
14. Prayer. Concentration on Hrudaya (heart)
In the coming book fom Shribashyam "How Yoga really was" this and similar sequences are explained in detail
*Thank you again to Chiara fro the translation from the German.
Here are some print out practice sheets.